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Title: My Contemporaries In Fiction
Author: Murray, David Christie
Language: English
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By David Christie Murray





















When these essays were originally printed (they appeared simultaneously
in many newspapers), I expected to make some enemies. So far, I have
been most agreeably disappointed in that regard; but I can affirm that
they have made me many friends, and that I have had encouragement
enough from fellow craftsmen, from professional critics, and from casual
readers at home, in the colonies, and the United States to bolster up
the courage of the most timorous man that ever held a pen. As a set-off
against all this, I have received one very noble and dignified rebuke
from a Contemporary in Fiction, whom the world holds in high honour,
who regrets that I am not engaged in creative work--in lieu of this--and
pleads that 'authorship should be allowed the distinction of an
exemption from rank and title.' With genuine respect I venture to
urge that this is an impossible aspiration, and in spite of the lofty
sanction which the writer's name must lend to his opinion, I have been
unable to surrender the belief that the work done in these pages is
alike honourable and useful. It is, as will be seen, in the nature of
a crusade against puffery and hysteria. It is not meant to instruct the
instructed, and it makes no pretence to be infallible, but it is issued
in its present form in the belief that it will (in some degree) aid the
average reader in the formation of just opinions on contemporary art,
and in the hope that it may (in some degree) impose a check on certain
interested or over-enthusiastic people.



The critics of to-day are suffering from a sort of epidemic of kindness.
They have accustomed themselves to the administration of praise in
unmeasured doses. They are not, taking them in the mass, critics any
longer, but merely professional admirers. They have ceased to be useful
to the public, and are becoming dangerous to the interests of letters.
In their over-friendly eyes every painstaking apprentice in the art of
fiction is a master, and hysterical schoolgirls, who have spent their
brief day in the acquisition of ignorance, are reviewed as if they were
so many Elizabeth Barrett Brownings or George Eliots. One of the most
curious and instructive things in this regard is the use which the
modern critic makes of Sir Walter Scott. Sir Walter is set up as a sort
of first standard for the aspirant in the art of fiction to excel. Let
the question be asked, with as much gravity as is possible: What _is_
the use of a critic who gravely assures us that Mr. S. R. Crockett 'has
rivalled, if not surpassed, Sir Walter'? The statement is, of course,
most lamentably and ludicrously absurd, but it is made more than once,
or twice, or thrice, and it is quoted and advertised. It is not Mr.
Crockett's fault that he is set on this ridiculous eminence, and
his name is not cited here with any grain of malice. He has his
fellow-sufferers. Other gentlemen who have 'rivalled, if not surpassed,
Sir Walter,' are Dr. Conan Doyle, Mr. J. M. Barrie, Mr. Ian Maclaren,
and Mr. Stanley Weyman. No person whose judgment is worth a straw can
read the writings of these accomplished workmen without respect and
pleasure. But it is no more true that they rival Sir Walter than it is
true that they are twelve feet high, or that any one of them believes in
his own private mind the egregious announcement of the reviewer. The one
great sufferer by this craze for setting men of middling stature side
by side with Scott is our beautiful and beloved Stevenson, who, unless
rescued by some judicious hand, is likely to be buried under foolish and
unmeasured praises.

It would be easy to fill pages with verifications of the charge here
made. Books of the last half-dozen years or so, which have already
proved the ephemeral nature of their own claim, have been received with
plaudits which would have been exaggerated if applied to some of our
acknowledged classics. The critical declaration that 'Eric Bright-eyes'
could have been written by no other Englishman of the last six hundred
years than Mr. Rider Haggard may be allowed its own monumental place in
the desert of silly and hysteric judgments.

It is time, for the sake of mere common-sense, to get back to something
like a real standard of excellence. It is time to say plainly that our
literature is in danger of degradation, and that the mass of readers is
systematically misled.

Before I go further, I will offer one word in self-excuse. I have taken
this work upon my own shoulders, because I cannot see that anybody else
will take it, and because it seems to me to be calling loudly to be
done. My one unwillingness to undertake it lies in the fact that I have
devoted my own life to the pursuit of that art the exercise of which
by my contemporaries I am now about to criticise. That has an evil and
ungenerous look. But, whatever the declaration may seem to be worth, I
make it with sincerity and truth. I have never tasted the gall of envy
in my life. I have had my share, and my full share, of the critical
sugarplums. I have never, in the critics, apprehension, 'rivalled
or surpassed Sir Walter,' but on many thousands of printed pages
(of advertisement) it is recorded that I have 'more genius for the
delineation of rustic character than any half-dozen surviving novelists
put together.' I laugh when I read this, for I remember Thomas Hardy,
who is my master far and far away. I am quite persuaded that my critic
was genuinely pleased with the book over which he thus 'pyrotechnicated'
(as poor Artemus used to say), but I think my judgment the more sane
and sober of the two. I have not the faintest desire to pull down other
men's flags and leave my own flag flying. And there is the first and
last intrusion of myself. I felt it necessary, and I will neither erase
it nor apologise for its presence.

Side by side with the exaggerated admiration with which our professional
censors greet the crowd of new-comers, it is instructive to note the
contempt into which some of our old gods have fallen. The Superior
Person we have always with us. He is, in his essence, a Prig; but when,
as occasionally happens, his heart and intelligence ripen, he loses the
characteristics which once made him a superior person. Whilst he holds
his native status his special art is not to admire anything which common
people find admirable. A year or two ago it became the shibboleth of his
class that they couldn't read Dickens. We met suddenly a host of people
who really couldn't stand Dickens. Most of them (of course) were 'the
people of whom crowds are made,' owning no sort of mental furniture
worth exchange or purchase. They killed the fashion of despising Dickens
_as_ a fashion, and the Superior Person, finding that his sorrowful
inability was no longer an exclusive thing, ceased to brag about it.
When a fashion in dress is popular on Hampstead Heath on Bank Holiday
festivals, the people who originally set the fashion discard it, and set
another. In half a generation some of our superiors, for the mere sake
of originality in judgment, will be going back to the pages of that
immortal master-immortal as men count literary immortality--and will
begin to tell us that after all there was really something in him.

It was Mr. W. D. Howells, an American writer of distinguished ability,
as times go, who set afloat the phrase that since the death of Thackeray
and Dickens fiction has become a finer art. If Mr. Howells had meant
what many people supposed him to mean, the saying would have been merely
impudent He used the word 'finer' in its literal sense, and meant only
that a fashion of minuteness in investigation and in style had come upon
us. There is a sense in which the dissector who makes a reticulation of
the muscular and nervous systems of a little finger is a 'finer' surgeon
than the giant of the hospitals whose diagnosis is an inspiration, and
whose knife carves unerringly to the root of disease. There is a sense
in which a sculptor, carving on cherrystones likenesses of commonplace
people, would be a 'finer' artist than Michael Angelo, whose custom it
was to handle forms of splendour on an heroic scale of size. In that
sense, and in the hands of some of its practitioners, fiction for a
year or two became a finer art than it had ever been before. But the
microscopist was never popular, and could never hope to be. He is dead
now, and the younger men are giving us vigorous copies of Dumas, and
Scott, and Edgar Allan Poe, and some of them are fusing the methods of
Dickens with those of later and earlier writers. We are in for an era of
broad effect again.

But a great many people, and, amongst them, some who ought to have known
better, adopted the saying of Mr. Howells in a wider sense than he ever
intended it to carry, and, partly as a result of this, we have arrived
at a certain tacit depreciation of the greatest emotional master of
fiction. There are other and more cogent reasons for the temporary
obscuration of that brilliant light. It may aid our present purpose to
discover what they are.

Every age has its fashions in literature as it has in dress. All the
beautiful fashions in literature, at least, have been thought worthy of
revival and imitation, but there has come to each in turn a moment when
it has begun to pall upon the fancy. Every school before its death
is fated to inspire satiety and weariness. The more overwhelming its
success has been, the more complete and sweeping is the welcomed change.
We know how the world thrilled and wept over Pamela and Clarissa, and
we know how their particular form of pathos sated the world and died.
We know what a turn enchanted castles had, and how their spell withered
into nothing. We know what a triumphal progress the Sentimental Sufferer
made through the world, and what a bore he came to be. It is success
which kills. Success breeds imitation, and the imitators are a
weariness. And it is not the genius who dies. It is only the school
which arose to mimic him. Richardson is alive for everybody but the
dull and stupid. Now that the world of fiction is no longer crowded with
enchanted castles, we can go to live in one occasionally for a change,
and enjoy ourselves. Werther is our friend again, though the school he
founded was probably the most tiresome the world has seen.

Now, with the solitary exception of Sir Walter Scott, it is probable
that no man ever inspired such a host of imitators as Charles Dickens.
There is not a writer of fiction at this hour, in any land where fiction
is a recognised trade or art, who is not, whether he knows it and owns
it, or no, largely influenced by Dickens. His method has got into the
atmosphere of fiction, as that of all really great writers must do,
and we might as well swear to unmix our oxygen and hydrogen as to stand
clear of his influences. To stand clear of those influences you must
stand apart from all modern thought and sentiment. You must have read
nothing that has been written in the last sixty years, and you must have
been bred on a desert island. Dickens has a living part in the life of
the whole wide world. He is on a hundred thousand magisterial benches
every day. There is not a hospital patient in any country who has not
at this minute a right to thank God that Dickens lived. What his blessed
and bountiful hand has done for the poor and oppressed, and them
that had no helper, no man knows. He made charity and good feeling a
religion. Millions and millions of money have flowed from the coffers of
the rich for the benefit of the poor because of his books. A great part
of our daily life, and a good deal of the best of it, is of his making.

No single man ever made such opportunities for himself. No single man
was ever so widely and permanently useful. No single man ever sowed
gentleness and mercy with so broad a sweep.

This is all true, and very far from new, but it has not been the fashion
to say it lately. It is not the whole of the truth. Noble rivers have
their own natural defects of swamp and mudbank. Sometimes his tides ran
sluggishly, as in 'The Battle of Life,' for example, which has always
seemed to me, at least, a most mawkish and unreal book. The pure stream
of 'The Carol,' which washes the heart of a man, runs thin in 'The
Chimes,' runs thinner in 'The Haunted Man,' and in 'The Battle of Life'
is lees and mud. 'Nickleby,' again, is a young man's book, and as full
of blemishes as of genius. But when all is said and done, it killed the
Yorkshire schools.

The chief fault the superficial modern critic has to find with Dickens
is a sort of rumbustious boisterousness in the expression of emotion.
But let one thing be pointed out, and let me point it out in my own
fashion. Tom Hood, who was a true poet, and the best of our English
wits, and probably as good a judge of good work as any person now alive,
went home after meeting with Dickens, and in a playful enthusiasm told
his wife to cut off his hand and bottle it, because it had shaken hands
with Boz. Lord Jeffrey, who was cold as a critic, cried over little
Nell. So did Sydney Smith, who was very far from being a blubbering
sentimentalist. To judge rightly of any kind of dish you must bring
an appetite to it. Here is the famous Dickens pie, when first served,
pronounced inimitable, not by a class or a clique, but by all men in
all lands. But you get it served hot, and you get it served cold, it is
rehashed in every literary restaurant, you detect its flavour in your
morning leader and your weekly review. The pie gravy finds its way into
the prose and the verse of a whole young generation. It has a striking
flavour, an individual flavour, It gets into everything. We are weary
of the ceaseless resurrections of that once so toothsome dish. Take it

The original pie is no worse and no better, but thousands of cooks have
had the recipe for it, and have tried to make it. Appetite may have
vanished, but the pie was a good pie.

No simile runs on all fours, and this parable in a pie-dish is a poor

But this principle of judgment applies of necessity to all great work
in art. It does not apply to merely good work, for that is nearly always
imitative, and therefore not much provocative of imitation. It happens
sometimes that an imitator, to the undiscerning reader, may even
seem better than the man he mimics, because he has a modern touch. But
remember, in his time the master also was a modern.

The new man says of Dickens that his sentiment rings false. This is a
mistake. It rings old-fashioned. No false note ever moved a world, and
the world combined to love his very name. There were tears in thousands
of households when he died, and they were as sincere and as real as if
they had arisen at the loss of a personal friend.

We, who in spite of fashion remain true to our allegiance to the
magician of our youth, who can never worship or love another as we loved
and worshipped him, are quite contented in the slight inevitable dimming
of his fame. He is still in the hearts of the people, and there he has
only one rival.

No attempt at a review of modern fiction can be made without a mention
of the men who were greatest when the art was great When we have done
with the giants we will come down to the big fellows, and by that time
we shall have an eye for the proportions of the rest. But before we
part for the time being, let me offer the uncritical reader one valuable
touchstone. Let him recall the stories he has read, say, five years ago.
If he can find a live man or woman anywhere amongst his memories, who
is still as a friend or an enemy to him, he has, fifty to one, read a
sterling book. Dickens' people stand this test with all readers, whether
they admire him or no. Even when they are grotesque they are alive. They
live in the memory even of the careless like real people. And this is
the one unfailing trial by which great fiction may be known.


Reade's position in literature is distinctly strange. The professional
critics never came within miles of a just appreciation of his greatness,
and the average 'cultured reader' receives his name with a droll air of
allowance and patronage. But there are some, and these are not the least
qualified as judges, who regard him as ranking with the great masters.
You will find, I think, that the men holding this opinion are, in the
main, fellow-workers in the craft he practised. His warmest and most
constant admirers are his brother novelists. Trollope, to be sure,
spoke of him as 'almost a man of genius,' but Trollope's mind was a
quintessential distillation of the commonplace, and the man who was on
fire with the romance and passion of his own age was outside the limit
of his understanding. But amongst the writers of English fiction whom
it has been my privilege to know personally, I have not met with one who
has not reckoned Charles Reade a giant.

The critics have never acknowledged him, and, in a measure, he has been
neglected by the public. There is a reason for everything, if we could
only find it, and sometimes I seem to have a glimmering of light on this
perplexing problem. Sir Walter Besant (Mr. Besant then) wrote in the
'Gentleman's Magazine' years ago a daring panegyric on Reade's work,
giving him frankly a place among the very greatest. My heart glowed as I
read, but I know now that it took courage of the rarer sort to express
a judgment so unreserved in favour of a writer who never for an hour
occupied in the face of the public such a position as is held by three
or four men in our day, whom this dead master could have rolled in the
hollow of his hand.

Let me try for a minute or two to show why and how he is so very great
a man; and then let me try to point out one or two of the reasons for
which the true reward of greatness has been denied him.

The very first essential to greatness in any pursuit is that a man
should be in earnest in respect to it. You may as well try to kindle
your household fire with pump water as to excite laughter by the
invention of a story which does not seem laughable to yourself, or to
draw real tears by a story conceived whilst your own heart is dry, 'The
wounded is the wounding heart.' In Charles Reade's case this essential
sympathy amounted to a passion. He derided difficulties, but he derided
them after the fashion of the thorough-going enthusiast, and not after
that of the sluggard. He made up his mind to write fiction, and he
practised for years before he printed a line. He assured himself of
methods of selection and of forms of expression. Better equipped by
nature than one in a hundred of those who follow the profession he had
chosen he laboured with a fiery, unresting patience to complete his
armoury, and to perfect himself in the handling of its every weapon. He
read omnivorously, and, throughout his literary lifetime, he made it
his business to collect and to collate, to classify and to catalogue,
innumerable fragments of character, of history, of current news, of
evanescent yet vital stuffs of all sorts. In the last year but one of
his life he went with me over some of the stupendous volumes he had
built in this way. The vast books remain as an illustration of his
industry, but only one who has seen him in consultation with their pages
can guess the accuracy and intimacy of his knowledge of their contents.
They seem to deal with everything, and with whatever they enclosed he
was familiar.

This encyclopaedic industry would have left a commonplace man
commonplace, and in the estimate of a great man's genius it takes rank
merely as a characteristic. His sympathy for his chosen craft was backed
by a sympathy for humanity just as intense and impassioned. He was a
glorious lover and hater of lovable and hateful things.

In one respect he was almost unique amongst men, for he united a savage
detestation of wrong with a most minute accuracy in his judgment of its
extent and quality. He laboured in the investigation of the problems
of his own age with the cold diligence of an antiquary. He came to a
conclusion with the calm of a great judge. And when his cause was sure
he threw himself upon it with an extraordinary and sustained energy. The
rage of his advocacy is in surprising contrast with the patience exerted
in building up his case.

Reade had a poet's recognition for the greatness of his own time. He saw
the epic nature of the events of his own hour, the epic character of the
men who moulded those events. Hundreds of years hence, when federated
Australia is thickly sown with great cities, and the island-continent
has grown to its fulness of accomplished nationhood, and is grey in
honour, Reade's nervous English, which may by that time have grown
quaint, and only legible to learned eves, will preserve; the history of
its beginnings. That part of His work, indeed, is purely and wholly epic
in sentiment and discernment, however colloquial in form, and it is
the sole example of its kind, since it was written by one who was
contemporary with the events described.

Reade was pretty constantly at war with his critics, but he fairly
justified himself of the reviewer in his own day, and at this time the
people who assailed him have something like a right to sleep in peace.
In private life one of the most amiable of men, and distinguished for
courtesy and kindness, he was a swash-buckler in controversy. He had a
trick of being in the right which his opponents found displeasing,
and he was sometimes cruel in his impatience of stupidity and
wrong-headedness. Scarcely any continuance in folly could have
inspired most men to the retorts he occasionally made. He wrote to one
unfortunate: 'Sir,--You have ventured to contradict me on a question
with regard to which I am profoundly learned, where you are ignorant
as dirt.' It was quite true, but another kind of man would have found
another way of saying it.

That trick of being right came out with marked effect in the discussion
which accompanied the issue of 'Hard Cash' in 'All the Year Round,' A
practitioner in lunacy condemned one of the author's statements as a
bald impossibility. Reade answered that the impossibility in question
disguised itself as fact, and went through the hollow form of taking
place on such and such a date in such and such a public court, and was
recorded in such and such contemporary journals. Whenever he made a
crusade against a public evil, as when he assailed the prison system,
or the madhouse system, or the system of rattening in trades unions, his
case was supported by huge collections of indexed fact, and in the fight
which commonly followed he could appeal to unimpeachable records; but
again and again the angry fervour of the advocate led people to forget
or to distrust the judicial accuracy on which his case invariably

When all is said and done, his claim to immortality lies less in the
books which deal with the splendours and the scandals of his own
age than in that monument of learning, of humour, of pathos, and of
narrative skill, 'The Cloister and the Hearth.'* It is not too much to
say of this book that, on its own lines, it is without a rival. To the
reader it seems to be not less than the revival of a dead age. To assert
dogmatically that the bygone people with whom it deals could not have
been other than it paints them would be to pretend to a knowledge
greater than the writer's own. But they are not the men and women with
whom we are familiar in real life, and they are not the men and women
with whom other writers of fiction have made us acquainted. Yet they are
indubitably human and alive, and we doubt them no more than the people
with whom we rub shoulders in the street. Dr. Conan Doyle once said
to me what I thought a memorable thing about this book; To read it, he
said, was 'like going through the Dark Ages with a dark lantern,' It
is so, indeed. You pass along the devious route from old Sevenbergen to
mediaeval Rome, and wherever the narrative leads you, the searchlight
flashes on everything, and out of the darkness and the dust and death of
centuries life leaps at you. And I know nothing in English prose which
for a noble and simple eloquence surpasses the opening and the closing
paragraphs of this great work, nor--with some naïve and almost childish
passages of humour omitted--a richer, terser, purer, or more perfect
style than that of the whole narrative. Nowadays, the fashion in
criticism has changed, and the feeblest duffer amongst us receives
welcome ten times more enthusiastic and praise less measured than was
bestowed upon 'The Cloister and the Hearth' when it first saw the light.
Think only for a moment--think what would happen if such a book should
suddenly be launched upon us. Honestly, there _could_ be no reviewing
it. Our superlatives have been used so often to describe, at the best,
good, plain, sound work, and, at the worst, frank rubbish, that we have
no vocabulary for excellence of such a cast.

     * It is worth while to record here a phrase used by Charles
     Reade to me in reference to this work. He was rebutting the
     charge of plagiarism which had been brought against him, and
     he said laughingly,  'It is true that I milked three hundred
     cows into my bucket, but the butter I churned was my own.'

And now, how comes it that with genius, scholarship, and style, with
laughter and terror and tears at his order, this great writer halts in
his stride towards the place which should be his by right? It seems to
me at times as if I had a partial answer to that question. I believe
that a judicious editor, without a solitary act of impiety, could give
Charles Reade undisputed and indisputable rank. One-half the whole
business is a question of printing. This great and admirable writer had
one constant fault, which is so vulgar and trivial that it remains
as much of a wonder as it is of an offence. He seeks emphasis by the
expedient of big type and small type, of capitals and small capitals,
of italics and black letter, and of tawdry little illustrations. Long
before the reader arrives at the point at which it is intended that his
emotions shall be stirred, his eye warns him that the shock is coming.
He knows beforehand that the rhetorical bolt is to fall just there, and
when it comes it is ten to one that he finds the effect disappointing.
Or the change from the uniformity of the page draws his eye to the
'displayed' passages, and he is tantalised into reading them out of
their proper place and order. Take, for instance, an example which just
occurs to me. In 'It is Never Too Late to Mend,' Fielding and Robinson
are lost in an Australian forest--'bushed,' as the local phrase goes. At
that hour they are being hunted for their lives. They fall into a sort
of devil's circle, and, as lost men have often done, they come in the
course of their wanderings upon their own trail. For awhile they follow
it in the hope that it will lead them to some camp or settlement.
Suddenly Fielding becomes aware that they are following the track of
their own earlier footprints, and almost in the same breath he discovers
that these are joined by the traces of other feet. He reads a fatal and
true meaning into this sign, looks to his weapons, and starts off at a
mended pace. 'What are you doing?' asks Robinson, and Fielding answers
(in capital letters): 'I am hunting the hunters!' The situation is
admirably dramatic. Chance has so ordered it that the pursued are
actually behind the pursuers, and the presence of the intended murderers
is proclaimed by a device which is at once simple, natural, novel, and
surprising. All the elements for success in thrilling narrative are
here, and the style never lulls for a second, or for a second allows
the strain of the position to relax. But those capital letters have
long since called the eye of the reader to themselves, and the point the
writer tries to emphasise is doubly lost. It has been forestalled, and
has become an irritation. You come on it twice; you have been robbed of
anticipation and suspense, which, just here, are the life and soul of
art. You know before you ought to be allowed to guess; and, worst of
all, perhaps, you feel that your own intelligence has been affronted.
Surely you had imagination enough to feel the significance of the line
without this meretricious trick to aid you. It is not the business of
a great master in fiction to jog the elbow of the unimaginative, and
to say, 'Wake up at this,' or 'Here it is your duty to the narrative to
experience a thrill.'

Another and an equally characteristic fault, though of far less frequent
occurrence, is Reade's fashion of intruding himself upon his reader.
He stands, in a curiously irritating way, between the picture he has
painted and the man he has invited to look at it. In one instance he
drags the eye down to a footnote in order that you may read: 'I, C. R.,
say this'--which is very little more or less than an impertinence. The
sense of humour which probably twinkled in the writer's mind is faint at
the best. We know that he, C. R., said that. We are giving of our time
and intelligence to C. R., and we are rather sorry than otherwise to
find him indulging in this small buffoonery.

It should, I think, be an instruction to future publishers of Charles
Reade to give him Christian printing--to confine him in the body of
his narrative to one fount of type, and rigorously to deny him the use
(except in their accustomed and orthodox places) of capitals, small
capitals, and italics. And I cannot think that any irreverence could be
charged against an editor who had the courage to put a moist pen through
those expressions of egotism and naive self-satisfaction and vanity
which do occasionally disfigure his pages.

I ask myself if these trifles--for in comparison with the sum of Reade's
genius they are small things indeed--can in any reasonable measure
account for the neglect which undoubtedly besets him. In narrative
vigour he has but one rival--Dumas _père_--and he is far and away the
master of that rival in everything but energy. No male writer surpasses
him in the knowledge of feminine human nature. There is no love-making
in literature to beat the story of the courtship of Julia Dodd and
Alfred Hardy in 'Hard Cash.' In mere descriptive power he ranks with the
giants. Witness the mill on fire in 'The Cloister and the Hearth'; the
lark in exile in 'Never too Late to Mend'; the boat-race in 'Hard Cash';
the scene of Kate Peyton at the firelit window, and Griffith in the
snow, in 'Griffith Gaunt.' There are a thousand bursts of laughter in
his pages, not mere sniggers, but lung-shaking laughters, and the man
who can go by any one of a hundred pathetic passages without tears is
a man to be pitied. Let it be admitted that at times he wrenches his
English rather fiercely, and yet let it be said that for delicacy,
strength, sincerity, clarity, and all great graces of style, he is side
by side with the noblest of our prose writers. Can it be that a few
scattered drops of vulgarity in emphasis dim such a fire as this?
Does so small a dead fly taint so big a pot of ointment? I will not be
foolish enough to dogmatise on such a point, and yet I can find no other
reasons than those I have already given why a master-craftsman should
not hold a master-craftsman's place. Solomon has told us what 'a little
folly' can do for him who is in reputation for wisdom.' The great mass
of the public can always tell what pleases it, but it cannot always tell
why it is pleased.

And the man who writes for wide and lasting fame has to depend, not upon
the verdict of the expert and the cultured, but on the love of those who
only know they love, and who have no power to give the critical why and
wherefore. The public--'the stupid and ignorant pig of a public,' as
'Pococurante' called it years ago--is always being abused, and yet it is
only the public which, in the end, can tell us if we have done well or
ill. We have all to consent to be measured by it, and, in the long run,
it estimates our stature with a perfect accuracy.

I hope I may not be thought impertinent in intruding here a reminiscence
of Reade which seems characteristic of his sweeter side. In reading over
these pages for the press I have been moved to a mournful and tender
remembrance of the only one of the three great Vanished Masters whom it
was my happy chance to meet in the flesh. I dedicated to him the second
novel which left my pen--the third to reach the public--and in sending
him the volumes on the day of issue I wrote what I remember as a rather
boyish letter, in which I was at no pains to disguise my admiration for
his genius. That admiration was not then tempered by the considerations
which are expressed above, for they touched me only after many years of
practice in the art he adorned so richly. He answered with a gentle and
sad courtesy, and concluded with these words: 'It is no discredit in a
young man to esteem a senior beyond his merits.' I have always thought
that very graceful and felicitous, and now that I am myself grown to be
a senior I am more persuaded of its charm than ever.


In the scheme of this series, as originally-announced, Thackeray's work
should have formed the subject of the third chapter. But, on reflection,
I have decided that, considering my present purpose, it would be little
more than a useless self-indulgence to do what I at first intended.
There is no sort of dispute about Thackeray. There is no need for any
revision of the general opinion concerning him. It would be to me,
personally, a delightful thing to write such an appreciation as I had in
mind, but this is not the place for it.

Let us pass, then, at once to the consideration of the incomplete and
arrested labours of the charming and accomplished workman whose loss all
lovers of English literature are still lamenting.

I have special and private reasons for thinking warmly of Robert Louis
Stevenson, the man; and these reasons seem to give me some added warrant
for an attempt to do justice to Robert Louis Stevenson, the writer. With
the solitary exception of the unfortunate cancelled letters from Samoa,
which were written whilst he was in ill-health, and suffered a complete
momentary eclipse of style, he has scarcely published a line which may
not afford the most captious reader pleasure. With that sole exception
he was always an artist in his work, and always showed himself alive
to the fingertips. He was in constant conscious search of felicities in
expression, and his taste was exquisitely just. His discernment in the
use of words kept equal pace with his invention--he knew at once how to
be fastidious and daring. It is to be doubted if any writer has laboured
with more constancy to enrich and harden the texture of his style,
and at the last a page of his was like cloth of gold for purity and

This is the praise which the future critics of English literature will
award him. But in this age of critical hysteria it is not enough to
yield a man the palm for his own qualities. With regard to Stevenson our
professional guides have gone fairly demented, and it is worth while to
make an effort to give him the place he has honestly earned, before the
inevitable reaction sets in, and unmerited laudations have brought about
an unmerited neglect. His life was arduous. His meagre physical means
and his fervent spirit were pathetically ill-mated. It was impossible to
survey his career without a sympathy which trembled from admiration to
pity. Certain, in spite of all precaution, to die young, and in the face
of that stern fact genially and unconquerably brave, he extorted love.
Let the whole virtue of this truth be acknowledged, and let it stand
in excuse for praises which have been carried beyond the limits of
absurdity. It is hard to exercise a sober judgment where the emotions
are brought strongly into play. The inevitable tragedy of Stevenson's
fate, the unescapable assurance that he would not live to do all which
such a spirit in a sounder frame would have done for an art he loved so
fondly, the magnetism of his friendship, his downright incapacity for
envy, his genuine humility with regard to his own work and reputation,
his unboastful and untiring courage, made a profound impression upon
many of his contemporaries. It is, perhaps, small wonder if critical
opinion were in part moulded by such influences as these. Errors of
judgment thus induced are easily condoned. They are at least a million
times more respectable than the mendacities of the publisher's tout, or
the mutual ecstasies of the rollers of logs and the grinders of axes.

The curious ease with which, nowadays, every puny whipster gets the
sword of Sir Walter has already been remarked. If any Tom o' Bedlam
chooses to tell the world that all the New Scottish novelists are Sir
Walter's masters, what does it matter to anybody? It is shamelessly
silly and impertinent, of course, and it brings newspaper criticism into
contempt, but there is an end of it. If the writers who are thus made
ridiculous choose to pluck the straws out of their critics' hair and
stick them in their own, they are poorer creatures than I take them for.
The thing makes us laugh, or makes us mourn, just as it happens to hit
our humour; but it really matters very little. It establishes one of two
things--the critic is hopelessly incapable or hopelessly dishonest. The
dilemma is absolute. The peccant gentleman may choose his horn, and no
honest and capable reader cares one copper which he takes.

But with regard to Stevenson the case is very different. Stevenson
has made a bid for lasting fame. He is formally entered in the list of
starters for the great prize of literary immortality. No man alive can
say with certainty whether he will get it. Every forced eulogy handicaps
his chances. Every exaggeration of his merits will tend to obscure them.
The pendulum of taste is remorseless. Swing it too far on one side, it
will swing itself too far on the other.

In his case it has unfortunately become a critical fashion to set him
side by side with the greatest master of narrative fiction the world has
ever seen. In the interests of a true artist, whom this abuse of praise
will greatly injure if it be persisted in, it will be well to
endeavour soberly and quietly to measure the man, and to arrive at some
approximate estimate of his stature.

It may be assumed that the least conscientious and instructed of our
professional guides has read something of the history of Sir Walter
Scott, and is, if dimly, aware of the effect he produced in the realm of
literature in his lifetime. Sir Walter (who is surpassed or equalled
by six writers of our own day, in the judgment of those astounding
gentlemen who periodically tell us what we ought to think) was the
founder of three great schools. He founded the school of romantic
mediaeval poetry; he founded the school of antiquarian romance; and he
founded the school of Scottish-character romance. He did odds and
ends of literary work, such as the compilation and annotation of 'The
Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border,' and the notes to the poems and the
Waverley Series. These were sparks from his great stithy, but a man
of industry and talent might have shown them proudly as a lifetime's
labour. The great men in literature are the epoch makers, and Sir Walter
is the only man in the literary history of the world who was an epoch
maker in more than one direction. It is the fashion to-day to decry him
as a poet. There are critics who, setting a high value on the verse
of Wordsworth or of Browning, for example, cannot concede the name of
poetry to any modern work which is not subtle and profound, metaphysical
or analytical. But as a mere narrative poet few men whose judgment is of
value will deny Scott the next place to Homer. As a poet he created
an epoch. It filled no great space in point of time, but we owe to Sir
Walter's impetus 'he Giaour,' 'he Corsair,' the 'Bride of Abydos.' In
his second character of antiquarian romancist, he awoke the elder Dumas,
and such a host of imitators, big and little, as no writer ever had at
his heels before or since. When he turned to Scottish character he made
Galt, and Robert Louis Stevenson, and Dr. George Macdonald, and all the
modern gentlemen who, gleaning modestly in the vast field he found, and
broke, and sowed, and reaped, are now his rivals.

Do the writers who claim to guide our opinions read Scott at all? Do
they know the scene of the hidden and revealed forces in the Trossach
glen--the carriage of the Fiery Cross--the sentence on the erring nun
--the last fight of her betrayer? Do they know the story of Jeannie
Deans? But it is useless to ask these questions or to multiply these
instances. Scott is placed. Master of laughter, master of tears, giant
of swiftness; crowned king, without one all-round rival.

One of those astonishing and yet natural things which sometimes startle
us is the value some minds attach to mere modernity in art. An old thing
is tossed up in a new way, and there are those who attach more value
to the way than the thing, and are instantly agape with admiration of
originality. But originality and modishness are different things. People
who have a right to guide public opinion discern the difference.

The absurd and damaging comparison between Scott and Stevenson has been
gravely offered by the latter's friends. They are doing a beautiful
artist a serious injustice, You could place Stevenson's ravishing
assortment of cameos in any chamber of Scott's feudal castle. It is
an intaglio beside a cathedral, a humming-bird beside an eagle. It is
anything exquisite beside anything nobly huge.

Let any man, who may be strongly of opinion that I am mistaken, conceive
Scott and Stevenson living in the same age and working in complete
ignorance of each other. Scott would still have set the world on fire.
Stevenson with his deft, swift, adaptive spirit, and his not easily
over-praised perfection in his craft, would have still done something;
but he would have missed his loftiest inspiration, his style would have
been far other than it is.

As a bit of pure literary enjoyment there are not many things better
than to turn from Stevenson's more recent pages to Scott's letters in
Lockhart's 'Life,' and to see where the modern found the staple of his
best and latest style.

The comparison, which has been urged so often, will not stand a moment's
examination. Stevenson is not a great creative artist. He is not an
epoch maker. He cannot be set shoulder to shoulder with any of the
giants. It is no defect in him which prompts this protest. Except in
the sense in which his example of purity, delicacy, and finish in verbal
work will inspire other artists, Stevenson will have no imitators, as
original men always have. He has 'done delicious things,' but he has
done nothing new. He has with astonishing labour and felicity built a
composite style out of the style of every good writer of English.
Even in a single page he sometimes reflected many manners. He is
the embodiment of the literary as distinguished from the originating
intellect. His method is almost perfect, but it is devoid of
personality. He says countless things which are the very echo of Sir
Walter's epistolary manner. He says things like Lamb, and sometimes they
are as good as the original could have made them. He says things like
Defoe, like Montaigne, like Rochefoucauld.

His bouquet is culled in every garden, and set in leaves which have
grown in all forests of literature. He is deft, apt, sprightly,
and always sincerely a man. He is just and brave, and essentially a
gentleman. He has the right imitative romance, and he can so blend Defoe
and Dickens with a something of himself which is almost, but not quite,
creative, that he can present you with a blind old Pugh or a John
Silver. He is a _littérateur_ born--and made. A verbal invention is meat
and drink to him. There are places where you see him actively in pursuit
of one, as when Markheim stops the clock with 'an interjected finger,'
or when John Silver's half-shut, cunning, and cruel eye sparkles 'like
a crumb of glass.' Stevenson has run across the Channel for that crumb,
and it is worth the journey.

Stevenson certainly had that share of genius which belongs to the man
who can take infinite pains. Add to this a beautiful personal character,
and an almost perfect receptivity. Add again the power of sympathetic
realisation in a purely literary sense, and you have the man. Let me
make my last addition clear. It is a common habit of his to think as
his literary favourites would have thought He could think like Lamb. He
could think like Defoe. He could even fuse two minds in this way,
and make, as it were, a composite mind for himself to think with.
His intellect was of a very rare and delicate sort, and whilst he was
essentially a reproducer, he was in no sense an imitator, or even for a
single second a plagiarist. He had an alembic of his own which made old
things new. His best possession was that very real sense of proportion
which was at the root of all his humour. 'Why doesn't God explain these
things to a gentleman like me?' There, a profound habitual reverence
of mind suddenly encounters with a ludicrous perception of his own
momentary self-importance. The two electric opposites meet, and emit
that flash of summer lightning.

Stevenson gave rare honour to his work, and the artist who shows his
self-respect in that best of ways will always be respected by the
world. He has fairly won our affection and esteem, and we give them
ungrudgingly. In seeming to belittle him I have taken an ungrateful
piece of work in hand. But in the long run a moderately just estimate of
a good man's work is of more service to his reputation than a strained
laudation can be. It is not the critics, and it is not I, who will
finally measure his proportions. He seems to me to stand well in the
middle of the middle rank of accepted writers. He will not live as an
inventor, for he has not invented. He will not live as one of those who
have opened new fields of thought. He will not live amongst those who
have explored the heights and the deeps of the spirit of man. He
may live--'the stupid and ignorant pig of a public' will settle the
question--as a writer in whose works stand revealed a lovable, sincere,
and brave soul and an unsleeping vigilance of artistic effort.

The most beautiful thing he has done--to my mind--is his epitaph. There
are but eight lines of it, but I know nothing finer in its way:

     Under the wide and starry sky
        Lay me down and let me lie.
     Glad did I live and gladly die,
        And I laid me down with a will!

     This be the verse you grave for me:
        Here he lies where he longed to be:
     Home is the Sailor, home from sea,
        And the Hunter home from the hill.

Sleep there, bright heart! In your waking hours you would have laughed
at the exaggerated praises which do you such poor service now!


There is a very old story to the effect that a party of gentlemen who
were compiling a dictionary described a crab as 'a small red animal
which walks backwards.' Apart from the facts that the crab is not
red, is not an animal, and does not walk backwards, the definition was
pronounced to be wholly admirable. I was reminded of this bit of ancient
history when, some time ago, I read a criticism on George Meredith from
the pen of Mr. George Moore. Mr. Moore represented his subject as a
shouting, gesticulating man in a crowd, who, in spite of great efforts
to be heard, remained unintelligible. As a description of a curiously
calm sage who soliloquises for his own amusement in a study this is
perfect. The enormous growth in the number of unthinking readers, and
the corresponding increase in our printed output, have brought about
some singular conditions, and, amongst them, this: that it is possible
to sustain a reputation by the mere act of being absurd.

In attempting anything like a just review of the influence of the
critical press in recent years, one has to admit that in its treatment
of George Meredith it has performed a very considerable and praiseworthy
public service. For many years Meredith worked in obscurity so far as
the general public were concerned. Here and there he won an impassioned
admirer, and from his beginning it may be said that he found audience
fit though few; but he owes much of the present extent of his reputation
to the efforts of generous and enlightened critics, who would not let
the public rest until they had at least given his genius a hearing. He
is now, and has for some time been, a fashionable cult. It is not likely
that in the broad sense he will ever be a popular writer, for the mass
of novel-readers are an idle and pleasure-loving folk, and no mere idler
and pleasure-seeker will read Meredith often or read him long at a time.
The little book which the angel gave to John of Patmos, commanding that
he should eat it, was like honey in the mouth, but in the belly it was
bitter. To the reader who first approaches him, a book of Meredith's
offers an accurate contrast to the roll presented by the angel. It is
tough chewing, but in digestion most suave and fortifying. The people
who instantly enjoy him, who relish him at first bite, are rare. Fine
intelligences are always rare. Personally, I am not one of the happy
few. I am at my third reading of any one of Meredith's later books
before I am wholly at my ease with it. I can find a most satisfying
simile (to myself). A new book of Meredith's comes to me like a hamper
of noble wines. I know the vintages, and I rejoice. I set to work to
open the hamper. It is corded and wired in the most exasperating way,
but at last I get it open. That is my first reading. Then I range my
bottles in the cellar--port, burgundy, hock, champagne, imperial tokay;
subtle and inspiring beverages, not grown in common vineyards, and
demanding to be labelled. That is my second reading. Then I sit down to
my wine, and that is my third; and in any book of Meredith's I have a
cellarful for a lifetime.

In view of a benefaction like this it becomes a man to be grateful,
but for all that it is a pity that a great writer and a willing reader
should be held apart by any avoidable hindrances. It is quite true that
an immediate popularity is no test of high merit. But the real man of
genius is, after all, he who permanently appeals to the widest public.

To the middle-aged and the elderly fiction is a luxury. A story-book
is like a pipe. It soothes and gratifies, and it helps an idle hour to
pass. But younger people find actual food or actual poison where their
elders find mere amusement. There are hundreds of thousands of young
men and women who feel that they would like to have a clear outlook
on things, who are searching more or less in earnest for a mental
standing-place and point of view. If I had my way they should all be
made to read Meredith, and the book at which I would start them should
be 'The Shaving of Shagpat.' It is in the nature of a handbook or guide
to a young person of genius, it is true, and we can't all be persons of
genius; but there is enough human nature in it to make it serviceable to
all but the stupid. In the midst of its fantastic phantasmagoria
there is a view of life so sane, so lofty, so feminine-tender, so
masculine-strong, so piercing, keen and clear, that it is not easy to
find an expression for admiration which shall be at once adequate and
sober. On the mere surface it is almost as good as the 'Arabian Nights,'
and at the first flush of it you think that fancy is running riot. But
when once the intention is grasped you find beneath that playful foam of
seeming fun and frolic a very astonishing and deep philosophy, and
the whole wild masquerade is filled with meaning. Read 'The Shaving
of Shagpat,' earnest young men and maidens. There is not much that is
better for mere amusement in all the libraries, and if you care for the
ripe conclusions of a scholar and a gentleman who knows the whole game
of life better than any other man now living, you may find them there.

I learn, on very good authority, that Meredith has but a poor
comparative opinion of his earlier work, and that he would dissent
rather strongly from the critic who pronounced 'The Ordeal of Richard
Feverel' his masterpiece. Yet it seems to me to be so, and in one
particular it takes high rank indeed. It is remarkable that whilst
love-making is so essential a part of the general human business, and
whilst no novel or play which ignores it stands much chance of success,
there are only two or three really virile presentations in fiction of
'the way of a man with a maid.' Shakspere gave us one in 'Romeo and
Juliet,' but then Shakspere gave us everything. Charles Reade, in 'Hard
Cash,' has shown us a pure girl growing into pure passion--a bit of
truth and beauty which alone might make a sterling and enduring name for
him. And Meredith in 'Feverel' has given us scenes of young courtship
which are beyond the praises of a writer like myself. The two young
people on their magic island are amongst the real-ideal figures which
haunt my mind with sweetness. Nature on either side is virginal. It
flames and trembles with natural passion both in boy and girl, and
they are as pure as a pair of daisies. Any workman in the school
of Namby-Pamby could have kept their purity. Any writer of the
Roman-candle-volcanic tribe could have heaped up their fires, after
a fashion. But for this special piece of work God had first to make a
gentleman, and then to give him genius.

One peculiarity in Meredith is worthy of notice. He makes known to us
the interior personality of his characters; he does this so completely
that we are persuaded that we could predict their line of conduct in
given circumstances; and then a set of circumstances occur in which
they do something we should never have believed of them, and we have
to confess that their maker is just and right, and that there is no
disputing him.

There are inconsistencies in his pages more glaring than anything we
can imagine outside real life. The average artist, dealing with these
manifestations, is a spectacle for pity, as the average man would be
on Blondin's tight rope. The faintest deviation, the most momentary
uncertainty of footing, a doubt, even, and it is all over. But Meredith
never falters. He proves the impossible true by the mere fact of
recording it.

He has no cranks or crazes or 'isms. He sees human nature with an eye
which is at once broad and microscopic. What seem the very faults of
style are virtues pushed to an extreme. He says more in a page than
most men can say in a chapter. Modern science can put the nutritive
properties of a whole ox into a very modest canister. Meredith's best
sentences have gone through just such a digestive process. He is not
for everybody's table, but he is a pride and a delight to the pick of
English epicures.

From Meredith to Hall Caine is from the study of the analyst to the
foundry of the statuary; from art in cold calm to art in stormy fire.
Here, too, is a force at work but it is strength at stress, and not
at ease. Meredith is not very greatly moved. He sympathises, but he
sympathises from the brain. His heart is right towards the world, but it
is cool. The man we are now dealing with has a passionate sympathy. He
is hot at heart, and he does not look on at the movement of mankind as
merely understanding it, and analysing it, and liking it,--and making
allowances for it. He is tumultuous and urgent, daring and impetuous,
eager to say a great word. His conceptions shake him. They are all
grandiose and huge. The great passions are awake in them--avarice, lust,
hate, love, god-like pity, supreme courage, base fear. The whole trend
of his mind is towards the heroic. He struggles to be in touch with the
actual, and he makes many incursions upon it, but Romance snatches him
away again, and claims him for her own. His native and ineradicable
concept of a work of art in fiction is a story that shall shake the
soul. This inborn passion for the vast and splendid in spiritual things
is always in strict subordination to a moral purpose. Here is the reason
for his hold upon the English-speaking people, which is probably, at
this moment, deeper and wider than that of any other living writer.

I do not deal in what I am now about to say with the critical adjustment
of relative powers, but simply with a question of temperament You may
draw a triangle, and at one of its extremes you may place Meredith, at
another Stevenson, and at another Hall Caine. At one extremity you have
an artist whose methods are almost purely intellectual, at the next you
have an embodiment of sympathetic receptivity, and at the third a man
whose forces are almost wholly emotional and dynamic. Stevenson's main
literary prompting was to say a thing as well as it could possibly be
said. Hall Caine's chief spur is a fiery impulse to a moral warning.

From the earliest stages of Hall Caine's literary career until now
his impulse has not changed, but he has made such a steady advance in
craftsmanship as could not be made by any man who did not take his work
in serious earnest. The faults of his first style still linger, but they
are chastened. He has the defect of his quality. In each of his books
he strives for an increasing stress of passion, a sustained crescendo; a
full and steady breeze for the beginning, and then a gale, a tempest,
a tornado. The story is always constructed with this view towards
emotional growth and culmination. Sometimes he lets us see the effort
this prodigious task imposes upon him, but in his later work more and
more rarely. The natural temptation is towards a resonant and insistent
eloquence, and he occasionally still forgets that he might, with ease to
himself, profitably leave the catastrophe he has created to make its
own impression. The artistic demand in the form of work to which his
instinct draws him is heavier than in any other. It is simply to be
white-hot in purpose and stone-cold in self-criticism at the same
instant of time.

Bar Meredith, who is quite _sui generis_, and Rudyard Kipling, whose
characteristics will be dealt with later on, Hall Caine has less of the
mark of his predecessors upon him than any of his contemporaries. His
work has grown out of himself. He has had a word to speak, and he has
spoken it So far he has increased in strength with every book, has grown
more master of his own conceptions and himself. In 'A Son of Hagar' he
forced his story upon his reader in defiance of possibility; but no such
blot on construction as the continued presence of a London cad in the
person of a Cumberland man in the latter's native village has been seen
in his more recent work. It is worth notice that even in this portion of
his story the narrator shows no remotest sign of a disposition to crane
at any of the numerous fences which lie before him. He takes them all
in his stride, and the reader goes with him, willy-nilly, protesting
perhaps, but helplessly whirled along in the author's grip. This faculty
of daring is sometimes an essential to the story-teller's art, and
Hall Caine has it in abundance, not merely in the occasional facing of
improbabilities, but in that much loftier and more admirable form where
it enables him to confront the cataclysmic emotions of the mind, and to
carry to a legitimate conclusion scenes of tremendous conception and
of no less tremendous difficulty. In the minds of vulgar and careless
readers the defects which are hardest to separate from this form of art
are so many added beauties, just as the over-emphasis of a tragic actor
is the very thing which best appeals to the gallery. But Hall Caine does
not address himself to the vulgar and the careless. He is eager to
leave his reputation to his peers and to posterity. With every year of
ripening power his capacity for self-restraint has grown. When it has
come of age in him, there will be nothing but fair and well. There has
been no man in his time who has shown a deeper reverence for his work,
or a more consistent increase in his command of it. His method is large
and noble, in accord with his design. He has given us the right to look
to him for better and better and always better, and it is only in the
direction indicated that he can mend.


I was 'up in the back blocks' of Victoria when I lighted upon some stray
copies of the weekly edition of the 'Melbourne Argus,' and became aware
of the fact that we had amongst us a new teller of stories, with a voice
and a physiognomy of his own. The 'Argus' had copied from some journal
in far-away India a poem and a story, each unsigned, and each bearing
evidence of the same hand. A year later I came back to England, and
found everybody talking about 'The Man from Nowhere,' who had just taken
London by storm. Rudyard Kipling's best work was not as yet before us,
but there was no room for doubt as to the newcomer's quality, and the
only question possible was as to whether he had come to stay. That
inquiry has now been satisfactorily answered. The new man of half a
dozen years ago is one of England's properties, and not the one of which
she is least proud. About midway in his brief and brilliant career,
counting from his emergence until now, people began to be afraid that he
had emptied his sack. Partly because he had lost the spell of novelty,
and partly because he did too much to be always at his best, there came
a time when we thought we saw him sinking to a place with the ruck.

Sudden popularity carries with it many grave dangers, but the gravest
of all is the temptation to produce careless and unripe work. To this
temptation the new man succumbed, but only for awhile. Like the candid
friend of Lady Clara Vere de Vere, he saw the snare, and he retired. But
at the time when, instead of handing out the bread of life in generous
slices, he took to giving us the sweepings of the basket I wrote a set
of verses, which I called 'The Ballad of the Rudyard Kipling.' I never
printed it, because by the time it was fairly written.

Kipling's work had not merely gone back to its first quality, but seemed
brighter and finer than before, and the poor thing, such as it was, was
in the nature of a satire. I venture to write down the opening verses
here, since they express the feeling with which at least one writer of
English fiction hailed his first appearance.

 Oh, we be master mariners that sail the snorting seas,
 Right red-plucked mariners that dare the peril of the storm
 But we be old and worn and cold, and far from rest and ease,
 And only love and brotherhood can keep our tired hearts warm.

 We were a noble company in days not long gone by,
 And mighty craft our elders sailed to every earthly shore.
 Men of worship, and dauntless soul, that feared nor sea nor sky;
 But God's hand stilled the valiant hearts, and the masters sail no more.

 And for awhile, though we be brave and handy of our trade,
 We sailed no master-galleon, but wrought in cockboats all,
 Slight craft and manned with a single hand; yet many a trip we made,
 Though we but crept from port to port with cargoes scant and small.

 But on a day of wonder came ashining on the deep,
 A royal Splendour, proud with sail, and generous roar of guns;
 She passed us, and we gaped and stared.
 Her lofty bows were steep,
 And deep she rode the waters deep with a weight of countless tons.

 Her rig was strange, her name unknown, she came we knew not whence,
 But on the flag at her peak we read 'The Drums of the Fore and Aft.'
 And--I speak for one--my breath came thick and my pulse beat hard and tense,
 And we cheered with tears of splendid joy at sight of the splendid craft.

 She swept us by; her master came and spoke us from the side;
 We knew our elder, though his beard was scarce yet fully grown;
 She spanked for home through churning foam with favouring wind and tide,
 And while we hailed like mad he sailed, a King, to take his own.

Some men are born rich, and some are born lucky, and some are born both
to luck and riches. Kipling is one of the last. Nature endowed him with
uncommon qualities, and circumstances sent him into the sphere in which
those qualities could be most fortunately exercised. It seems strange
that the great store of treasure which he opened to us should have
been unhandled and unknown so long. His Indian pictures came like a
revelation. It is always so when a man of real genius dawns upon the
world. It was so when Scott showed men and women the jewelled mines of
romance which lay in the highways and byways of homely Scotland. It was
so when Dickens bared the Cockney hearth to the sight of all men. Meg
Merrilies, and Rob Roy, and Edie Ochiltree were all _there_--the wild,
the romantic, the humorous were at the doors of millions of men before
Scott saw them. In London, in the early days of Dickens, there were
hordes of capable writers eager for something new. Not one of them saw
Bob Cratchit, or Fagin, or the Marchioness until Dickens saw them. So,
in India, the British Tommy had lived for many a year, and the jungle
beasts were there, and Government House and its society were there,
and capable men went up and down the land, sensible of its charm, its
wonder, its remoteness from themselves, and yet not discerning truly.
At last, when a thousand feet have trodden upon a thing of inestimable
price, there comes along a newspaper man, doing the driest kind of
hackwork, bound to a drudgery as stale and dreary as any in life, and he
sees what no man has ever seen before him, though it has been plain in
view for years and years. Through scorn and discouragement and contumely
he polishes his treasure, in painful hours snatched from distasteful
labour, and at last he brings it where it can be seen and known for what
it is.*

     * I learn, on the very best authority, that Mr. Kipling
     regards his early and unrecognised days in India with much
     kindlier eyes than this would seem to indicate. It may be
     thought that, knowing this, I should amend or delete the
     passage. I let it stand, however, with this note as a
     qualification, because I think it possible that he, like the
     rest of us, looks on the past through tinted spectacles.

It is only genius which owns the seeing eye. There are in Great Britain
to-day a dozen writers of fine faculty, trained to observe, trained
to give to observation its fullest artistic result; and they are all
panting for something new. The something new is under their noses. They
see it and touch it every day. If I could find it, my name in a year
would sail over the seas, and I should be a great personage. But I
shall not find it. None of the men who are now known will find it. It is
always the unknown man who makes that sort of discovery. He will come in
time, and when he comes we shall wonder and admire, and say: 'How new!
How true!' Why, in that very matter of Tommy Atkins, whose manifold
portraits have done as much as anything to endear Kipling to the English
people--it is known to many that in my own foolish youth I enlisted in
the Army. I lived with Tommy. I fought and chaffed and drank and drilled
and marched, and went 'up tahn' with him, and did pack drill, and had
C.B. with him. I turned novel-writer afterwards, and never so much as
dreamt of giving Tommy a place in my pages. Then comes Kipling, not
knowing him one-half as well in one way, and knowing him a thousand
times better in another way, and makes a noble and beautiful and merited
reputation out of him; shows the man inside the military toggery, and
makes us laugh and cry, and exult with feeling. There was a man in New
South Wales--a shepherd--who went raving mad when he learnt that the
heavy black dust which spoilt his pasture was tin, and that he had waked
and slept for years without discovering the gigantic fortune which was
all about him. I will not go mad, if I can help it, but I do think it
rather hard lines on me that I hadn't the simple genius to see what lay
in Tommy.

A good deal has been said of the occasional coarseness of Kipling's
pages. There are readers who find it offensive, and they have every
right to the expression of their feelings. I confess to having
been startled once or twice, but never in a wholly disagreeable
fashion--never as 'Jude the Obscure' startled. Poor Captain Mayne Reid,
who is still beloved by here and there a schoolboy, wrote a preface to
one of his books--I think 'The Rifle Rangers,' but it is years on years
since I saw it--in order to put forth his defence for the introduction
of an occasional oath or impious expletive in the conversation of his
men of the prairies. He pleaded necessity. It was impossible to portray
his men without it. And he argued that an oath does not soil the mind
'like the clinging immorality of an unchaste episode.' The majority
of Englishmen will agree with the gallant Captain. Kipling is rough
at times, and daring, but he is always clean and honest. There are no
hermaphroditic cravings after sexual excitement in him. He is too much
of a man to care for that kind of thing.

What a benefactor an honest laughter-maker is! Since Dickens there has
been nobody to fill our lungs like Kipling. Is it not better that the
public should have 'My Lord the Elephant' and 'Brugglesmith' to
laugh outright at than that they should be feebly sniggering over the
jest-books begotten on English Dulness by Yankee humour, as they were
eight or nine years ago? That jugful of Cockney sky-blue, with a feeble
dash of Mark Twain in it, which was called 'Three Men in a Boat' was not
a cheerful tipple for a mental bank-holiday, but we poor moderns got no
better till the coming of Kipling. We have a right to be grateful to the
man who can make us laugh.

The thing which strikes everybody who reads Kipling--and who does
not?--is the truly astonishing range of his knowledge of technicalities.
He is very often beyond me altogether, but I presume him to be accurate,
because nobody finds him out, and that is a thing which specialists are
so fond of doing that we may be sure they would have been about him in
clouds if he had been vulnerable. He gives one the impression at times
of being arrogant about this special fund of knowledge. But he
nowhere cares to make his modesty conspicuous to the reader, and his
cocksureness is only the obverse of his best literary virtue. It comes
from the very crispness and definiteness with which he sees things.
There are no clouds about the edges of his perceptions. They are all
clear and _nette_, Things observed by such a man dogmatise to the mind,
and it is natural that he should dogmatise as to what he sees with such
apparent precision and completeness.

A recent writer, anonymous, but speaking from a respectable vehicle
as platform, has told us that the short story is the highest form into
which any expression of the art of fiction can be cast. This to me looks
very like nonsense. I do not know any short story which can take rank
with 'Père Goriot,' or 'Vanity Fair,' or 'David Copper-field.' The short
story has charms of its own, and makes demands of its own. What those
demands are only the writers who have subjected themselves to its
tyranny can know. The ordinary man who tries this form of art finds
early that he is emptying his mental pockets. Kipling's riches in this
respect have looked as if they were without end, and no man before him
has paid away so much. But it has to be remembered here that in many
examples of his power in this way he has been purely episodic, and the
discovery or creation of an episode is a much simpler thing than the
discovery or creation of a story proper, which is a collection of
episodes, arranged in close sequence, and leading to a catastrophe,
tragic or comic, as the theme may determine.

In estimating the value of any writer's work you must take his range
into consideration. Kipling stretches, in emotion, from deep seriousness
to exuberant laughter; and his grasp of character is quite firm and
sure, whether he deal with Mrs. Hawksbee or with Dinah Shadd; with
a field officer or with Mulvaney, Ortheris, and Learoyd; with the
Inspector of Forests or with Mowgli. He knows the ways of thinking
of them all, and he knows the tricks of speech of all, and the outer
garniture and daily habitudes of all. His mind seems furnished with an
instantaneous camera and a phonographic recorder in combination; and
keeping guard over this rare mental mechanism is a spirit of catholic
affection and understanding.

Finally, he is an explorer, one of the original discoverers, one of the
men who open new regions to our view. A revelation has waited for him.
He is as much the master of his English compeers in originality as
Stevenson was their master in finished craftsmanship.


Within the last half-score of years an extraordinary impulse towards
freedom in the artistic representation of life has touched some of our
English writers. Thackeray, in 'Pendennis,' laments that since Fielding
no English novelist has 'dared to draw a man.' Dr. George Macdonald, in
his 'Robert Falconer,' whispers, in a sort of stage _aside_, his wish
that it were possible to be both decent and honest in the exposition of
the character of the Baron of Rothie, who is a seducer by profession.
Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of Thackeray was, that
he was a gentleman, and that his good-breeding and his manliness were
essentially of the English pattern. Dr. Mac-donald's most intense
impulse is towards purity of life, as an integral necessity for that
communion with the Eternal Fatherhood which he preaches with so much
earnestness and charm. That two such men should have felt that
their work was subject to a painful limitation on one side of it is
significant, but it is a fact which may be used with equal force as an
argument by the advocates of the old method and the adopters of the new.
It is perfectly true that they felt the restriction, but it is equally
true that they respected it, and were resolute not to break through it.
Their cases are cited here, not as an aid to argument on one side or the
other, but simply to show that the argument itself is no new thing--that
the question as to how far freedom is allowable has been debated in the
minds of honest writers, and decided in one way, long before it came to
be debated by another set of honest writers, who decided it in another.

There never was an age in which outspoken honesty was indecent. There
never was an age in which pruriency in any guise could cease to be
indecent. There never was an age when the fashion of outspoken honesty
did not give a seeming excuse to pruriency; and it is this fact,
that freedom in the artistic presentation of the sexual problems
has invariably led to license, which has in many successive ages of
literature forced the artist back to restraint, and has made him content
to be bound by a rigid puritanism. In the beat of the eternal pendulum
of taste it seems ordained that puritanism shall become so very
puritanic that art shall grow tired of its bonds, and that liberty in
turn shall grow offensive, and shall compel art by an overmastering
instinct to return towards puritanism.

It is France which has led the way in the latest protest against the
restrictions imposed by modern taste upon art. It may be admitted as a
fact that those restrictions were felt severely, for it is obvious
that until they began to chafe there was no likelihood of their being
violently broken. The chief apostle of the new movement towards entire
freedom is, of course, Emile Zola. After having excited for many years
an incredulous amazement and disgust, he is now almost universally
recognised as an honest and honourable artist, and as a great master in
his craft. Nobody who is at all instructed ventures any longer to say
that Zola is indecent because he loves indecency, or is pleased by the
contemplation of the squalid and obscene. We see him as he truly is--a
pessimist in humanity--sad and oppressed, and bitter with the gall of a
hopeless sympathy with suffering and distorted mankind.

One English artist, whom, in the just language of contemporary
criticism, it is no exaggeration to describe as great, has elected
(rather late in life for so strong a departure) to cast in his lot with
the new school. That his ambitions are wholly honourable it would be
the mere vanity of injustice to deny. That his new methods contrast very
unfavourably with his old ones, that he is lending the weight of his
authority to a movement which is full of mischief, that in obeying in
all sincerity an artistic impulse he is doing a marked disservice to
his own art in particular, and to English art in general, are with me so
many rooted personal convictions; but I dare not pretend that they are
more. Mr. Hardy is just as sincere in his belief that he is right as
I and others among his critics are in our belief that he is wrong. The
question must be threshed out dispassionately and judicially, if it be
faced at all. It cannot be settled by an appeal to personal sentiment
on either side. But in the limits to which I am now restricted it is
impossible to do justice to the discussion, and it would, indeed, be
barely possible to state even the whole of its terms.

I am forced to content myself, therefore, with a temperamental
expression of opinion in place of a judicial one, pleading only that the
arguments against me are recognised and respected, although I have no
present opportunity of recapitulating and disputing them. It appears,
then--to speak merely as an advocate _ex parte_--to us of the old school
that an essential part of the fiction writer's duty is to be harmless.
That, of course, to the men of the cayenne-pepper-caster creed seems
a very milky sort of proclamation, but to us it is a matter of grave
moment. I have always thought, for my own part, that the novelist might
well take for his motto the last five words of that passage in 'The
Tempest' where we read: 'This isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet
airs, which _give delight and hurt not!_ Simple as the motto seems, it
will be found to offer a fairly wide range. When Reade tilted against
prison abuses and the abuses of private asyla, or when Dickens rode down
on the law of Chancery as administered in his day, or when Thackeray
scourged snobbery and selfishness in society, they were all well within
the limits of this rule. We experience a delight which hurts not, but
on the contrary is entirely tonic and inspiring, when Satire swings his
lash on the bared back of Hypocrisy or cruel and intentioned Vice. We
experience a delight which hurts not, but on the contrary freshens the
whole flood of feeling within us, when a true artist deals truly with
the sorrows and infirmities of our kind. To offer it as our intent
to give delight and hurt not is no mere profession of an artistic
Grundyism. It is the proclamation of what is to our minds the simple
truth, that fiction should be a joyful, an inspiring, a sympathetic,
and a helpful art. There are certain questions the public discussion of
which we purposely avoid. There are certain manifestations of character
the exhibition of which we hold to be something like a crime.

Mr. Hardy would plead, and with perfectly apparent propriety, that he
does not choose to write for 'the young person.' But I answer that he
cannot help himself. He cannot choose his audience. Fiction appeals to
everybody, and fiction so robust, so delicate and charming as his own
finds its way into all hands. When a man can take a hall, and openly
advertise that he intends to speak therein 'to men only,' he is
reasonably allowed a certain latitude. If he pitches his cart on
the village green, and talks with the village lads and lasses within
hearing, he will, if he be a decent fellow, avoid the treatment of
certain themes.

To take the most striking example:--In 'Jude the Obscure' Mr. Hardy
deals very largely with the emotions and reasons which animate a young
woman when she decides not to sleep with her husband, when she decides
that she will sleep with her husband, when she decides to sleep with a
man who is not her husband, and when she decides not to sleep with
the man who is not her husband. Now, all this does not matter to the
mentally solid and well-balanced reader. It is not very interesting, for
one thing, and apart from the fact that it is, from a workman's point of
view, astonishingly well done, it would not be interesting at all.
Mr. Hardy offers it as the study of a temperament. Very well. It is an
excellent study of a temperament, but it bores. The theme is not big
enough to be worth the effort expended upon it. Here is an hysterical,
wrong-headed, and confused-hearted little hussy who can't make up her
mind as to what is right and what is wrong, and who is a prey to the
impulse of the moment, psychical or physical. I don't think there are
many people like her. I don't think that from the broad human-natural
point of view it matters a great deal how she decides. But I am sure of
this--that the more that kind of small monstrosity is publicly analysed
and anatomised and made much of, the more her morbidities will increase
in her, and the more unbearable in real life she is likely to become.
Mr. Hardy's labour in this particular is a direct incentive to the study
of hysteria as a fine art amongst such women as are natively prone to
it. One of the gravest dangers which beset women is that of hysterical
self-deception. The common-sense fashion of dealing with them when they
suffer in that way is kindly and gently to ignore their symptoms until
the reign of common-sense returns. To make them believe that their
emotions are worthy of the scrutiny of a great analyst of the human
heart is to increase their morbid temptations, and in the end to render
those temptations irresistible. The one kind of person to whom 'Jude the
Obscure' must necessarily appeal with the greatest power is the kind
of person depicted in its pages, and the tendency of the book is
unavoidably towards the development and multiplication of the type
described. This is the only end the book can serve, apart from the fact
that it does reveal to us Mr. Hardy's special knowledge of a dangerous
and disagreeable form of mental disorder, But it is not the physician's
business to sow disease, and any treatise on hysteria which is thrown
into a captivating popular form, and makes hysteria look like an
interesting and romantic thing, will spread the malady as surely as
a spark will ignite gunpowder. This at least is not a mere matter of
opinion, but of sound scientific fact, which no student of that disorder
which Mr. Hardy has so masterfully handled will deny. In this respect,
then, the book is a centre of infection, and that the author of 'A Pair
of Blue Eyes' should have written it is matter at once for astonishment
and grief. That is to say, it is a matter of astonishment and grief
to me, and to those who think as I do. There is a large and growing
contingent of writers and readers to whom it is a theme for joyful
congratulation. It is one of the rules of the game we are now playing to
respect all honest conviction.

Of Mr. Hardy, from the purely artistic side, there is little time
to speak. On that side let me first set down what is to be said in
dispraise, for the mere sake of leaving a sweet taste in the mouth at
the end. Even from his own point of view--that lauded 'sense of the
overwhelming sadness of modern life' which captivates the admirers of
his latest style--it is possible to spread the epic table of sorrow
without finding a place upon it for scraps of the hoggish anatomy which
are not nameable except in strictly scientific or wholly boorish speech.
But it seems necessary to the new realism that its devotee should be
able to write for the perusal of gentlemen and ladies about things
he dared not mention orally in the presence of either; so that what a
drunken cabman would be deservedly kicked for saying in a lady's hearing
may be honourably printed for a lady's reading by a scholar and a sage.
It was once thought otherwise, but I am arguing here, not against
realism _per se_, but against the inartistic introduction of gross
episodes. Every reader of Mr. Hardy will recognise my meaning, and the
passage in my mind seems gratuitously and unserviceably offensive.

To come to less unpleasing themes, where, still expressing disapproval,
one may do it with some grace, one of the few limitations to Mr. Hardy's
great charm as a writer lies in his tendency to encumber his page with
detail. At a supremely romantic moment one of his people sits down to
contemplate a tribe of ants, and watches them through two whole printed
pages. In another case a man in imminent deadly peril surveys through
two pages the history of the geologic changes which have befallen our
planet. Each passage, taken by itself, is good enough. Taken where it
is, each is terribly wearisome and wrong.

I do not know that any critic has yet recorded Mr. Hardy's singular
limitations as to the invention of plot. Speaking from memory, I cannot
at this moment recall a novel of his in which some trouble does not
circle about a marriage licence, and I can recall many instances of
going to church to get married and coming back single. That, indeed, is
Mr. Hardy's _pièce de résistance_ in the way of invention, and it crops
up in one book after another with a helpless inevitable-ness which at
last grows comic.

But here we can afford to have done with carping, and can turn to the
much more grateful task of praise. I do not think it too much to say
that Mr. Hardy has studied his own especial part of England, has made
himself master of its landscape, its town and hamlet life, its tradition
and sentiment, and general spiritual atmosphere, to such triumphant
effect as to set himself wholly apart from all other English writers
of fiction. His devotion to his own beloved Wessex has brought him
this rich and merited reward--that he is the recognised first and final
master of its field. His knowledge of rustic life within his own borders
is beautifully sympathetic and profound. His impression of the landscape
in the midst of which this life displays itself is broad and noble and
alive. His literary style is a thing to admire, to study, and to admire
again. All worthy readers of English fiction are his debtors for many
idyllic happy hours, and many deep inspirations of wholesome English
air. And if, at the parting of the ways, we wave a decisive farewell to
him, we are not unmindful of the time when he was the best and dearest
of our comrades, and we leave him in the certainty that, whatever path
he has chosen, he has been guided in his choice by an ambition which is
entirely honourable and sincere.


That salt of sincerity which saves 'Jude the Obscure' and 'Tess o' the
D'Urber-villes' from being wholly nauseous, is absent from 'A Modern
Lover' and 'A Drama in Muslin,' and its flavour is but faintly
perceptible in 'Esther Waters.' Except on the distinct understanding
that Thomas Hardy and George Moore are bracketed here, for the sake of
convenience, as being both 'under French encouragement,' it would be a
gross critical injustice to couple their names together at all. It is
not one man of letters in a hundred who has Mr. Hardy's mere literary
faculty, which is native and brilliant, whilst Mr. Moore's has been
painstakingly hunted for and brought from afar, and is, after much
polishing, still a trifle dull. Mr. Thomas Hardy is distinctly one of
those men who see things through an atmosphere of their own. Mr. George
Moore has borrowed his atmosphere. The one is a man of genius as well as
labour, and the other is a man of labour only.

It is very much of a pity that, a year or two ago, somebody's sense
of Mr. Moore's position in the world of letters should have been very
absurdly emphasised. It was solemnly advertised that a certain number of
copies of a book of his might be had on large paper, with the autograph
of the author. This was to be regretted, for Mr. Moore, in his own way,
is worth taking seriously, whilst the trick is one of those which, as a
rule, can only be played by the poorest kind of literary outsider. But
that the author should have permitted himself to be thus made ridiculous
is a characteristic thing, and one not to be passed in silence if we
wish to understand him.

Consulting the critics, one of the first things we find about Mr. Moore
is that he is an observer. As a matter of fact, that is absolutely
what he is not. He is so far from being an observer that he is that
diametrically opposite person, a man with a notebook. The man who
amongst men of letters deserves to be ranked as an observer is he who
naturally and without effort sees things in their just place, aspect,
proportion, and perspective. The man who is often falsely described
by the title which expresses this faculty is a careful and painstaking
soul, who is strenuously on the watch for detail, and who takes much
trouble to fill his pages with it.

Let me offer a concrete illustration. In 'Esther Waters' Mr. Moore is
curiously and meaninglessly emphatic in his description of a certain
room in which the heroine of his action sleeps. Esther, we are told,
slipped on her nightdress and got into bed. It was a brass bed without
curtains. There were two windows in the room. One of them was flush
with the head of the bed, and the other was beyond its foot. A chest of
drawers stood between them. An observer, unless he had a special purpose
in it, would never have dreamt of writing down this bald detail. Nothing
comes of the statement of fact. Nothing hangs on the relative position
of the bed and the windows and the chest of drawers. Nothing happens
in the course of the story which justifies the flat and flavourless
statement. It is wholly without meaning, apart from the fact that it
affords rather a plain insight into the author's method of work. If a
child of three after visiting a strange bedroom were able to tell as
much about it as Mr. Moore has to tell about this apartment, his mother
would probably be proud of him, and his nurse would say that he was a
notice-taking little creature; but the critics would hardly hold him up
to admiration as an observer. Yet the child would tell us just as much
and just as little as Mr. Moore tells us in this particular instance.
It goes without saying that this is not a fair specimen of Mr. Moore's
faculty, but it is significant of his general literary knack. He makes
it his business steadfastly to jot down what he sees, and it is not
impossible that in the course of a long and laborious life a man might
in this way cultivate to a reasonable growth a turn for observation
originally less than mediocre; but it is not the natural observer's
method of seeing things, and it is not the natural artist's method of
presenting them. If the critics in this case were in the right we should
have to acknowledge an auctioneer's catalogue as a _chef d'ouvre_.

To the sympathetic reader it was evident from the first that Mr. Moore
was not greatly enamoured of his work for its own sake, and that he
chose his themes, not because of any imperative attraction they had for
him, but simply and purely for the use to which he could put them. His
choice of subject has always been the result of a deliberate search for
the effective. The mental process which gave rise to 'A Mummer's Wife'
is easily traceable. The domestic life of the class of people he made up
his mind to treat was as little known to him as to almost anybody, but
if properly handled it was pretty sure to make good copy. He must know
it first, however, and so he set himself to learn it. This is the Zola
method, but it is that method with a difference. The great French master
started with an inspired and inspiring scheme, his idea being no less
than to paint the society of an epoch from top to base, to present in a
series of books, the writing of which should fill his literary lifetime,
a completed portraiture of the whole people of his land and day. In the
course of such a labour as he had courageously appointed for himself,
many lines of special inquiry were necessarily indicated, but the
details for which he searched were all employed with an artistic
remorselessness in the building of that one great scheme of his, and
each successive book which left his hands was like one more nail driven
home and clinched for the support of his argument. Mr. Moore, as those
who are honoured by his personal acquaintance know better than those who
only read his books, resents with some warmth the obvious parallel which
has been drawn between Zola and himself; but he is a copyist of Zola's
method for all that, and but for Zola's influence would never have been
heard of on his own present lines. In the writing of the 'Mummers Wife'
the first obvious impulse came from Zola, It should be the writer's
business to discover a section of English life not hitherto
exploited--it should be his business to explore it with a minute
thoroughness--and it should, further, be his business to depict it as he
found it. To be thoroughly painstaking in inquiry, and without fear in
the exposition of facts discovered, were the aims before the writer. But
Mr. Moore forgot, as was inevitable in the circumstances, that no desire
for knowledge of things human is of real value without sympathy. He
followed the fortunes of a theatrical company touring in the provinces,
and though it is true enough that people who know that kind of life find
trivial errors here and there, it has to be admitted that on the whole
he gave a true and characteristic picture of the outside life of such a
community. How a certain class of theatrical people dress and talk, what
their work is, and what their outer ways are like, he has discovered
with infinite painstaking; but the fact remains that it is the work
of an outsider. He has never once got under the skin of any one of his
people, and this is true, because he was impelled to write about them,
not because they were human, and therefore endowed with all human
characteristics of hatefulness, and lovableness, and quaintness, and
humour, and vanity, and jealousy, but because he saw good copy in them.
He neither loves nor hates, nor, indeed, except for his own sake, is for
a. second even faintly interested. He is there to make a book, and
these people offer excellent material for a book. He is astonishingly
industrious, and his minuteness is without end, but he never warms to
his subject. His aim, in short, is one of total artistic selfishness.
It is very likely that he would accept this statement of his standpoint,
and would justify it as the only standpoint of an artist. But it is
answerable for the fact that his pages are sterile of laughter and
tears, of sympathy and of pity.

In 'A Modern Lover' and 'A Drama in Muslin' we find him dealing with a
life he knows. He is no longer on ground wholly foreign to him, and it
is no longer necessary that he should grope from one uncertain standing
place to another, verifying himself by the dark lantern of his note-book
as he goes. He moves with a more natural ease, views things with
a larger and more comprehensive eye, and has at least that outside
sympathy with his people which comes of community of taste and
knowledge, and of familiarity with a social _milieu_.

In 'Esther Waters' the earlier characteristics break out again, and
break out with greater force than ever. What he calls--with one of
those tumbles into foreign idiom which occasionally mark his pages--'the
fever of the gamble' has never been truly diagnosed in English fiction,
and the theme is undeniably fertile. He knows absolutely nothing about
the manifestations of the disorder, to begin with; but that is of no
consequence, for the world is open to observation; and the note-book,
the inquiring mind, and the sleuthhound patience are all as available
as ever. Then a combination occurs to him. Servantgalism awaits; its
painter. The life is picturesque from a certain point of view: it
impinges more or less on the lives of all of us, and nobody has hitherto
thought it worth while to search into its mysteries, and to tell us what
it is really like. He knows nothing at all about this either, but
he will make inquiries. He does make inquiries, and they result in a
picture which is, on the whole, a piece of surprising accuracy. But
still all the fire is for the work. The subject is sought for, the
details are gathered, the workman's patience and labour are truly
conscientious--at times they excite admiration and surprise--but the
net result is lifeless. In the way of waxwork--it would be hard to find
anything more effective than the people in 'Esther Waters.' They are
clothed with an exactitude of detail which would do credit to Madame
Tussaud's exhibition in its latest development. They are carefully
modelled and coloured and posed. They are capital waxwork, and if the
author had only cared a little bit about them, they might have even that
mystic touch of life which thrills us in the finer sorts of fiction. It
is eternally true that the wounded is the wounding heart, and the mere
descriptive and analytical method not only misses the natural human
movement, but it is untrue in its results. Vivisection teaches
something, no doubt, but it does not bring a knowledge of the natural
animal. To get that knowledge you had better live with him a little, and
even love him a little, and teach him to love you. All the scientific
inquiry in the world is not worth--in art--one touch of affectionate

Esther Waters is to go to a lying-in hospital, and thither goes her
author before her, bent on what he can picturesquely set down about
her surroundings. Her husband is to go to a hospital for consumption.
Thither goes the author, and sets down things seen and heard with the
wooden, conscientious precision of a bailiff's clerk. The conception of
things inquired into seems never to move him to interest, though one
is forced to believe that once, at least, he has narrowly escaped the
contagion of a great scene. Esther's illegitimate child is born, and
the mother, who has temporarily left him for his own sake, to accept a
position as wet-nurse, is inspired by a hungry maternal longing, which
drags her irresistibly from warmth and comfort to a poverty whose
bitterness has but a single solace--the joy of satisfied motherly love.
There are writers who have not a hundredth part of Mr. Moore's industry
who would have moved the reader deeply with such a scene. But, if Mr.
Moore feels at all, he is ashamed to show it. This mother-hunger is
apparently just as affecting a thing to him as the position of the
chest of drawers between the two windows--a fact made note of, and,
therefore, to be chronicled. Either the writer is content coldly to
survey this rage of passion, or he would have us believe he is so; and
in either case he misses the mark of the artist, which is, after all, to
show such things as he deals with as they truly are, and to seize upon
their inwardness. We do not ask for a slavering flux of sentiment, or
an acrobat's display in gesticulation. But, from a gentleman whose
corns when trodden on are probably as painful as his neighbours', we are
content with something less than a godlike indifference to the emotions
of humanity. Let us suppose, charitably, that this is no more than
a pretence, and that Mr. Moore is neither at heart so callous nor in
vanity so far removed from mere emotional interests as he would seem.

The most patient of investigators in strange regions will make slips
sometimes. Mr. Moore, for instance, investigating the racing stable,
treats us to a view of a horse whose legs are tightly bandaged from
his knees to his forelocks, and his vulgarest peasants and servants say
'that is he,' or 'if it be.' One characteristic of the common speech of
our country he has caught with accuracy, though it can scarcely be said
that it needed much observation to secure it. The very objectionable
word 'bloody,' as it is used by the vulgar, is Mr. Moore's 'standby'
in 'Esther Waters,' It is very likely that it takes a sort of daring to
introduce the word freely into a work of fiction, but the courage does
not seem very much more respectable than the word.


When I undertook the writing of this series, Mr. S. R. Crockett, except
for his 'Mad Sir Uchtred of the Hills,' was unknown to me by actual
reading. My opinion of that story was not a high one. I thought it, and
on a second reading still think it, feebly pretentious. But for some
reason or another Mr. Crockett's name has been buzzed about in such
a prodigality of praise that it came natural to believe and hope that
later work from his pen had shown a quality which the first little
_brochure_ had not revealed, and that the world had found in him a
genuine addition to its regiment of literary workmen. The curiosity
with which a section of the newspaper press has been inspired as to
Mr. Crockett's personal whereabouts, as to his comings and goings, his
engagements for the future, and his prices 'per thousand words,' would
have seemed to indicate that in him we had discovered a person of
considerably more than the average height.

The result of a completer perusal of his writings is not merely
destructive of this hope. It is positively stunning and bewildering.
Mr. Crockett is not only not a great man, but a rather futile very small
one. The unblushing effrontery of those gentlemen of the press who
have set _him_ on a level with Sir Walter is the most mournful and most
contemptible thing in association with the poorer sort of criticism
which has been encountered of late years.

It is no part of an honest critic's business to be personally offensive.
It is no part of his function to find a pleasure in giving pain. But
it is a part of his business, which is not to be escaped, to do his
fearless best to tell the truth, and the truth about Mr. Crockett and
the press is not to be told without giving deep offence, to him and it.
Fortunately, the press is a very wide corporation indeed, and if
there are venal people employed upon it, there are at least as many
scrupulously honourable; and if there are stupid people who can be
carried by a cry, there are men of all grades of brilliant ability,
ranging from genius to talent To put the matter in plain English will
offend neither honesty nor ability, and to give offence to venality or
incompetence is not an act of peculiar daring.

In plain English, then, it is not a matter of opinion as to whether Mr.
Crockett is worthy of the stilted encomium which has mopped and mowed
about him. It is not a matter of opinion as to whether Mr. Crockett has
or has not rivalled Sir Walter. It is a matter of absolute fact, about
which no two men who are even moderately competent to judge can dispute
for a second. The newspaper press, or a very considerable section of it,
has conspired to set Mr. Crockett upon an eminence so removed from his
fitness for it that he is made ridiculous by the mere fact of being
perched there. When Robert Louis Stevenson suffered from the hysteria
of praise, the natural feeling was to save an exquisite artist from the
excusable exaltations of enthusiasm. When the genuine art and real
fun and touching pathos of Mr. J. M. Barrie hurried his admirers into
uncritical ecstasy, one's only fear was lest the popular taste should
take an undeserved revenge in coldness and neglect. To say in the first
flush of affection and enjoyment that 'A Window in Thrums' is as good
as Sir Walter, or that 'The Master of Ballantrae' is better, is not to
exercise the faculty of a critic; but it is not monstrous or absurd. It
is the expression of a momentary happy ebullience, a natural ejaculation
of gratitude for a beautiful gift. It is only when the judgment comes
to be persisted in that we find any element of danger in it. It is only
when gravely and strenuously repeated, as in Stevenson's case, that it
is to be resented, and then mainly on the ground that it does harm to
the object of it. But in the case now under review the conditions are
not the same. Poor Stevenson, whose early death is still a poignant
grief was indubitably a man of genius. Settle the question of stature
how you may, there is no denying the species to which such a writer
belongs. Mr. Barrie _has_ genius--which is a slightly different thing.
But Mr. Crockett in the great rank of letters is 'as just and mere a
serving-man as any born of woman,' and there has been as much banging
of the paragraphic drum concerning him, and as assured a proclamation of
his mastership, as if every high quality of genius were recognisable in
him at a glance. If I knew of any unmistakable and tangible reason for
all this I would not hesitate to name it, but I am not in the secret,
and I have no right to guess. There are some sort of strings somewhere,
and somebody pulls them. So much is evident on the face of things.
Who work the contemptible _fantoccini_ who gesticulate to the Ephesian
hubbub of 'greatness' I neither know nor care, but it is simply out of
credence that their motions are spontaneous.

_Expede Herculem_. I will take a solitary story from Mr. Crockett's
'Stickit Minister.'

It is called 'The Courtship of Allan Fairley,' The tale is of a young
minister of the peasant class, whose parents through much privation have
kept their son at college. He is elected to a living in an aristocratic
parish, and takes his old peasant mother to keep house for him. Some of
his more polished parishioners object to the old lady's presence at the
manse, and they have the rather astonishing impertinence to propose
that the son shall send her away. He refuses, and shows his visitors the
door. These are the bare lines of the story so far as we are concerned
with it.

Think how Dr. Macdonald or J. M. Barrie would have handled this! The
humour of either would have danced round the crass obtuseness of the
deputation and the mingled wrath and amusement of the minister. The
story bristles with opportunity for the presentation of human contrast.
The chances are all there, and a story-teller of anything like genuine
faculty could not have failed to see and to utilise some of them. Mr.
Crockett misses every conceivable point of his own tale, and with a
majestic clumsiness drags in the one thing which could possibly make it
offensive. The minister has nothing to fear from his visitors, for it is
expressly stated that he has a majority of three hundred and sixty-five
in his spiritual constituency of four hundred and thirty-five. But Mr.
Crockett's point is that he was a hero for refusing to kick his own
mother out of doors. He makes Mr. Allan Fairley tell his own tale, and
the end of this portion of it runs thus:

'He got no further; he wadna hae gotten as far if for a moment I had
jaloosed his drift I got on my feet I could hardly keep my hands off
them, minister as I was, but I said: "Gentlemen, you are aware of what
you ask me to do? You ask me to turn out of the house the mither that
bore me, the mither that learnt me 'The Lord's my Shepherd,' the mither
that wore her fingers near the bone that I might gang to the college,
that selled her bit plenishin' that my manse micht be furnished! Ye ask
me to show her to the door--I'll show you to the door!"--an' to the door
they gaed!' "Weel done! That was my ain Allan!" cried I.'

Was there ever a piece of sentiment cheaper, falser, more tawdry?
Who applauds a man for not turning his old mother out of doors at the
impertinent request of a meddling nobody? Look at the stormy small
capitals of this oatmeal hero, who is supposed to electrify us by the
mere fact of his not being an incredible ass and scoundrel! Does any
sober person think for a moment that a man of genius could have made
this revolting blunder? It is beyond comparison the densest bit of
stupidity in dealing with the emotions I have encountered anywhere.
Anybody but Mr. Crockett can see where the point of the story lies. It
lies in the cool impertinence and heartlessness of his visitors. To
put the emphasis on the rejection of their proposal--to make a point of
_that_--is to insult the reader. Of course it was rejected. How should
it possibly, by any stretch of poltroonery and baseness, be otherwise?

_Ex pede Herculem_. This bedrummed and betrumpeted man of genius
cannot read the A B _ab_ of the human emotions. 'Here!' says the subtle
tempter, 'I'll give you twopence if you'll put your baby on the fire!'
The god-like hero thunders: 'No! He is my flesh and blood. He is the
sacred trust of Heaven. He is innocent, he is helpless. I'll show you to
the door!' Oh! what emotions stir within the heart when a master's hand
awakes a chord like this!

There is, of course, a certain angry pleasure in this necessary work;
but it does not endure, and it is followed rapidly by a reaction of pain
and pity. But we have a right to ask--we have a right to insist--that
undeserved reputations shall not be manufactured for us by any clique.
We have a right to protest when the offence is open and flagrant. Let
it be said, if it be not too late to say it, that Mr. Crockett, if left
alone by his indiscreet admirers, or only puffed within the limits of
the reasonable, might have been regarded as an honest workman as times
go, when everybody, more or less, writes fiction.

If his pages had come before me as the work of an unknown man, seeking
his proper place in the paper republic, it is certain that I could
have found some honest and agreeable things to say about him. But,
unfortunately, he, more than any other writer of his day, has been
signalled out for those uncostly extravagances of praise which are fast
discrediting us in our own eyes, and are making what should be the art
of criticism a mockery, and something of a shame. In what I have written
I have dealt less with his work than with the false estimate of it
which, for a year or two, has been thrust upon the public by a certain
band of writers who are either hopelessly incompetent to assess our
labours or incurably dishonest, It is very possible indeed that Mr.
Crockett is wholly undeserving of censure in this regard, that he has
not in any way asked or aided the manufacture of this balloon of a
reputation in which he has been floated to such heights. Apart from the
pretensions of his _claque_, there is no earthly reason why a critic
should hold him up to ridicule. It is not he who is ridiculous, but at
its best his position is respectable, and he holds his place (like the
mob of us who write for a living) for the moment only. To pretend that
he is a man of genius, to talk about him in the same breath with Sir
Walter Scott, to chronicle his comings and his goings as if he were
the embodiment of a new revelation, is to provoke a natural and just
resentment The more plainly that resentment is expressed--the more it
is seen that a false adulation is the seed of an open contempt--the
less likely writers of middling faculty will be to encourage a bloated
estimate of themselves.

     [Since the above was written and printed Mr. Crockett has
     published his story of 'Lads' Love,' the final chapter of
     which is so good that in reading it I experienced a twinge
     of regret for the onslaught I had made. But after all it is
     not the author who is attacked in what goes before, and if,
     in the fray with the critics, he is, incidentally, as it
     were, somewhat roughly handled, the over-enthusiasm of his
     professional admirers must bear the blame. There is much
     prentice work in 'Lads' Love,' some strenuously enforced
     emotion, which is not genuine, and a congenital
     misunderstanding of the essential difference between tedium
     and humour; but if the whole of Mr. Crockett's work had
     reached its level, the protest against his reviewers would
     have stood in need of modification.]

Mr. Ian Maclaren, though he is distinctly an imitator, and may be said
to owe his literary existence to Mr. J. M. Barrie, is both artistic
and sympathetic. His work conveys to the reader the impression of an
encounter with Barrie in a dream. The keen edges of the original are
blurred and partly lost, but the author of 'Beside the Bonnie Brier
Bush' has many excellent qualities, and if he had had the good fortune
or the initiative to be first in the field, his work would have been
almost wholly charming. As it is, he still shows much faculty of
intuition and of heart, and his work is all sympathetically honest His
emotions are genuine, and this in the creation of emotional fiction is
the first essential to success. Here is another case where the
hysteric overpraise of the critics has done a capable workman a serious
injustice, and but for it a candid reviewer could have no temptation
towards blame. His inspiration is from the outside, but that is the
harshest word that can honestly be spoken, and in days when literature
has become a trade such a judgment is not severe.


When one calls to mind the rapid and extensive popularity achieved by
the latest school of Scottish dialect writers, one is tempted to wonder
a little at the comparative neglect which has befallen a real master of
that _genre_, who is still living and writing, and who began his work
within the memory of the middle-aged. With the single exception of 'A
Window in Thrums,' none of the new books of this school are worthy to be
compared with 'David Elginbrod,' or 'Alec Forbes of Howglen,' or 'Robert
Falconer.' Yet not one of them has failed to find a greater vogue or
to bring to its author a more swelling reputation than Dr. Mac-donald
achieved. Perhaps the reasons for these facts are not far to seek. To
begin at the beginning, Sir Walter, who created the Scottish character
novel, had made, in other fields, a reputation quite unparalleled in the
history of fiction before he took broadly to the use of Scottish rural
idiom, and the depiction of Scottish character in its peculiarly local
aspects. The magic of his name compelled attention, and his genius gave
a classic flavour to dialects until then regarded as barbarous and ugly.
The flame of Burns had already eaten all grossness out of the rudest
rusticities, and in the space of twenty years at most the Auld Braid
Scots wore the dignity of a language and was decorated with all the
honours of a literature. But this, in spite of the transcendent genius
of the two men to whom northern literature owes its greatest debt,
brought about very little more than a local interest and a local pride.
Scott was accepted in spite of the idiom which he sometimes employed,
and not because of it, and one can only laugh at the fancy presented to
the mind by the picture of an English or a foreign reader who for the
first time found himself confronted by Mrs. Bartlemy Saddletree's query
to her maid: 'What gart ye busk your cockernony that gait?' To this
hour, indeed, there are thousands of Scott's admirers for whom the
question might just as well be framed in Sanscrit.

In Sir Walters own day and generation he had one considerable imitator
in Galt, whose 'Andrew Wylie of that Ilk' and 'The Entail' can still
afford pleasure to the reader. Then for a time the fiction of Scottish
character went moribund. The prose Muse of the North was silent, or
spoke in ineffectual accents. After a long interregnum came George
Macdonald, unconsciously paving the way for the mob of northern
gentlemen who now write with ease. He brought to his task an unusual
fervour, a more than common scholarship, a more than common richness,
purity, and flexibility in style, a truly poetic endowment of
imagination, and a truly human endowment of sympathy, intuition, and
insight. It would be absurd to say that he failed, but it is certain
that he scarcely received a tithe either of the praise or the pudding
which have fallen to the share of Mr. S. R. Crockett, for example, who
is no more to be compared with him than I to Hercules. Such readers as
were competent to judge of him ranked him high, but, south of the Tweed,
such readers were few and far between, for he employed the idiomatic
Scotch in which he chose to work with a remorseless accuracy, and in
this way set up for himself a barrier against the average Englishman.
His genius, charming as it was, was not of that tremendous and
compulsive sort which lays a hand on every man, and makes the breaking
down of such a barrier an essential to intellectual happiness. There was
a tacit admission that he was, in his measure, a great man, but that the
average reader could afford to let him alone. And then, things were
very different with the press. The northern part of this island, though
active in press life, had nothing like its influence of to-day. To-day
the press of Great Britain swarms with Scotchmen, and the 'boom' which
has lately filled heaven and earth with respect to the achievements of
the new Scotch school has given ample and even curious evidence of that
fact. The spoils to the victor, by all means. We folk from over the
border are a warlike and a self-approving race, with a strong family
instinct, and a passionate love for the things which pertain to our own
part of the world. If Scotchmen had been as numerous amongst pressmen as
they are to-day, and as certain of their power, they would have boomed
Dr. Macdonald beyond a doubt. Such recognition as he received came
mainly from them. But if only the present critical conditions had
existed in his early day, with what garlands would he have been
wreathed, what sacrifices would have been made before him!

Apart from that rugged inaccessibility of dialect (to the merely English
reader) which so often marks Dr. Macdonald's work, there is in the main
theme of his best books a reason why he should not be widely
popular. The one issue in which he is most passionately interested is
theological. He has been to many a Moses in the speculative desert,
leading to a land of promise. He has preached with a tender and
persuasive fire the divine freedom of the soul, and its essential
oneness with the Fatherhood of God. He has expended many beautiful
faculties on this work, and his influence in the broadening and
deepening of religious thought in Scotland is not to be denied. But
his insistence on this great theme has naturally scared away the
empty-headed and the shallow-hearted, and many also of the careless
clever. There must be somewhere a fund of sincerity and of reason in
the reader to whom he appeals. There is a public which is prepared to
encounter thought, which can be genuinely stirred by a high intellectual
passion, which is athirst indeed for that highest and best enjoyment,
but it is numerically small, and the writer who deals mainly with
spiritual problems, and who, in doing so, is reticent and reverent, can
scarcely hope to draw the mob at his wheels. In each of his three best
books, Dr. Macdonald has traced the growth of a soul towards freedom.
His conception of freedom is a reasoned but absolute submission to a
Divine Will; a sense of absorption in the manifest intent of a guiding
Power which is wholly loving and wholly wise. To all who are able to
read him he is exquisitely interesting and delightful, and to some he
appeals with the authority of a prophet and divinely-appointed guide.
Along with this experience of abiding faith in him goes a dash of
mysticism, of pantheism. He is essentially a poet, and had he chosen to
expend more labour upon his verse he might have risen to high rank on
that side. But with him the thing to be said has seemed vastly more
important than the way of saying it, and he has, perhaps rightly,
disdained to be laborious in the mere texture of his verse. It is
rational to argue that if the poetic, inspiration is not vital enough
to find an immediate expression it is not true enough to make it worth
while to remould and recast it. It would seem--judging by results--that
Dr. Macdonald's conception of a lyric is of something wholly
spontaneous. Be this as it may, the poetic cast of his mind is revealed
in his prose with greater freedom and a completer charm than in his
verse. The best of him is the atmosphere he carries. It is not possible
to read his books and not to know him for a brave, sincere, and loyal
man, large both in heart and brain, and they purify and tone the mind
in just such fashion as the air of mountain, moor, or sea purifies and
tones the body.

The worthiest of his successors is Mr. J. M. Barrie, who has much in
common with him, though he displays differences of a very essential
kind. Mr. Barrie has no such spiritual obsession as besets his elder. He
has the national reverence for sacred things, but it is probably rather
habitual and racial than dogmatic. I think his greatest charm lies in
the fact that he is at once old and new fashioned. He loves to deal with
a bygone form of life, a form of life which he is too young to remember
in all its intricacies, whilst he is not too young to have heard of it
plenteously at first hand, or to have known many of its exemplars. Few
things of so happy a sort can befall a child of imagination as to be
born on such a borderland of time. About him is the atmosphere of the
new, and dotted every here and there around him are the living mementoes
of the old--a dying age, which in a little while will cease to be,
and is already out of date and romantic. Steam and electricity and
the printing-press, and the universal provider and the cheap clothing
'emporium,' have worked strange changes. It was Mr. Barrie's fortune to
begin to look on life when all these changes were not yet wrought;
to bring an essentially modern mind to bear on the contemplation of a
vanishing and yet visible past, to live with the quaint, yet to be able,
by mere force of contrast, to recognise its quaintness, and to be
in close and constant and familiar touch with those to whom the
disappearing forms of life had been wholly habitual. That the mere
environment thus indicated was the lot of hundreds of thousands makes
little difference to the especial happiness of the chance, for, as I
have said already, we can't all be persons of genius, and it is only to
the man of genius that, the good fortune comes home.

If there is one truth in relation to the craft of fiction of which I
am more convinced than another, it is that all the genuine and original
observation of which a man is capable is made in very early life. There
are two very obvious reasons why this should be so. The fact that they
are obvious need not prevent me from stating them here, since I am not
writing for those who make a business of knowing such things. In the
first place, the mind is at its freshest; and all objects within its
scope have a keen-edged interest, which wears away in later life. In
the next place, the earliest observations are our own, unmixed with the
conclusions and prepossessions of other minds. A child has not learnt
the Dickens' fashion, or the Thackeray fashion, or the Superior Person
fashion of surveying particulars and generals. He has not begun to
obscure his intelligence by the vicious habit of purposed note-takings
for literary uses. He looks at the things which interest him simply,
naturally, and with entire absorption. It is true of the most
commonplace people that as they grow old their minds turn back to
childhood, and they remember the things of half a century ago with more
clearness than the affairs of last week. Lord Lytton's definition of a
man of genius was that he preserved the child's capacity for wonder.

One of the astutest of living critics tells me that he finds a curiously
_logical_ characteristic in Mr. Barrie's humour, but I confess that I am
not wholly clear as to his meaning. I find it characteristically Scotch,
and perhaps at bottom we mean the same thing. It is often sly, and so
conscious in its enjoyment of itself as to be content to remain unseen.
Often it lies in a flavour of the mind, as in whole pages of 'My Lady
Nicotine,' where it is a mere placid, lazy acquiescence in the generally
humorous aspect of things. Here the writer finds himself amused, and so
may you if you happen to be in the mood. At other times the fun bubbles
with pure spontaneity, as in the courtship of 'Tnowhead's Bell, which
is, I make bold to believe, as good a bit of Scotch rural comedy as we
have had for many a day. The comedy is broad, and touches the edge of
farce at times, but it is always kept on the hither-side by its droll
appreciation of character, and an air of complete gravity in the
narrator, who, for any indication he gives to the contrary, might be
dealing with the most serious of chronicles.

As I write I have before me a letter of Mr. Barrie's, written to a
fellow-workman, in which he speaks of the 'almost unbearable pathos'
of an incident in one of the latter's pages. The phrase seems to fit
accurately that chapter in the 'Window in Thrums' where Jamie, after his
fall in London, returns to his old home, and finds his own people dead
and scattered. The story is simple, and the style is severe even to
dryness, but every word is like a nail driven home. It would be hard
to find in merely modern work a chapter written with a more masterly
economy of means, than this. And this economy of means is the most
striking characteristic of Mr. Barrie's literary style. It is as
different from the forced economy of poverty as the wordy extravagance
of Miss Corelli is different from the exuberance of Shakspeare. It is
a reasoned, laborious, and self-chastening art, and within its own
limitations it is art at its acme of achievement What it has set itself
to do it has done.

These two, then, Dr. George Macdonald and Mr. J. M. Barrie, are the
men who worthily carry on, in their separate and distinct fashions, the
tradition which Sir Walter established. In a summary like this, where
it is understood that at least a loyal effort is being made to recognise
and apportion the merits of rival writers, the task of the critic
occasionally grows ungrateful. Nothing short of sheer envy can grudge
to Mr. Barrie a high meed of praise, but I think that his elder is his
better. The younger man's distinction is very largely due to a fine
self-command, a faculty of self-criticism, which in its way cannot
easily be overpraised. He has not Stevenson's exquisite and yet daring
appropriateness in the choice of words, but his humour is racier and
scarcely less delicate, and in passages of pathos he knows his way
straight to the human heart As the invention or discovery of new themes
grows day by day less easy--as the bounds of the story-teller's personal
originality are constantly narrowing--the purely literary faculty, the
mere craft of authorship in its finer manifestations must of necessity
grow more valuable. Mr. Barrie is a captain amongst workmen, and there
is little fear that in the final judgment of the public and his peers
he will be huddled up with Maclarens and Crocketts, as he sometimes is
to-day. But Dr. Mac-donald, though he has not sought for the finenesses
of mere literary art with an equal jealousy, has inherited a bigger
fortune, and has spent his ownings with a larger hand. He has perhaps
narrowed his following by his faithfulness to his own inspiration, but
his books are a genuine benefaction to the heart, and no man can read
them honestly without drawing from them a spiritual freshness and purity
of the rarer sort. There is an old story of a discussion among the
students of their time as to the relative merits of Schiller and Goethe,
The dispute came to Schiller's ears, and he laughingly advised the
combatants to cease discussion, and to be thankful that they had both.
I could take a personal refuge there with all pleasure, but the critical
rush to crown the new gods is a new thing, and, without stealing a leaf
from the brow of the younger writer, I should like to see a fresher and
a brighter crown upon the head of his elder and bigger brother.


It is so long a time since Mr. W. H. Mallock published the 'Romance of
the Nineteenth Century' that the book might now very well be left alone,
if it were not for the fact that in a fashion it marked an epoch in
the history of English literature. It was, so far as I know, the first
example of the School of the Downright Nasty. For half a year it ran
in 'Belgravia' side by side with a novel of my own, and under those
conditions I read as much as I could stand of it. Its main object
appears to be to establish the theory that a young woman of refined
breeding may be an amateur harlot. The central male figure of the book
is a howling bounder, who has a grievance against the universe because
he can't entirely understand it. Within the last two or three years it
has occurred to Mr. Mallock to recast the book, and in a preface dated
1893 (I think) he informs the world that on re-reading the story he
personally has found portions of it to be offensive. These portions he
declares himself to have eliminated, and he now thinks--or thought in
1893--that there is nothing on that score to cavil at. All I remembered
of the story was that a certain Colonel Stapleton debauched the mind of
the heroine by lending her obscene books with obscene prints attached.
This episode is retained, in spite of the work of purification which
has been performed; and it may be said that if the original novel were
nastier than this deodorised edition of it, it is very much of a wonder
how the critical stomach kept it down.

It is a refreshment to turn from this particular problem seeker to
the work of a writer like Mrs. Humphry Ward, who, if she invests the
questions she handles with more importance than actually belongs to
them, is as wholesome and sincere as one could ask. She has read both
deeply and widely, she thinks with sanity and clearness, she discerns
character, she can create and tell a story, her style is excellently
succinct and full, and any book from her pen may safely be guaranteed
to fill many charmed and thoughtful hours. She is still a seeker of
problems, and shares the faults of her school, inasmuch as she sets
herself to the solution of themes which all thoughtful people have
solved for themselves at an early age. It would be difficult, perhaps,
to find a better and more salutary stimulant for the mind of a very
young man or woman than 'Robert Elsmere,' to cite but one work of hers,
but to the adult intelligence she seems a day behind the fair. She
expends something very like genius in establishing a truth which is only
doubted by here and there a narrow bigot--that truth being that a man
may find himself forced to abandon the bare dogma of religion, and may
yet conserve his faith in the Unseen and his spiritual brotherhood
with men. 'Robert Elsmere' is a very beautiful piece of work, and it
is impossible not to respect the ardour which inspires it, and the many
literary excellences by which it is distinguished. But, all the same, it
leaves upon the mind a sense of some futility. It would be easy to
write a story which would prove--if a story can be imagined to prove
anything--the precise opposite of the truth so eloquently preached in
'Robert Elsmere,' and the tale might be perfectly true to the experience
of life. There are men who, parting with dogmatic religion, part with
religion altogether, and whose only chance of salvation from themselves
lies in the acceptance of a hard and fast creed. It would be easy
enough, and true enough, to show such a man assailed by doubt,
struggling and succumbing, and then going headlong to the devil. The
thing has happened many a time. Mrs. Humphry Ward shows another kind
of man, and depicts him most ably. Robert Elsmere is even a better
Christian when he has surrendered his creed than he was whilst he held
it, for he has reached to a loftier ideal of life, and he dies as a
martyr to its duties. But the story has the air of being controversial,
and fiction and controversy do not work well together. It is possible to
establish any theory, so far as a single instance will do it, when you
have the manufacture both of facts and of characters in your own hands.
Accept an extreme case. A practised novelist might take in hand the
character of a morose and surly fellow who was generous and expansive in
his cups. So long as the wretch was sober he might be made hateful; half
fill him with whisky, and you gift him with all manner of emotional good
qualities. The study might be real enough, but it would prove nothing.
The novelist who assails a controversial question begs everything, and
the answer to a problem so posed is worthless except as the expression
of an individual opinion. It may be urged--and there is force in the
contention--that there are many people who are only induced to think of
serious themes when they are dressed in the guise of fiction, as there
are people who cannot take pills unless they are sugar-coated. Again--as
admitted already--a mind in process of formation might be strengthened
and broadened by the influence of such a book as 'Robert Elsmere.' There
are some to whom its apparent trend of thought will appear to be simply
damnable. That one may have scant respect for their judgment, and no
share at all in their opinion, does not alter the fact that the weapon
employed against them is not and cannot be fairly used.

Many years ago, Mr. Clark Russell, whose name is now a household word,
was the editor of an ill-fated society journal. I was a contributor
to its little-read pages, and I came one day upon an article entitled
'Pompa Mortis.' This article was written in such astonishingly good
English, so clean, so hardbitten and terse, and yet so graceful, that
I could not resist the temptation to ask its author's name. My editor
modestly acknowledged it for his own, and when I told him what I
thought of its style he confessed to a close study of Defoe and a great
admiration for him. I saw nothing more from his hand until I read 'The
Wreck of the Grosvenor,' the first of that series of sea stories which
has carried Mr. Russell's name about the world. An armchair voyage with
Russell is almost as good as the real thing, and sometimes (as when the
perils and distresses of shipwreck are in question) a great deal better.
Had any man ever such an eye for the sea before, or such a power of
bringing it to the sight of another? Few readers, I fancy, care a copper
for his fable, or very much for his characters, except for the mere
moment when they move in the page; but his descriptions of sky and sea
linger in the mind like things actually seen. They are so sharp, so
vivid, so detailed, so true, that a marine painter might work from them.
And the really remarkable thing about them is the infinite variety of
these seascapes and skyscapes. He seems never to repeat himself. He is
various as the seas and skies he paints. One figures his mind as some
sort of marvellous picture gallery. He veritably sees things, and he
makes the reader see them. And all the strange and curious sea jargon,
of which not one landsman in a thousand understands anything--combings
and back-stays and dead-eyes, and the rest of it--takes a salt smack
of romance in his lips. He can be as technical as he pleases, and the
reader takes him on faith, and rollicks along with him, bewildered,
possibly, but trusting and happy. And Clark Russell has not only been
charming. He has been useful, too, and Foc'sle Jack owes him a debt
of gratitude. For though he does not shine as a draughtsman where the
subtleties of character are concerned, he knows Jack, who is not much of
a metaphysical puzzle, inside and out, and he has brought him home to us
as no sea-writer ever tried to do before. Years ago it seemed natural to
fancy that he might write himself out, but he goes on with a freshness
which looks inexhaustible. If I cannot read him with the old enjoyment
it is my misfortune and not his fault. If his latest book had been his
first I should have found in it the charm which caught me years ago.
But it is in the nature of things that an individual writer like Clark
Russell should be his own most dangerous rival.

Clark Russell is captain on his own deck, whether he sail a coffin or a
princely Indiaman of the old time. Sir Walter Besant is lord of his
own East End, and of that innocent seraglio of delightful and eccentric
young ladies to which he has been adding for years past Sir Walter
Besant is chiefly remarkable as an example of what may be done by a
steadfast cheerfulness in style. His creed has always been that fiction
is a recreative art, and we have no better sample of a manly and
stout-hearted optimist than he. He is optimistic of set purpose,
and sometimes his cheerfulness costs him a struggle, for he is
tender-hearted and clear-sighted, and he is the Columbus of 'the great
joyless city' of the East. He has had a double aim--to keep his work
recreative and to make it useful. In one respect he has been curiously
happy, for he once dreamt aloud a beautiful dream, and has lived to
find it a reality. It was his own bright hope which built the People's
Palace, and a man might rest on that with ample satisfaction.

He has given us many well-studied types of character, but he excels in
the portraiture of the manly young man and the lovable young woman.
In this regard I find him at his apogee with Phyllis Fleming and Jack
Dunquerque, who are both frankly alive and charming. He is good, too, at
the portraiture of a humbug, and finds a humorous delight in him,
very much as Dickens did. There is more than a touch of Dickens in
his method, and in his way of seeing people, and, most of all, in the
warm-hearted cheer he keeps.

It is outside the purpose of this series to dwell on anything but
the literary value of the works of the people dealt with; but little
apology, after all, is needed for a side-glance at the work which Sir
Walter Besant has done for men of letters. He has worked hard at the
vexed and difficult question of copyright; he has founded an Authors'
Club and an authors' newspaper; and he has devoted with marked
unselfishness much valuable time and effort to the general well-being
of the craft. He has stood out stoutly for the State recognition of
authorship, and in his own person he has received it. _Esprit de corps_
is a capital thing in its way. Whether it is well to have too much of
it in a body of men who hold the power of the Press largely in their
own hands, whilst at the same time publicity is the breath of their
nostrils, is perhaps an open question. But of Sir Walter Besant's
single-mindedness in this voluntary work there is no shadow of doubt.
Remembering his popularity with the public, and the price he can command
for his work, it is evident that he has expended in the pursuit of his
ideal time which would have been worth some thousands of pounds to him.
He has striven in all ways to do honour to letters, and the esteem
in which he is held is a just payment for high purpose and unselfish


In an article intended for this series and set under this lady's name
(an article now suppressed, and therefore to be re-written), I fell into
an error which appears to have been shared by several of the critics
who dealt with what was then the latest of her books, 'The Sorrows of
Satan,' I assumed Miss Corelli to have drawn her own portrait, as she
sees things, in the character of 'Mavis Clare.' This belief has been
expressed--so it turns out--by other people, and I learn that Miss
Corelli has authoritatively denied it 'She objects very strongly,' so
says an inspired defender, 'to a notion which was started by one of
the most distinguished of her interviewers, and absolutely denies the
assertion that she described herself as "Mavis Clare" in "The Sorrows
of Satan."' Miss Corelli, of course, knows the truth about this matter,
and nobody else can possibly know it, but it is at least permissible to
examine the evidence which led many separate people to the same false
conclusion. 'Mavis Clare' and Marie Corelli own the same initials, and
until the fact that this was a mere fortuitous chance was made clear by
Miss Corelli herself it seemed natural to suppose that an identity was
coyly hinted at. 'Mavis Clare' is a novelist, and so is Miss Corelli.
'Mavis Clare' is _mignonne_ and fair, 'is pretty, and knows how to dress
besides,' is a 'most independent creature, too; quite indifferent to
opinions,' All these things, as we learn from many sources, are true of
Miss Corelli also. It is said of Miss Corelli herself that 'dauntless
courage, a clear head, and a tremendous power of working hard without
hurting herself have helped her to make a successful use of her great
gift. She is not afraid of anything. She "insists on herself," and is
unique,' It is to be noted that all this is said by Miss Corelli of
'Mavis Clare,' Miss Corelli is at war with the reviewers. So is 'Mavis
Clare,' Miss Corelli's books circulate by the thousand. So do 'Mavis
Clare's.' 'Mavis Clare' is utterly indifferent to outside opinion. So is
Miss Corelli. In point of fact, if anybody thought Miss Corelli a woman
of astonishing genius, and wrote an honest account of her, he would
describe her precisely as Miss Corelli has described 'Mavis Clare.'

There is, in fact, a point up to which 'Mavis Clare' and Miss Corelli
are not to be separated. There are a score of things in any description
of the one which are indubitably true of the other. But when Miss
Corelli writes of 'Mavis Clare' in such terms as are now to be quoted we
begin to see that she is and must be indignant at the supposition that
she is still writing of herself: 'She is too popular to need
reviews. Besides, a large number of the critics--the "log-rollers"
especially--are mad against her for her success, and the public know it.
Clearness of thought, brilliancy of style, beauty of diction--all these
are hers, united to consummate ease of expression and artistic skill.
The potent, resistless, unpurchasable quality of Genius. She wrote what
she had to say with a gracious charm, freedom, and innate consciousness
of strength. She won fame without the aid of money, and was crowned so
brightly and visibly before the world that she was beyond criticism.'

But is it not just within the bounds of possibility that Miss Corelli
began with some idea of depicting herself, and, discarding that idea,
took too little care to obliterate resemblances? Even here she trenches
too closely upon the truth to escape the calumnious supposition that she
is writing of herself. She _is_ too popular to need reviews. She is at
war with the critics, and she has induced a very large portion of the
public to believe that 'a number of the critics--the "log-rollers"
especially--are mad against her for her success.'

Were I, the present writer, to invent a fictional character, to give him
for the initials of his name the letters D. C. M., to describe him
as awkward and burly, with an untidy head of grey hair, to make him a
novelist, a Bohemian and a wanderer, and then to paint him as a man of
genius and an astonishing fine fellow, I should expect to be told that
I had been guilty of a grave insolence. If I could honestly say that the
resemblances had never struck me, and that the egregious vanity of the
picture was a wholly imaginary thing, I should, of course, desire to be
believed, and I should, of course, deserve to be believed. But I should
encounter doubt, and I should not be disposed to wonder at it. If I were
annoyed with anybody I should be annoyed with myself for having given
such a handle to the world's ill-nature.

Accepting Miss Corelli's disclaimer, one is still forced to the
conclusion that she has fallen into a serious indiscretion.

In 'The Murder of Delicia' we are made acquainted with another
lady-writer who enjoys all the popularity of Miss Corelli and of 'Mavis
Clare,' who has the genius and the eyes and the stature and the hair
of both. 'As a writer she stood quite apart from the rank and file of
modern fictionists.' 'The public responded to her voice, and clamoured
for her work, and as a natural result of this, all ambitious and
aspiring publishers were her very humble suppliants. Whatsoever
munificent and glittering terms are dreamed of by authors in their
wildest conceptions of a literary El Dorado were hers to command; and
yet she was neither vain nor greedy.' One thanks God piously that yet
she was neither vain nor greedy; but one can't keep the mouth from
watering. Ah! those wildest conceptions of a literary El Dorado!
'Delicia' gets 8,000L. for a book. May it be delicately hinted that this
sum is only approached in the receipts of one living lady-writer, and
that the lady-writer's name is ------? Wild horses shall not drag this
pen further.

Miss Corelli complains, in a preface to this recent work, that 'every
little halfpenny ragamuffin of the press that can get a newspaper corner
in which to hide himself for the convenience of throwing stones,' pelts
every 'brilliant woman' with the word 'unsexed.' Honestly, I don't
remember the reproach being hurled at Mrs. Browning, or George Eliot,
or Mrs. Cowden Clarke, or Charlotte Brontë, or Maria Edgeworth, or Mrs.
Hemans. Miss Corelli tells us that the woman who is 'well-nigh stripped
to man's gaze every night,' and who 'drinks too much wine and brandy,'
is not subjected to this reproach, whilst if another woman 'prefers to
keep her woman's modesty, and execute some great work of art which shall
be as good or even better than anything man can accomplish, she will be
dubbed "unsexed" instantly,' Where has Miss Corelli found the society
of which these amazing things are true? Does anybody else know it?
And where are the better works of art from woman's hand than man can
accomplish? 'Aurora Leigh' and the Portuguese Sonnets are at the top of
feminine achievement, and Shakespeare is not dethroned. And here is a
pearl of common sense: 'To put it bluntly and plainly, a great majority
of the men of the present day want women to keep them,' This is Miss
Corelli in her own person in her preface, and, 'to put it bluntly and
plainly,' the statement is not true, or approximately true, or within
shouting distance of the truth. And what of the 'persons of high
distinction who always find something curiously degrading in paying
their tradesmen'? Are they commoner than persons of high distinction who
meet their bills? Are they as common? Miss Corelli sweeps the board. She
is angry because some people will not take her seriously, but whilst
her pages are charged with this kind of matter, she cannot fairly blame
anybody but herself. She burns to be a social reformer. It would be
unjust to deny her ardour. But when she tells the tale of a penniless
nobleman who lives on his wife's money and breaks her heart, and assures
us that 'there are thousands of such cases every day,' she undoes her
own sermon by one rampant phrase of nonsense There are such men, more's
the pity, and they are the social satirist's honest game There have
been foolish people who thought that women unsexed themselves by doing
artistic work, but they died many years ago, for the most part. There
are men who want to marry rich women, and live lazy lives, but they are
not 'a great majority.' Miss Corelli knows these things, of course,
for they are patent to the world; but she allows zeal to run away with
judgment. The rules for satire are the rules for Irish stew. You mustn't
_empty_ the pepper-castor, and the pot should be kept at a gentle bubble
only. There is reason in the profitable denunciation of a wicked world,
as well as in the roasting of eggs.

But Miss Corelli has hit the public hard, and it is the self-imposed
task of the present writer to find out, as far as in him lies, why
and how she has done this. Miss Corelli's force is hysteric, but it is
sometimes very real. A self-approving hysteria can do fine things under
given conditions. It has been the motive power in some work which the
world has rightly accepted as great. In the execution of certain forms
of emotional art it is a positive essential. Much genuine poetry has
been produced under its influence. It is a sort of spiritual wind,
which, rushing through the harp-strings of the soul, may make an
extraordinary music. But the sounds produced depend not upon the impulse
conveyed to the instrument, but on the quality and condition of the
instrument itself. Without the impulse a large and various mind may lie
quiescent. With the impulse a small and disordered spirit may make
a very considerable sound. In the very loftiest flights of genius we
discern a sort of glorious dementia. All readers have found it in the
last splendid verse of 'Adonaïs.' It proclaims itself in Keats in the
wild _naïveté_ of the inquiry, 'Muse of my native land, am I inspired?'
The faculty of the very greatest among the great lies in the existence
of this inrush of emotion, in strict subordination to the intellectual
powers. To be without it precludes greatness; to be wholly subject to
its influence is to be insane. Miss Corelli experiences the inrush
of emotion in great force, but, unfortunately for her work, and for
herself, the sense of power which it inspires is not co-ordinate with
the strength of intellect which is essential to its control.

Miss Corelli has ventured freely into the domain of spiritual things,
and has dealt, with more daring than knowledge, with esoteric mysteries.
The great reading public knows little of these matters, because, as a
rule, they have been expressed by writers whose works are too abstruse
to catch the popular ear. It is only when they are handled by writers
of imaginative fiction that they become popularly known at all. In 'The
Sorrows of Satan' Miss Corelli has earned a reputation for originality
by advancing a theory which is older than many of the hills. It has been
for ages a rooted religious belief, but it is wholly in conflict with
the theological ideas which are taught in our churches and chapels, and
has, therefore, a startling air of strangeness to the average church and

The theory is thus expressed in Mr. C. G. Harrison's lectures on 'The
Transcendental Universe': 'It is generally supposed that Satan is the
enemy of spirituality in man; that he delights in his degradation, and
views with diabolical satisfaction the development of his lower
nature and all its evil consequences. The wide, and almost universal,
prevalence of this mediaeval superstition only makes it all the more
necessary to protest against it as a grotesque error.... It would
probably be much nearer the truth to say that the degradation and
suffering of mankind, for which the adversary of God is responsible,
so far from affording him any satisfaction, afflict him with a sense of
failure and deepen his despair of ultimate victory.'

This is, of course, the root idea of 'The Sorrows of Satan,' and if the
theme had been handled with reserve and dignity a very noble book indeed
might without doubt have been built upon it. But Miss Corelli has not
had the power to confine herself within the limits of the severe and
lofty conception of the old Theosophists. Her sorrowful Satan grows
first melodramatic and then absurd. The notion that the great sad
adversary of Almighty Goodness is settled in a modern London hotel,
with a private cook of his own, and a privately engaged bath of his
own, carries the reader away from the original conception to the
burlesque--vulgar and flagrant--of the mystery-plays of the Middle
Ages; and the devotion of supernatural power to the preparations for a
suburban garden-party is purely ludicrous. Miss Corelli has seized the
Theosophic thought, which in itself is far nobler and more poetic than
the Miltonic, but she has not been strong enough to use it. She has
fallen under the weight of her chosen theme, and the result is that
her demoniac hero is at one time presented as a majestic and suffering
spirit, and at another as a mere Merry Andrew.

The curious and instructive part of all this is that, if Miss Corelli
had been gifted with any power of self-criticism, her ardour would
have been damped, and any work she might have done would have suffered
proportionately. Her work has hit the public hard, and it has done so
because, of its kind, her inspiration has been genuine. The wind does
not blow through the strings of a well-ordered instrument, but _it
blows_, and however grotesque the sound produced may sometimes be, it is
of a sort which is not to be produced by any mere mechanism of the mind.
To the critical ear the tunes played in 'Wormwood' and 'The Sorrows of
Satan' are not, and cannot be, agreeable. The writer, to speak in plain
English, and without the obscurity of symbols, is the owner of genius
on the emotional side, and is not the owner of genius, or anything
approaching to it, even from afar, on the intellectual side. The result
of this disproportion between impulse and power is, to the critical
mind, disastrous; but it does not so make itself felt with the ordinary
reader. It is rather an unusual thing with him to come into contact with
a real force in books. He has not read or thought enough to know that
the ideas offered to him with such transcendental pomp are old and
commonplace. It is enough for him to feel that the writer understands
herself to be a personage.

She succeeds in imposing herself upon the public because she has first
been convinced of her own authority. Her inward conviction of the
authority of her own message and her own power to deliver it is the one
qualification which makes her different from the mob of writing
ladies. Even when she deals with purely social themes the same air
of overwhelming earnestness sits upon her brow. In a little trifle
published in the November of 1896, and entitled 'Jane,' she goes to work
with a quite prophetic ardour to tell a story almost identical with that
related in a scrap of Thackeray's 'Cox's Diary.' The reader may find the
tale in the second chapter of that brief work, where it is headed 'First
Rout.' Thackeray tells his version of it with a sense of fun and humour.
Miss Corelli tells hers with the voice and manner of a Boanerges..
Nothing is to be done without the divine afflatus, and plenty of it.
The temperamental difference between the satirist and the scold is well
illustrated by a large handling and a little handling of the same theme.

The point upon which it seems worth while to insist is this: That the
mass of the reading public is always ready to submit itself to the
influence of sincerity. It does not seem much to matter what inner
characteristics the sincerity may have. In the case now under analysis
the quality seems to resolve itself into pure self-confidence. Miss
Corelli's method of capturing the public mind is not a trick which
anybody else might copy. It is the result of a real, though perilous,
gift of nature--a gift which she possesses in something of a superlative
degree. Nobody could pretend to such a gift and succeed by virtue of the
pretence. Miss Corelli is, at least, quite serious in the belief that
she is a woman of genius. She is only very faintly touched with doubt
when she thinks that the people who are laughing at her are writhing
with envy. She speaks, therefore, with precisely that air of authority
to which she would have a right if her ideas with regard to her own
mental power were based on solid fact.

So far we arrive at little more than the long-established truth that the
unthinking portion of the public is not only longing for a moral guide,
but is ready to accept anybody who is conscious of authority. It would
be well if we could leave Miss Corelli here, but something remains to be
said which is not altogether pleasant to say. In 'The Sorrows of Satan'
many pages are devoted to the bitter (and merited) abuse of certain
female writers who deal coarsely with the sexual problem. But Miss
Corelli appears to think that she may be as frankly disagreeable as she
pleases so long as she is conscious of a moral purpose. Whatever she may
feel, and whatever estimable purposes may guide her, she has published
many things which run side by side with her denunciation of her sister
writers, and are as offensive as anything to be found in the work of any
living woman. Take as a solitary example the following passage:

'I soon found that Lucio did not intend to marry, and I concluded that
he preferred to be the lover of many women, instead of the husband of
one. I did not love him any the less for this; I only resolved that
I would at least be one of those who were happy enough to share his
passion. I married the man Tempest, feeling that, like many women I
knew, I should, when safely wedded, have greater liberty of action. I
was aware that most modern men prefer an amour with a married woman
to any other kind of _liaison_, and I thought Lucio would have readily
yielded to the plan I had preconceived.'

I do not know of any passage in any of the works so savagely assaulted
by Miss Corelli which goes beyond this; and I think it the more, and not
the less, objectionable, because the lady who wrote it can see so very
plainly how sinful her offence is when it is committed by other people.


I suppose it will not be disputed that the glory of a nation's
literature lies in the fact that it is national--that it reflects truly
the spirit and the life of the people with whom it is concerned, by whom
it is written, and to whom it belongs. It will not be denied either that
this final splendour has not yet descended on the literature of America.
The happy and tonic optimism of Emerson is a gift which could hardly
have been bestowed upon any man in an old country. It belongs to a land
and a time of boundless aspiration and of untired youth, and in virtue
of this possession Emerson is amongst the most characteristically
American of Americans. In the walks of fiction, with which alone we have
to deal in these pages, the Americans have been distinctively English
in spirit and in method (until within recent years), even when they have
dealt with themes chosen from their own surroundings. There is nowhere
in the world, and never was until now, and possibly never again will be,
such another field for the born student of human nature as is afforded
by the United States at this time. The world has never seen such an
intimate mixture of racial elements as may be found there. A glance
at the Newspaper Directory shows the variety and extent of the foreign
elements which, though in rapid process of absorption, are as yet
undigested. Hundreds on hundreds on hundreds of journals minister to
the daily and weekly needs of Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, Norwegians,
Swedes, Russians, Hungarians. There are Polish newspapers, and Armenian,
and Hebrew, and Erse and Gaelic. Sleepy old Spain is rubbing
shoulders with the eager and energetic races of Maine and New York and
Massachusetts. The negro element is everywhere, and the Chinese add a
flavour of their own to the _olla podrida_. So far no American writers
of fiction have seen America in the large. Bits of it have been
presented with an admirable art; but as yet the continent awaits its
Dickens, its Balzac, its Shakespeare, or its Zola.

Mr. Bret Harte has made California his own, but it is not the California
of to-day. 'Gone is that camp, and wasted all its fire,' but the old
life lives in some of its pages still, and will find students for a long
time to come. He has given us three, perhaps, of the best short stories
in the world, and a man who has done so much has a right to gratitude
and goodwill. Possibly there never was a writer who gave the world all
the essentials personal to his art so early, and yet so long survived
in the race for popularity. Bret Harte's first book was something like
a revelation. In workmanship he reminds the reader of Dickens, but his
surroundings were wholly novel, and as delightful as they were strange.
He bewitched the whole reading world with 'The Luck of Roaring Camp,'
and 'The Outcasts of Poker Flat,' and ever since those days he has gone
on with a tireless vivacity, telling the same stories over and over
again, showing us the same scenes and the same people with an apparent
unconsciousness of the fact of repetition which is truly astonishing.
The roads of dusty red and the scented pine groves come back in story
after story, and Colonel Starbottle and Jack Folinsbee look like
immortals. The vagabond with the melodious voice who did something
virtuous and went away warbling into the night is alive in new as in old
pages, in defiance of fatigue. Preternaturally murderous gamblers with a
Quixotic eye to the point of honour, saintly blackguards with superhuman
splendours of affection and loyalty revealed in the final paragraph of
their history, go on and on in his pages with changeless aspect. The
oddest mixture of staleness and of freshness is to be found there. Since
he first delighted us he has scarcely troubled himself once to find
a new story, or a new type of character, or a new field for his
descriptive powers. He took the Spanish mission into his stock-in-trade,
and he has since made that as hackneyed as the rest. And yet there
remains this peculiarity about him--his latest stories, are pretty
nearly as good as his first. It would seem as if his interest had not
flagged, as if the early impressions which impelled him to write were
still clear and urgent in his mind. He is amongst the most singular of
modern literary phenomena. The zest with which he has told the same tale
for so many years sets him apart. It is as if until the age, say, of
thirty he had been gifted with a brilliant faculty of observation, and
had then suddenly ceased to observe at all. There seems to have come a
time when his musical box would hold no more tunes, and ever since then
he has gone on repeating the old ones. The oddness is not so much in
the repetition as in the air of enjoyment and spontaneity worn by the
grinder. He at least is not fatigued, and to readers who live from hand
to mouth, and have no memories, there is no reason why he should ever
grow fatiguing.

Mr. Henry James is a gentleman who has taken a little more culture than
is good for the fibre of his character. He is certainly a man of many
attainments and of very considerable native faculty, but he staggers
under the weight of his own excellences. The weakness is common enough
in itself, but it is not common in combination with such powers as Mr.
James possesses. He is vastly the superior of the common run of men,
but he makes his own knowledge of that fact too clear. It is a little
difficult to see why so worshipful a person should take the trouble to
write at all, but it is open to the reader to conjecture that he would
not be at so much pains unless he were pushed by a compulsory sense of
his own high merits. He feels that it would be a shame if such a man
should be wasted. I cannot say that I have ever received; from him any
supreme enlightenment as to the workings of that complex organ, the
human heart, but I understand quite definitely that Mr. James knows all
about it, and could show many things if he were only interested enough
to make an effort He is the apostle of a well-bred boredom. He knows all
about society, and _bric-à-brac_, and pictures, and music, and natural
landscape, and foreign cities, and if he could feel a spice of interest
in any earthly thing he could be charming. But his listless, easy
air--of gentlemanly-giftedness fatigued--provokes and bores. He is like
a man who suppresses a yawn to tell a story. He is a blend of genuine
power and native priggery, and his faults are the more annoying because
of the virtues they obscure and spoil. He is big enough to know better.

It is likely enough that to Mr. James the fact of having been bred in
the United States has proved a disadvantage. To the robuster type of
man of letters, to the Dickens or Kipling kind of man, it would be
impossible to wish better luck than to be born into that bubbling
pot-full of things. But Mr. James's over-accentuated refinement of mind
has received the very impetus of which it stood least in need. He has
grown into a humorous disdain of vulgar emotions, partly because he
found them so rich about him. The figures which Bret Harte sees through
a haze of romance are to him essentially coarse. The thought of Mr.
James in association with Tennessee and Partner over a board supplied
with hog, flapjack and forty-rod awakes a bewildering pity in the mind.
An hour of Colonel Starbottle would soil him for a week. He is not made
for such contact. It is both curious and instructive to notice how the
too-cultured sensitiveness of a man of genius has blinded him to the
greatest truth in the human life about him. Born into the one country
where romance is still a constant factor in the lives of men, he
conceives romance to be dead. With stories worthy of a great writer's
handling transacting themselves on every hand, he is the first
elucidator of the principle that a story-teller's business is to have no
story. The vision of the sheet which was let down from Heaven to Peter
was seen in vain so far as he is concerned, but the story of that dream
holds an eternal truth for the real artist. Mr. James is not the only
man whose best-nursed and most valued part has proved to be destructive
With a little more strength he might have kept all his delicacies,
and have been a man to thank God for. As it is, he is the victim of an
intellectual foppery.

Mr. W. D. Howells has something in common with Mr. James, but he is of
stronger stuff--not less essentially a gentleman, as his books reveal
him, but more essentially a man. He has a sterling courage, and has
never been afraid of his own opinions. His declaration that 'all the
stories have been told' is one of the keys to his method as a novelist
A work of fiction is something which enables him to show the impingement
of character on character, with modifying effects of environment and
circumstance. His style is clean and sober, and his method is invariably
dignified. He has deliberately allowed his critical prepossessions to
exclude him from all chance of greatness, but within his self-set
limits he moves with a certain serene mastery, and his detail is finely

Miss Mary Wilkins, who is a very much younger writer than any of the
three here dealt with, reminds an English reader both of George Eliot
and Miss Mitford. 'Pembroke' is the best and completest of her books. So
far as pure literary charm goes it would be difficult to amend her work,
but the suggestion of character conveyed is surely too acidulated. Such
a set of stubborn, self-willed, and uncomfortable people as are gathered
together in these pages could hardly have lived in any single village in
any quarter of the world. They are drawn with an air of truth which is
not easy to resist, but if they are really as accurately studied as they
seem to be Pembroke must be a place to fly from. It is conceivable that
the members of such a congregation might be less intolerable to each
other than they seem to the foreign outsider, but the ameliorating
effects of usage must needs be strong indeed to make them fit to live
with. For the most part they are represented as well-meaning folk; but
they are exasperatingly individual, all over sore corners, eager to
be injured at their tenderest points, and implacable to the person who
hurts them. In Pembroke a soreness of egotism afflicts everybody. Every
creature in the book is over-sensitive to slight and misunderstanding,
and every creature is clumsy and careless in the infliction of pain. It
is a study in self-centred egotism. People who have an opportunity
of knowing village life in the Eastern States proclaim the book a
masterpiece of observation.

Bret Harte, studying a form of life now extinct, which once (with
certain allowances made for the romantic tendency) flourished in the
West; Mr. Howells, taking micro-graphic studies of present-day life in
the great centre of American culture; Mr. James, with a clever, weary
_persiflage_ skimming the face of society in refined cosmopolitan
circles; and Miss Wilkins, observing the bitter humours of the Eastern
yokel, are none of them distinctively American either in feeling or
expression. Mr. Samuel L. Clemens--otherwise Mark Twain--stands in
striking contrast to them all. He is not an artist in the sense in which
the others are artists, but he is beyond compare the most distinct
and individual of contemporary American writers. He started as a mere
professional fun-maker, and he has not done with fun-making even yet,
but he has developed in the course of years into a rough and ready
philosopher, and he has written two books which are in their own way
unique. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are the two best boys in the whole wide
range of fiction, the most natural, genuine, and convincing. They belong
to their own soil, and could have been born and bred nowhere else, but
they are no truer locally than universally. Mark Twain can be eloquent
when the fancy takes him, but the medium he employs is the simplest and
plainest American English. He thinks like an American, feels like an
American, is American blood and bones, heart and head. He is not the
exponent of culture, but more than any man of his own day, excepting
Walt Whitman, he expresses the sterling, fearless, manly side of a great
democracy. Taking it in the main, it is admirable, and even lovable, as
he displays it. It has no reverence for things which in themselves are
not reverend, and since its point of view is not one from which all
things are visible it seems occasionally overbold and crude; but the
creed it expresses is manly, and clean, and wholesome, and the man who
lives by it is a man to be admired. The point of view may be higher in
course of time, and the observer's horizon widened. The limitations of
the mind which adopts the present standpoint may be found in 'A Yankee
at the Court of King Arthur.' Apart from its ethics, the book is a
mistake, for a jest which could have been elaborated to tedium in a
score of pages is stretched to spread through a bulky volume, and snaps
into pieces under that tension.

The great war of North and South has been answerable for more fiction
than any other campaign of any age, and it has quite recently furnished
reason for the novel, 'The Red Badge of Courage,' by Mr. Stephen Crane,
which is out of counting the truest picture of the sort the world has
seen. It seemed at first impossible to believe that it had been written
by any but a veteran. It turns out that the author is quite a young man,
and that he gathered everything by reading and by hearsay. Here again
the method is national and characteristic. After all these years of
natural submission to British influence American writers are growing
racy of their own soil.


In the combined spelling and reading book which was in use in schools
more than forty years ago there was printed a story to the following
effect:--Certain Arabs had lost a camel, and in the course of their
wanderings in search of him they met a dervish, whom they questioned.
The dervish answered by offering questions on his own side. 'Was your
camel lame in one foot?' he began. 'Yes,' said the owners. 'Was he blind
in one eye?' he continued. 'Yes,' said the owners again. 'Had he lost a
front tooth?' 'Yes,' 'Was he laden with corn on one side and with honey
on the other?' 'Yes, yes, yes. This is our camel. Where have you seen
him?' The dervish answered: 'I have never seen him.' The Arabs, not
without apparent reason, suspected the dervish of playing with them,
and were about to chastise him, when the holy man asked for a hearing.
Having secured it, he explained. He had seen the track of the camel.
He had known the animal to be lame of one foot because that foot left
a slighter impression than the others upon the dust of the road. He had
argued it blind of one eye because it had cropped the herbage on one
side of the road alone. He knew it to have lost a tooth because of the
gap left in the centre of its bite. Bees and flies argued honey on one
side of the beast, and ants carrying wheat grains argued wheat on the
other. The name of this observant and synthetic-minded dervish was not
Sherlock Holmes, but he had the method of that famous detective, and in
a sense anticipated the plots of all the stories which Dr. Conan Doyle
has so effectively related of him. Possibly the best stories in the
world which depend for their interest on this kind of induction are
Edgar Allan Poe's. 'The Gold Bug,' 'The Murder in the Rue Morgue,' and
'The Stolen Letter' have not been surpassed or even equalled by any
later writer; but Dr. Doyle comes in an excellent second, and if he has
not actually rivalled Poe in the construction and development of any
single story, he has run him close even there, and has beaten him in the
sustained ingenuity of continuous invention; The story of 'The Speckled
Band' has a flavour almost as gruesome and terrible as Poe's 'Black
Cat,' and an unusual faculty for dramatic narrative is displayed
throughout the whole clever series. The Sherlock Holmes stories are
far, indeed, from being Dr. Doyle's best work, but it is to them that
he mainly owes his popularity. They took the imaginative side of the
general reader, and their popular properties are likely to keep them
before the public mind for a long while to come. To estimate Dr. Doyle's
position as a writer one has to meet him in 'The Refugees,' in 'The
White Company,' and in 'Rodney Stone.' In each of these there is evident
a sound and painstaking method of research, as well as a power of
dramatic invention; and in combination with these is a style of
unaffected manliness, simplicity, and strength, which is at once
satisfactory to the student and attractive to the mass of people who are
content to be pleased by such qualities without knowing or asking why.
The labour bestowed on 'The White Company' may very well be compared
to that expended by Charles Reade on 'The Cloister and the H earth.' It
covers a far less extent of ground than that monumental romance, and
it has not (and does not aim at) its universality of mood, but the same
desire of accuracy, the same order of scholarship, the same industry,
the same sense of scrupulous honour in matters of ascertainable fact,
are to be noted, and being noted, are worthy of unstinted admiration.
It is, perhaps, an open question as to whether Dr. Doyle, in his latest
book, has not run a little ahead of the time at which a story on such a
theme could be written with entire safety. 'Rodney Stone' is a story
of the prize-ring, and of the gambling, hard-drinking, and somewhat
brutalised days in which that institution flourished There are many of
us (I have made public confession half a score of times) who regret the
abolition of the ring, on grounds of public policy. We argue that man
is a fighting animal, and that in the days of the ring there was a
recognised code of rules which regulated his conduct at times when
the combative instinct was not to be restrained. We observe that our
commonalty now use the knife in quarrel, and we regret the death of that
rough principle of honour which once imposed itself upon the worst of
rowdies. But there is little doubt that the feeling of the community at
large is overwhelmingly against us, and it is for this reason that I
am dubious as to the success of Dr. Doyle's last literary venture.
The makings of romance are in the story, and are well used. There are
episodes of excellent excitement in it; notable amongst these being the
race on the Godstone Road, which is done with a swing and passion not
easy to overpraise. In the narrative of the fight and of the incidents
which preceded it the feeling of the time is admirably preserved, and
the interest of the reader is held at an unyielding tension. But the
prize-ring is a little too near as yet to offer unimpeachable matter for
romance; and people who can read of the bloodthirsty Umslopogaas and
his semi-comic holocausts with an unshaken stomach, or feel a placid
historic pleasure in the chronicles of Nero's eccentricities, will find
'Rodney Stone' objectionable because it chronicles a 'knuckle fight,'
and because a 'knuckle fight' is still occasionally brought off in
London, and more occasionally suppressed by the police.

But a more serious criticism awaits Dr. Conan Doyle's last work. It is
offered respectfully, and with every admiration for the high qualities
already noticed. In the re-embodiment of a bygone age in fiction, three
separate and special faculties are to be exercised. The first is the
faculty for research, which must expend its energy not merely on the
theme in hand, but on the age at large. The second is the imaginative
and sympathetic faculty, which alone can make the dry bones of social
history live again. The third is the faculty of self-repression,
the power to cast away all which, however laboriously acquired, is
dramatically unessential. Two of these powers belong in generous
measure to Dr. Conan Doyle. The third, which is as necessary to complete
success, he has not yet displayed. In 'Rodney Stone' an attempt has been
made to cover up this shortcoming, in the form in which the story has
been cast, and in the very choice of its title. But when the book comes
to be read it is not the tale of Rodney Stone (who is a mere outsider
privileged to narrate), but of his fashionable uncle's combat with Sir
Lothian Hume, with the ring in which their separate champions appear
as a battle ground. Many pages are crowded with people who are named in
passing and forgotten. They have no influence on the narrative, and no
place in it. Their presence assuredly displays a knowledge of the time
and its chronicles, but they are just so many obstacles to the clear run
of the story, and no more. This is the chief fault to be found with
the book, but it is a grave fault, and the writer, if he is to take the
place which his powers and his industry alike join in claiming for him,
must learn to cast 'as rubbish to the void' many a painfully acquired
bit of knowledge. To be an antiquary is one thing, and to be an
antiquarian romancer is another. Dr. Doyle has aimed at being both one
and the other in the same pages. A true analogy may be taken from the
stage, where the supernumeraries are not allowed to obscure the leading
lady and gentleman at any moment of action.

Mr. Stanley Weyman, who is not Dr. Doyle's equal in other matters, is
in this sole respect his master. He keeps his hero on the scene, and his
action in full swing. He gives no indication of a profound or studious
knowledge of his time, but he knows it fairly well. Mr. Doyle's method
is at bottom the truer, when once the detailed labour is hidden, but
when it bares its own machinery it loses most of its gain. Mr. Weyman
tells a rattling story in rattling fashion. His is the good old style
of easy-going romance, where courage and adventure never fail. He has
chosen the realm of D'Artagnan and Aramis, of Porthos and Athos, and he
has plenty of vivacity, and can invent brilliantly on the lines on
which the brave Dumas invented long before him. He is a cheerful and
inspiriting echo. He cannot wind the mighty horn the elders sounded,
but he can imitate it fairly from a distance. It is only when that crass
reviewer comes along to tell us that the old original hunter of romance
is back again that his music gives us anything but pleasure. For my own
part, I hope he may flourish long, and give us stories as good as 'A
Gentleman of France' as often as he can. My 'Bravo!' shall be as
ready as any man's and as hearty. Why--to change the simile used just
now--when a man is resting his legs in a comfortable _auberge_, and
drinking the honest light wine of the country (which doesn't pretend to
be better than it is), should the asinine enthusiast come to spoil
his enjoyment by swearing that he sits in the enchanted palace of Sir
Walter, and has before him the mighty wine Sir Walter bottled? The
enthusiast provokes to wrath. It's a very good _duberge_--it's a
capital, comfortable house of call, and we should like to sit there
often. And the wine--we found no fault with the wine. It's an honest
tap, and a wholesome and a palatable, and here's the landlord's health
in it. But the magic vintage? Rubbish!

Mr. Anthony Hope has been so lucky as to please the public in two
styles. In the one _genre_ he has displayed an undoubted capacity,
marred here and there to some tastes by a not very defined seeming
of superciliousness, and in the other he has taken us into the most
agreeable regions of unrestrained romance in which English readers have
had leave to wander this many a day. He has caught the very tone of
simple-hearted sincerity in which his later stories demand to be told.
As an example of the adaptation of literary method to the exigencies
of narrative it would not be easy to light on anything better. It is a
little surprising that the trivial story and the trivial style of
'Mr. De Witt's Widow' should have come from the hand which gave us the
histories of the Princess Osra, and created the Kingdom of Ruritania.
The one kind of work is clever, and smart, and knowingly--rather
pretentiously--man-of-the-worldish. The other is large and simple, sweet
and credulous. Mr. Hope, from his latest pages, has breathed on a tired
and jaded time the breath of a pure and harmless fancy, and has earned
its thanks for that benefaction.

It has been seen that the art of fiction as practised at this hour
includes almost all known forms of romance, and that no school may be
said to have its own way to the exclusion of another. It has been seen,
too, that though this is not a day of pre-eminent greatness, we can
boast an astonishing industry and fertility. The output of literary work
has never been so large, nor has the average of excellence ever been so
equal or so high. It has been demonstrated--it is being demonstrated in
new instances two or three times a year--that literary talent is not at
all the uncommon and half-miraculous thing it was once supposed to be.

Genius is as rare as ever, and is likely to continue so, but talent
multiplies its appearances in full accordance with economic rules. No
age ever submitted so constantly as ours to be amused or soothed by the
romancer's art. The permission has opened the door to a great number
of capable, industrious, and workmanlike men and women, who have learnt
their business of amusement well. To the vast majority of us literature
is as much a trade as any of the accepted businesses of Holborn or
Cheapside, and, apart from a lingering sentimentalism, there is no
reason why the fact should not be owned. There is no shame in honest
craftwork done for hire, and when the work is so excellent as at least
a score of living English writers can make it, we have a right to take
Some pride in it But with this day's newspaper before me I learn that
Mr. ------, who is the thin mimic of a fine imitator, has surpassed his
last 'masterpiece,' and that a lady of name to me unknown has 'rivalled'
his masterpiece, and that a gentleman to me unknown has produced a book
which must necessarily be a 'classic.' A masterpiece is a rare thing,
and words have a definite meaning. We call 'Vanity Fair' and 'Esmond'
masterpieces, when we desire to be enthusiastic. We call 'David
Copperfield' a masterpiece, and we find plenty of people to dispute the
judgment. A masterpiece is the master work of a master hand. It must
needs be a rare thing. It is not for the dignity of our work that it
should be greeted by that sort of hysteric hiccoughing against which
these pages have protested. It is a shameless insult to letters at large
when the hysteria is bought and paid for, as does sometimes happen, and
not less insulting when the gentleman who grinds the axe is fee'd in
kind by the other gentleman who rolls the log.

And now, what is done is done, and I leave my task with some misgiving.
If here and there I have given pain, I have not written a word in
malice. The pleasantest part of my work has lain in the fact that with
every desire to be honest I have so often been compelled to praise.

Spottiswoode & Co. Printers, New-street Square, London.

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