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Title: Thackeray
Author: Trollope, Anthony, 1815-1882
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Thackeray" ***

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Transcriber's note:

   The letter "o" with a macron is rendered [=o] in this text. It
   only appears in the word "Public[=o]la".

   A detailed transcriber's note will be found at the end of the text.

English Men of Letters

Edited by John Morley




MacMillan and Co.
The Right of Translation and Reproduction is Reserved.
Charles Dickens and Evans,
Crystal Palace Press.


BIOGRAPHICAL                                1




VANITY FAIR                                90




ESMOND AND THE VIRGINIANS                 122


THACKERAY'S BURLESQUES                    139


THACKERAY'S LECTURES                      154


THACKERAY'S BALLADS                       168






In the foregoing volumes of this series of _English Men of Letters_, and
in other works of a similar nature which have appeared lately as to the
_Ancient Classics_ and _Foreign Classics_, biography has naturally been,
if not the leading, at any rate a considerable element. The desire is
common to all readers to know not only what a great writer has written,
but also of what nature has been the man who has produced such great
work. As to all the authors taken in hand before, there has been extant
some written record of the man's life. Biographical details have been
more or less known to the world, so that, whether of a Cicero, or of a
Goethe, or of our own Johnson, there has been a story to tell. Of
Thackeray no life has been written; and though they who knew him,--and
possibly many who did not,--are conversant with anecdotes of the man,
who was one so well known in society as to have created many anecdotes,
yet there has been no memoir of his life sufficient to supply the wants
of even so small a work as this purports to be. For this the reason may
simply be told. Thackeray, not long before his death, had had his taste
offended by some fulsome biography. Paragraphs, of which the eulogy
seemed to have been the produce rather of personal love than of inquiry
or judgment, disgusted him, and he begged of his girls that when he
should have gone there should nothing of the sort be done with his name.

We can imagine how his mind had worked, how he had declared to himself
that, as by those loving hands into which his letters, his notes, his
little details,--his literary remains, as such documents used to be
called,--might naturally fall, truth of his foibles and of his
shortcomings could not be told, so should not his praises be written, or
that flattering portrait be limned which biographers are wont to
produce. Acting upon these instructions, his daughters,--while there
were two living, and since that the one surviving,--have carried out the
order which has appeared to them to be sacred. Such being the case, it
certainly is not my purpose now to write what may be called a life of
Thackeray. In this preliminary chapter I will give such incidents and
anecdotes of his life as will tell the reader perhaps all about him that
a reader is entitled to ask. I will tell how he became an author, and
will say how first he worked and struggled, and then how he worked and
prospered, and became a household word in English literature;--how, in
this way, he passed through that course of mingled failure and success
which, though the literary aspirant may suffer, is probably better both
for the writer and for the writings than unclouded early glory. The
suffering no doubt is acute, and a touch of melancholy, perhaps of
indignation, may be given to words which have been written while the
heart has been too full of its own wrongs; but this is better than the
continued note of triumph which is still heard in the final voices of
the spoilt child of literature, even when they are losing their music.
Then I will tell how Thackeray died, early indeed, but still having done
a good life's work. Something of his manner, something of his appearance
I can say, something perhaps of his condition of mind; because for some
few years he was known to me. But of the continual intercourse of
himself with the world, and of himself with his own works, I can tell
little, because no record of his life has been made public.

William Makepeace Thackeray was born at Calcutta, on July 18, 1811. His
father was Richmond Thackeray, son of W. M. Thackeray of Hadley, near
Barnet, in Middlesex. A relation of his, of the same name, a Rev. Mr.
Thackeray, I knew well as rector of Hadley, many years afterwards. Him I
believe to have been a second cousin of our Thackeray, but I think they
had never met each other. Another cousin was Provost of Kings at
Cambridge, fifty years ago, as Cambridge men will remember. Clergymen of
the family have been numerous in England during the century, and there
was one, a Rev. Elias Thackeray, whom I also knew in my youth, a
dignitary, if I remember right, in the diocese of Meath. The Thackerays
seem to have affected the Church; but such was not at any period of his
life the bias of our novelist's mind.

His father and grandfather were Indian civil servants. His mother was
Anne Becher, whose father was also in the Company's service. She married
early in India, and was only nineteen when her son was born. She was
left a widow in 1816, with only one child, and was married a few years
afterwards to Major Henry Carmichael Smyth, with whom Thackeray lived on
terms of affectionate intercourse till the major died. All who knew
William Makepeace remember his mother well, a handsome, spare,
gray-haired lady, whom Thackeray treated with a courtly deference as
well as constant affection. There was, however, something of discrepancy
between them as to matters of religion. Mrs. Carmichael Smyth was
disposed to the somewhat austere observance of the evangelical section
of the Church. Such, certainly, never became the case with her son.
There was disagreement on the subject, and probably unhappiness at
intervals, but never, I think, quarrelling. Thackeray's house was his
mother's home whenever she pleased it, and the home also of his

He was brought a child from India, and was sent early to the Charter
House. Of his life and doings there his friend and schoolfellow George
Venables writes to me as follows;

     "My recollection of him, though fresh enough, does not furnish
     much material for biography. He came to school young,--a
     pretty, gentle, and rather timid boy. I think his experience
     there was not generally pleasant. Though he had afterwards a
     scholarlike knowledge of Latin, he did not attain distinction
     in the school; and I should think that the character of the
     head-master, Dr. Russell, which was vigorous, unsympathetic,
     and stern, though not severe, was uncongenial to his own. With
     the boys who knew him, Thackeray was popular; but he had no
     skill in games, and, I think, no taste for them.... He was
     already known by his faculty of making verses, chiefly
     parodies. I only remember one line of one parody on a poem of
     L. E. L.'s, about 'Violets, dark blue violets;' Thackeray's
     version was 'Cabbages, bright green cabbages,' and we thought
     it very witty. He took part in a scheme, which came to
     nothing, for a school magazine, and he wrote verses for it, of
     which I only remember that they were good of their kind. When
     I knew him better, in later years, I thought I could recognise
     the sensitive nature which he had as a boy.... His change of
     retrospective feeling about his school days was very
     characteristic. In his earlier books he always spoke of the
     Charter House as Slaughter House and Smithfield. As he became
     famous and prosperous his memory softened, and Slaughter House
     was changed into Grey Friars where Colonel Newcome ended his

In February, 1829, when he was not as yet eighteen, Thackeray went up to
Trinity College, Cambridge, and was, I think, removed in 1830. It may be
presumed, therefore, that his studies there were not very serviceable to
him. There are few, if any, records left of his doings at the
university,--unless it be the fact that he did there commence the
literary work of his life. The line about the cabbages, and the scheme
of the school magazine, can hardly be said to have amounted even to a
commencement. In 1829 a little periodical was brought out at Cambridge,
called _The Snob_, with an assurance on the title that it was _not_
conducted by members of the university. It is presumed that Thackeray
took a hand in editing this. He certainly wrote, and published in the
little paper, some burlesque lines on the subject which was given for
the Chancellor's prize poem of the year. This was _Timbuctoo_, and
Tennyson was the victor on the occasion. There is some good fun in the
four first and four last lines of Thackeray's production.

     In Africa,--a quarter of the world,--
     Men's skins are black; their hair is crisped and curled;
     And somewhere there, unknown to public view
     A mighty city lies, called Timbuctoo.

            *       *       *       *       *

     I see her tribes the hill of glory mount,
     And sell their sugars on their own account;
     While round her throne the prostrate nations come,
     Sue for her rice, and barter for her rum.

I cannot find in _The Snob_ internal evidence of much literary merit
beyond this. But then how many great writers have there been from whose
early lucubrations no future literary excellence could be

There is something at any rate in the name of the publication which
tells of work that did come. Thackeray's mind was at all times
peculiarly exercised with a sense of snobbishness. His appreciation of
the vice grew abnormally, so that at last he had a morbid horror of a
snob--a morbid fear lest this or the other man should turn snob on his
hands. It is probable that the idea was taken from the early _Snob_ at
Cambridge, either from his own participation in the work or from his
remembrance of it. _The Snob_ lived, I think, but nine weeks, and was
followed at an interval, in 1830, by _The Gownsman_, which lived to the
seventeenth number, and at the opening of which Thackeray no doubt had a
hand. It professed to be a continuation of _The Snob_. It contains a
dedication to all proctors, which I should not be sorry to attribute to
him. "To all Proctors, past, present, and future--

     Whose taste it is our privilege to follow,
     Whose virtue it is our duty to imitate,
     Whose presence it is our interest to avoid."

There is, however, nothing beyond fancy to induce me to believe that
Thackeray was the author of the dedication, and I do not know that there
is any evidence to show that he was connected with _The Snob_ beyond the
writing of _Timbuctoo_.

In 1830 he left Cambridge, and went to Weimar either in that year or in
1831. Between Weimar and Paris he spent some portion of his earlier
years, while his family,--his mother, that is, and his stepfather,--were
living in Devonshire. It was then the purport of his life to become an
artist, and he studied drawing at Paris, affecting especially
Bonnington, the young English artist who had himself painted at Paris
and who had died in 1828. He never learned to draw,--perhaps never could
have learned. That he was idle, and did not do his best, we may take for
granted. He was always idle, and only on some occasions, when the spirit
moved him thoroughly, did he do his best even in after life. But with
drawing,--or rather without it,--he did wonderfully well even when he
did his worst. He did illustrate his own books, and everyone knows how
incorrect were his delineations. But as illustrations they were
excellent. How often have I wished that characters of my own creating
might be sketched as faultily, if with the same appreciation of the
intended purpose. Let anyone look at the "plates," as they are called in
_Vanity Fair_, and compare each with the scenes and the characters
intended to be displayed, and there see whether the artist,--if we may
call him so,--has not managed to convey in the picture the exact feeling
which he has described in the text. I have a little sketch of his, in
which a cannon-ball is supposed to have just carried off the head of an
aide-de-camp,--messenger I had perhaps better say, lest I might affront
military feelings,--who is kneeling on the field of battle and
delivering a despatch to Marlborough on horseback. The graceful ease
with which the duke receives the message though the messenger's head be
gone, and the soldier-like precision with which the headless hero
finishes his last effort of military obedience, may not have been
portrayed with well-drawn figures, but no finished illustration ever
told its story better. Dickens has informed us that he first met
Thackeray in 1835, on which occasion the young artist aspirant, looking
no doubt after profitable employment, "proposed to become the
illustrator of my earliest book." It is singular that such should have
been the first interview between the two great novelists. We may presume
that the offer was rejected.

In 1832, Thackeray came of age, and inherited his fortune,--as to which
various stories have been told. It seems to have amounted to about five
hundred a year, and to have passed through his hands in a year or two,
interest and principal. It has been told of him that it was all taken
away from him at cards, but such was not the truth. Some went in an
Indian bank in which he invested it. A portion was lost at cards. But
with some of it,--the larger part as I think,--he endeavoured, in
concert with his stepfather, to float a newspaper, which failed. There
seem to have been two newspapers in which he was so concerned, _The
National Standard_ and _The Constitutional_. On the latter he was
engaged with his stepfather, and in carrying that on he lost the last of
his money. _The National Standard_ had been running for some weeks when
Thackeray joined it, and lost his money in it. It ran only for little
more than twelve months, and then, the money having gone, the periodical
came to an end. I know no road to fortune more tempting to a young man,
or one that with more certainty leads to ruin. Thackeray, who in a way
more or less correct, often refers in his writings, if not to the
incidents, at any rate to the remembrances of his own life, tells us
much of the story of this newspaper in _Lovel the Widower_. "They are
welcome," says the bachelor, "to make merry at my charges in respect of
a certain bargain which I made on coming to London, and in which, had I
been Moses Primrose purchasing green spectacles, I could scarcely have
been more taken in. My Jenkinson was an old college acquaintance, whom I
was idiot enough to imagine a respectable man. The fellow had a very
smooth tongue and sleek sanctified exterior. He was rather a popular
preacher, and used to cry a good deal in the pulpit. He and a queer wine
merchant and bill discounter, Sherrick by name, had somehow got
possession of that neat little literary paper, _The Museum_, which
perhaps you remember, and this eligible literary property my friend
Honeyman, with his wheedling tongue, induced me to purchase." Here is
the history of Thackeray's money, told by himself plainly enough, but
with no intention on his part of narrating an incident in his own life
to the public. But the drollery of the circumstances, his own mingled
folly and young ambition, struck him as being worth narration, and the
more forcibly as he remembered all the ins and outs of his own
reflections at the time,--how he had meant to enchant the world, and
make his fortune. There was literary capital in it of which he could
make use after so many years. Then he tells us of this ambition, and of
the folly of it; and at the same time puts forward the excuses to be
made for it. "I daresay I gave myself airs as editor of that confounded
_Museum_, and proposed to educate the public taste, to diffuse morality
and sound literature throughout the nation, and to pocket a liberal
salary in return for my services. I daresay I printed my own sonnets, my
own tragedy, my own verses.... I daresay I wrote satirical articles....
I daresay I made a gaby of myself to the world. Pray, my good friend,
hast thou never done likewise? If thou hast never been a fool, be sure
thou wilt never be a wise man." Thackeray was quite aware of his early
weaknesses, and in the maturity of life knew well that he had not been
precociously wise. He delighted so to tell his friends, and he delighted
also to tell the public, not meaning that any but an inner circle should
know that he was speaking of himself. But the story now is plain to all
who can read.[1]

It was thus that he lost his money; and then, not having prospered very
well with his drawing lessons in Paris or elsewhere, he was fain to take
up literature as a profession. It is a business which has its
allurements. It requires no capital, no special education, no training,
and may be taken up at any time without a moment's delay. If a man can
command a table, a chair, pen, paper, and ink, he can commence his trade
as literary man. It is thus that aspirants generally do commence it. A
man may or may not have another employment to back him, or means of his
own; or,--as was the case with Thackeray, when, after his first
misadventure, he had to look about him for the means of living,--he may
have nothing but his intellect and his friends. But the idea comes to
the man that as he has the pen and ink, and time on his hand, why
should he not write and make money?

It is an idea that comes to very many men and women, old as well as
young,--to many thousands who at last are crushed by it, of whom the
world knows nothing. A man can make the attempt though he has not a coat
fit to go out into the street with; or a woman, though she be almost in
rags. There is no apprenticeship wanted. Indeed there is no room for
such apprenticeship. It is an art which no one teaches; there is no
professor who, in a dozen lessons, even pretends to show the aspirant
how to write a book or an article. If you would be a watchmaker, you
must learn; or a lawyer, a cook, or even a housemaid. Before you can
clean a horse you must go into the stable, and begin at the beginning.
Even the cab-driving tiro must sit for awhile on the box, and learn
something of the streets, before he can ply for a fare. But the literary
beginner rushes at once at the top rung of his ladder;--as though a
youth, having made up his mind to be a clergyman, should demand, without
preliminary steps, to be appointed Bishop of London. That he should be
able to read and write is presumed, and that only. So much may be
presumed of everyone, and nothing more is wanted.

In truth nothing more is wanted,--except those inner lights as to which,
so many men live and die without having learned whether they possess
them or not. Practice, industry, study of literature, cultivation of
taste, and the rest, will of course lend their aid, will probably be
necessary before high excellence is attained. But the instances are not
to seek,--are at the fingers of us all,--in which the first uninstructed
effort has succeeded. A boy, almost, or perhaps an old woman, has sat
down and the book has come, and the world has read it, and the
booksellers have been civil and have written their cheques. When all
trades, all professions, all seats at offices, all employments at which
a crust can be earned, are so crowded that a young man knows not where
to look for the means of livelihood, is there not an attraction in this
which to the self-confident must be almost invincible? The booksellers
are courteous and write their cheques, but that is not half the whole?
_Monstrari digito!_ That is obtained. The happy aspirant is written of
in newspapers, or, perhaps, better still, he writes of others. When the
barrister of forty-five has hardly got a name beyond Chancery Lane, this
glorious young scribe, with the first down on his lips, has printed his
novel and been talked about.

The temptation is irresistible, and thousands fall into it. How is a man
to know that he is not the lucky one or the gifted one? There is the
table and there the pen and ink. Among the unfortunate he who fails
altogether and from the first start is not the most unfortunate. A short
period of life is wasted, and a sharp pang is endured. Then the
disappointed one is relegated to the condition of life which he would
otherwise have filled a little earlier. He has been wounded, but not
killed, or even maimed. But he who has a little success, who succeeds in
earning a few halcyon, but, ah! so dangerous guineas, is drawn into a
trade from which he will hardly escape till he be driven from it, if he
come out alive, by sheer hunger. He hangs on till the guineas become
crowns and shillings,--till some sad record of his life, made when he
applies for charity, declares that he has worked hard for the last year
or two and has earned less than a policeman in the streets or a porter
at a railway. It is to that that he is brought by applying himself to a
business which requires only a table and chair, with pen, ink, and
paper! It is to that which he is brought by venturing to believe that he
has been gifted with powers of imagination, creation, and expression.

The young man who makes the attempt knows that he must run the chance.
He is well aware that nine must fail where one will make his running
good. So much as that does reach his ears, and recommends itself to his
common sense. But why should it not be he as well as another? There is
always some lucky one winning the prize. And this prize when it has been
won is so well worth the winning! He can endure starvation,--so he tells
himself,--as well as another. He will try. But yet he knows that he has
but one chance out of ten in his favour, and it is only in his happier
moments that he flatters himself that that remains to him. Then there
falls upon him,--in the midst of that labour which for its success
especially requires that a man's heart shall be light, and that he be
always at his best,--doubt and despair. If there be no chance, of what
use is his labour?

     Were it not better done as others use,
     To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,

and amuse himself after that fashion? Thus the very industry which alone
could give him a chance is discarded. It is so that the young man feels
who, with some slight belief in himself and with many doubts, sits down
to commence the literary labour by which he hopes to live.

So it was, no doubt, with Thackeray. Such were his hopes and his
fears;--with a resolution of which we can well understand that it should
have waned at times, of earning his bread, if he did not make his
fortune, in the world of literature. One has not to look far for
evidence of the condition I have described,--that it was so, Amaryllis
and all. How or when he made his very first attempt in London, I have
not learned; but he had not probably spent his money without forming
"press" acquaintances, and had thus found an aperture for the thin end
of the wedge. He wrote for _The Constitutional_, of which he was part
proprietor, beginning his work for that paper as a correspondent from
Paris. For a while he was connected with _The Times_ newspaper, though
his work there did not I think amount to much. His first regular
employment was on _Fraser's Magazine_, when Mr. Fraser's shop was in
Regent Street, when Oliver Yorke was the presumed editor, and among
contributors, Carlyle was one of the most notable. I imagine that the
battle of life was difficult enough with him even after he had become
one of the leading props of that magazine. All that he wrote was not
taken, and all that was taken was not approved. In 1837-38, the _History
of Samuel Titmarsh and the Great Hoggarty Diamond_ appeared in the
magazine. The _Great Hoggarty Diamond_ is now known to all readers of
Thackeray's works. It is not my purpose to speak specially of it here,
except to assert that it has been thought to be a great success. When it
was being brought out, the author told a friend of his,--and of
mine,--that it was not much thought of at Fraser's, and that he had been
called upon to shorten it. That is an incident disagreeable in its
nature to any literary gentleman, and likely to be specially so when he
knows that his provision of bread, certainly of improved bread and
butter, is at stake. The man who thus darkens his literary brow with the
frown of disapproval, has at his disposal all the loaves and all the
fishes that are going. If the writer be successful, there will come a
time when he will be above such frowns; but, when that opinion went
forth, Thackeray had not yet made his footing good, and the notice to
him respecting it must have been very bitter. It was in writing this
_Hoggarty Diamond_ that Thackeray first invented the name of Michael
Angelo Titmarsh. Samuel Titmarsh was the writer, whereas Michael Angelo
was an intending illustrator. Thackeray's nose had been broken in a
school fight, while he was quite a little boy, by another little boy, at
the Charter House; and there was probably some association intended to
be jocose with the name of the great artist, whose nose was broken by
his fellow-student Torrigiano, and who, as it happened, died exactly
three centuries before Thackeray.

I can understand all the disquietude of his heart when that warning, as
to the too great length of his story, was given to him. He was not a man
capable of feeling at any time quite assured in his position, and when
that occurred he was very far from assurance. I think that at no time
did he doubt the sufficiency of his own mental qualification for the
work he had taken in hand; but he doubted all else. He doubted the
appreciation of the world; he doubted his fitness for turning
his intellect to valuable account; he doubted his physical
capacity,--dreading his own lack of industry; he doubted his luck; he
doubted the continual absence of some of those misfortunes on which the
works of literary men are shipwrecked. Though he was aware of his own
power, he always, to the last, was afraid that his own deficiencies
should be too strong against him. It was his nature to be idle,--to put
off his work,--and then to be angry with himself for putting it off.
Ginger was hot in the mouth with him, and all the allurements of the
world were strong upon him. To find on Monday morning an excuse why he
should not on Monday do Monday's work was, at the time, an inexpressible
relief to him, but had become deep regret,--almost a remorse,--before
the Monday was over. To such a one it was not given to believe in
himself with that sturdy rock-bound foundation which we see to have
belonged to some men from the earliest struggles of their career. To
him, then, must have come an inexpressible pang when he was told that
his story must be curtailed.

Who else would have told such a story of himself to the first
acquaintance he chanced to meet? Of Thackeray it might be predicted that
he certainly would do so. No little wound of the kind ever came to him
but what he disclosed it at once. "They have only bought so many of my
new book." "Have you seen the abuse of my last number?" "What am I to
turn my hand to? They are getting tired of my novels." "They don't read
it," he said to me of _Esmond_. "So you don't mean to publish my work?"
he said once to a publisher in an open company. Other men keep their
little troubles to themselves. I have heard even of authors who have
declared how all the publishers were running after their books; I have
heard some discourse freely of their fourth and fifth editions; I have
known an author to boast of his thousands sold in this country, and his
tens of thousands in America; but I never heard anyone else declare that
no one would read his _chef-d'oeuvre_, and that the world was becoming
tired of him. It was he who said, when he was fifty, that a man past
fifty should never write a novel.

And yet, as I have said, he was from an early age fully conscious of his
own ability. That he was so is to be seen in the handling of many of
his early works,--in _Barry Lyndon_, for instance, and the _Memoirs of
Mr. C. James Yellowplush_. The sound is too certain for doubt of that
kind. But he had not then, nor did he ever achieve that assurance of
public favour which makes a man confident that his work will be
successful. During the years of which we are now speaking Thackeray was
a literary Bohemian in this sense,--that he never regarded his own
status as certain. While performing much of the best of his life's work
he was not sure of his market, not certain of his readers, his
publishers, or his price; nor was he certain of himself.

It is impossible not to form some contrast between him and Dickens as to
this period of his life,--a comparison not as to their literary merits,
but literary position. Dickens was one year his junior in age, and at
this time, viz. 1837-38, had reached almost the zenith of his
reputation. _Pickwick_ had been published, and _Oliver Twist_ and
_Nicholas Nickleby_ were being published. All the world was talking
about the young author who was assuming his position with a confidence
in his own powers which was fully justified both by his present and
future success. It was manifest that he could make, not only his own
fortune, but that of his publishers, and that he was a literary hero
bound to be worshipped by all literary grades of men, down to the
"devils" of the printing-office. At that time, Thackeray, the older man,
was still doubting, still hesitating, still struggling. Everyone then
had accepted the name of Charles Dickens. That of William Thackeray was
hardly known beyond the circle of those who are careful to make
themselves acquainted with such matters. It was then the custom, more
generally than it is at present, to maintain anonymous writing in
magazines. Now, if anything of special merit be brought out, the name of
the author, if not published, is known. It was much less so at the
period in question; and as the world of readers began to be acquainted
with Jeames Yellowplush, Catherine Hayes, and other heroes and heroines,
the names of the author had to be inquired for. I remember myself, when
I was already well acquainted with the immortal Jeames, asking who was
the writer. The works of Charles Dickens were at that time as well known
to be his, and as widely read in England, as those almost of

It will be said of course that this came from the earlier popularity of
Dickens. That is of course; but why should it have been so? They had
begun to make their effort much at the same time; and if there was any
advantage in point of position as they commenced, it was with Thackeray.
It might be said that the genius of the one was brighter than that of
the other, or, at any rate, that it was more precocious. But
after-judgment has, I think, not declared either of the suggestions to
be true. I will make no comparison between two such rivals, who were so
distinctly different from each, and each of whom, within so very short a
period, has come to stand on a pedestal so high,--the two exalted to so
equal a vocation. And if Dickens showed the best of his power early in
life, so did Thackeray the best of his intellect. In no display of
mental force did he rise above _Barry Lyndon_. I hardly know how the
teller of a narrative shall hope to mount in simply intellectual faculty
above the effort there made. In what then was the difference? Why was
Dickens already a great man when Thackeray was still a literary

The answer is to be found not in the extent or in the nature of the
genius of either man, but in the condition of mind,--which indeed may be
read plainly in their works by those who have eyes to see. The one was
steadfast, industrious, full of purpose, never doubting of himself,
always putting his best foot foremost and standing firmly on it when he
got it there; with no inward trepidation, with no moments in which he
was half inclined to think that this race was not for his winning, this
goal not to be reached by his struggles. The sympathy of friends was
good to him, but he could have done without it. The good opinion which
he had of himself was never shaken by adverse criticism; and the
criticism on the other side, by which it was exalted, came from the
enumeration of the number of copies sold. He was a firm reliant man,
very little prone to change, who, when he had discovered the nature of
his own talent, knew how to do the very best with it.

It may almost be said that Thackeray was the very opposite of this.
Unsteadfast, idle, changeable of purpose, aware of his own intellect but
not trusting it, no man ever failed more generally than he to put his
best foot foremost. Full as his works are of pathos, full of humour,
full of love and charity, tending, as they always do, to truth and
honour and manly worth and womanly modesty, excelling, as they seem to
me to do, most other written precepts that I know, they always seem to
lack something that might have been there. There is a touch of vagueness
which indicates that his pen was not firm while he was using it. He
seems to me to have been dreaming ever of some high flight, and then to
have told himself, with a half-broken heart, that it was beyond his
power to soar up into those bright regions. I can fancy as the sheets
went from him every day he told himself, in regard to every sheet, that
it was a failure. Dickens was quite sure of his sheets.

"I have got to make it shorter!" Then he would put his hands in his
pockets, and stretch himself, and straighten the lines of his face, over
which a smile would come, as though this intimation from his editor were
the best joke in the world; and he would walk away, with his heart
bleeding, and every nerve in an agony. There are none of us who want to
have much of his work shortened now.

In 1837 Thackeray married Isabella, daughter of Colonel Matthew Shawe,
and from this union there came three daughters, Anne, Jane, and Harriet.
The name of the eldest, now Mrs. Richmond Ritchie, who has followed so
closely in her father's steps, is a household word to the world of novel
readers; the second died as a child; the younger lived to marry Leslie
Stephen, who is too well known for me to say more than that he wrote,
the other day, the little volume on Dr. Johnson in this series; but she,
too, has now followed her father. Of Thackeray's married life what need
be said shall be contained in a very few words. It was grievously
unhappy; but the misery of it came from God, and was in no wise due to
human fault. She became ill, and her mind failed her. There was a period
during which he would not believe that her illness was more than
illness, and then he clung to her and waited on her with an assiduity of
affection which only made his task the more painful to him. At last it
became evident that she should live in the companionship of some one
with whom her life might be altogether quiet, and she has since been
domiciled with a lady with whom she has been happy. Thus she was, after
but a few years of married life, taken away from him, and he became as
it were a widower till the end of his days.

At this period, and indeed for some years after his marriage, his chief
literary dependence was on _Fraser's Magazine_. He wrote also at this
time in the _New Monthly Magazine_. In 1840 he brought out his _Paris
Sketch Book_, as to which he tells us by a notice printed with the first
edition, that half of the sketches had already been published in various
periodicals. Here he used the name Michael Angelo Titmarsh, as he did
also with the _Journey from Cornhill to Cairo_. Dickens had called
himself Boz, and clung to the name with persistency as long as the
public would permit it. Thackeray's affection for assumed names was more
intermittent, though I doubt whether he used his own name altogether
till it appeared on the title-page of _Vanity Fair_. About this time
began his connection with _Punch_, in which much of his best work
appeared. Looking back at our old friend as he used to come out from
week to week at this time, we can hardly boast that we used to recognise
how good the literary pabulum was that was then given for our
consumption. We have to admit that the ordinary reader, as the ordinary
picture-seer, requires to be guided by a name. We are moved to absolute
admiration by a Raphael or a Hobbema, but hardly till we have learned
the name of the painter, or, at any rate, the manner of his painting. I
am not sure that all lovers of poetry would recognise a _Lycidas_ coming
from some hitherto unknown Milton. Gradually the good picture or the
fine poem makes its way into the minds of a slowly discerning public.
_Punch_, no doubt, became very popular, owing, perhaps, more to Leech,
its artist, than to any other single person. Gradually the world of
readers began to know that there was a speciality of humour to be found
in its pages,--fun and sense, satire and good humour, compressed
together in small literary morsels as the nature of its columns
required. Gradually the name of Thackeray as one of the band of brethren
was buzzed about, and gradually became known as that of the chief of the
literary brothers. But during the years in which he did much for
_Punch_, say from 1843 to 1853, he was still struggling to make good his
footing in literature. They knew him well in the _Punch_ office, and no
doubt the amount and regularity of the cheques from Messrs. Bradbury and
Evans, the then and still owners of that happy periodical, made him
aware that he had found for himself a satisfactory career. In "a good
day for himself, the journal, and the world, Thackeray found _Punch_."
This was said by his old friend Shirley Brooks, who himself lived to be
editor of the paper and died in harness, and was said most truly.
_Punch_ was more congenial to him, and no doubt more generous, than
_Fraser_. There was still something of the literary Bohemian about him,
but not as it had been before. He was still unfixed, looking out for
some higher career, not altogether satisfied to be no more than one of
an anonymous band of brothers, even though the brothers were the
brothers of _Punch_. We can only imagine what were his thoughts as to
himself and that other man, who was then known as the great novelist of
the day,--of a rivalry with whom he was certainly conscious. _Punch_ was
very much to him, but was not quite enough. That must have been very
clear to himself as he meditated the beginning of _Vanity Fair_.

Of the contributions to the periodical, the best known now are _The Snob
Papers_ and _The Ballads of Policeman X_. But they were very numerous.
Of Thackeray as a poet, or maker of verses, I will say a few words in a
chapter which will be devoted to his own so-called ballads. Here it
seems only necessary to remark that there was not apparently any time in
his career at which he began to think seriously of appearing before the
public as a poet. Such was the intention early in their career with many
of our best known prose writers, with Milton, and Goldsmith, and Samuel
Johnson, with Scott, Macaulay, and more lately with Matthew Arnold;
writers of verse and prose who ultimately prevailed some in one
direction, and others in the other. Milton and Goldsmith have been known
best as poets, Johnson and Macaulay as writers of prose. But with all of
them there has been a distinct effort in each art. Thackeray seems to
have tumbled into versification by accident; writing it as amateurs do,
a little now and again for his own delectation, and to catch the taste
of partial friends. The reader feels that Thackeray would not have begun
to print his verses unless the opportunity of doing so had been brought
in his way by his doings in prose. And yet he had begun to write verses
when he was very young;--at Cambridge, as we have seen, when he
contributed more to the fame of Timbuctoo than I think even Tennyson has
done,--and in his early years at Paris. Here again, though he must have
felt the strength of his own mingled humour and pathos, he always struck
with an uncertain note till he had gathered strength and confidence by
popularity. Good as they generally were, his verses were accidents,
written not as a writer writes who claims to be a poet, but as though
they might have been the relaxation of a doctor or a barrister.

And so they were. When Thackeray first settled himself in London, to
make his living among the magazines and newspapers, I do not imagine
that he counted much on his poetic powers. He describes it all in his
own dialogue between the pen and the album.

"Since he," says the pen, speaking of its master, Thackeray:

     Since he my faithful service did engage,
     To follow him through his queer pilgrimage
     I've drawn and written many a line and page.

     Caricatures I scribbled have, and rhymes,
     And dinner-cards, and picture pantomimes,
     And many little children's books at times.

     I've writ the foolish fancy of his brain;
     The aimless jest that, striking, hath caused pain;
     The idle word that he'd wish back again.

     I've helped him to pen many a line for bread.

It was thus he thought of his work. There had been caricatures, and
rhymes, and many little children's books; and then the lines written for
his bread, which, except that they were written for _Punch_, were hardly
undertaken with a more serious purpose. In all of it there was ample
seriousness, had he known it himself. What a tale of the restlessness,
of the ambition, of the glory, of the misfortunes of a great country is
given in the ballads of Peter the French drummer! Of that brain so full
of fancy the pen had lightly written all the fancies. He did not know it
when he was doing so, but with that word, fancy, he has described
exactly the gift with which his brain was specially endowed. If a writer
be accurate, or sonorous, or witty, or simply pathetic, he may, I think,
gauge his own powers. He may do so after experience with something of
certainty. But fancy is a gift which the owner of it cannot measure, and
the power of which, when he is using it, he cannot himself understand.
There is the same lambent flame flickering over everything he did, even
the dinner-cards and the picture pantomimes. He did not in the least
know what he put into those things. So it was with his verses. It was
only by degrees, when he was told of it by others, that he found that
they too were of infinite value to him in his profession.

The _Irish Sketch Book_ came out in 1843, in which he used, but only
half used, the name of Michael Angelo Titmarsh. He dedicates it to
Charles Lever, and in signing the dedication gave his own name. "Laying
aside," he says, "for a moment the travelling title of Mr. Titmarsh, let
me acknowledge these favours in my own name, and subscribe myself, &c.
&c., W. M. Thackeray." So he gradually fell into the declaration of his
own identity. In 1844 he made his journey to Turkey and Egypt,--_From
Cornhill to Grand Cairo_, as he called it, still using the old nom de
plume, but again signing the dedication with his own name. It was now
made to the captain of the vessel in which he encountered that famous
white squall, in describing which he has shown the wonderful power he
had over words.

In 1846 was commenced, in numbers, the novel which first made his name
well known to the world. This was _Vanity Fair_, a work to which it is
evident that he devoted all his mind. Up to this time his writings had
consisted of short contributions, chiefly of sketches, each intended to
stand by itself in the periodical to which it was sent. _Barry Lyndon_
had hitherto been the longest; but that and _Catherine Hayes_, and the
_Hoggarty Diamond_, though stories continued through various numbers,
had not as yet reached the dignity,--or at any rate the length,--of a
three-volume novel. But of late novels had grown to be much longer than
those of the old well-known measure. Dickens had stretched his to nearly
double the length, and had published them in twenty numbers. The attempt
had caught the public taste and had been pre-eminently successful. The
nature of the tale as originated by him was altogether unlike that to
which the readers of modern novels had been used. No plot, with an
arranged catastrophe or _dénoûment_, was necessary. Some untying of the
various knots of the narrative no doubt were expedient, but these were
of the simplest kind, done with the view of giving an end to that which
might otherwise be endless. The adventures of a _Pickwick_ or a
_Nickleby_ required very little of a plot, and this mode of telling a
story, which might be continued on through any number of pages, as long
as the characters were interesting, met with approval. Thackeray, who
had never depended much on his plot in the shorter tales which he had
hitherto told, determined to adopt the same form in his first great
work, but with these changes;--That as the central character with
Dickens had always been made beautiful with unnatural virtue,--for who
was ever so unselfish as _Pickwick_, so manly and modest as _Nicholas_,
or so good a boy as _Oliver_?--so should his centre of interest be in
every respect abnormally bad.

As to Thackeray's reason for this,--or rather as to that condition of
mind which brought about this result,--I will say something in a final
chapter, in which I will endeavour to describe the nature and effect of
his work generally. Here it will be necessary only to declare that, such
was the choice he now made of a subject in his first attempt to rise out
of a world of small literary contributions, into the more assured
position of the author of a work of importance. We are aware that the
monthly nurses of periodical literature did not at first smile on the
effort. The proprietors of magazines did not see their way to undertake
_Vanity Fair_, and the publishers are said to have generally looked shy
upon it. At last it was brought out in numbers,--twenty-four numbers
instead of twenty, as with those by Dickens,--under the guardian hands
of Messrs. Bradbury and Evans. This was completed in 1848, and then it
was that, at the age of thirty-seven, Thackeray first achieved for
himself a name and reputation through the country. Before this he had
been known at _Fraser's_ and at the _Punch_ office. He was known at the
Garrick Club, and had become individually popular among literary men in
London. He had made many fast friends, and had been, as it were, found
out by persons of distinction. But Jones, and Smith, and Robinson, in
Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham, did not know him as they knew
Dickens, Carlyle, Tennyson, and Macaulay,--not as they knew Landseer, or
Stansfeld, or Turner; not as they knew Macready, Charles Kean, or Miss
Faucit. In that year, 1848, his name became common in the memoirs of the
time. On the 5th of June I find him dining with Macready, to meet Sir J.
Wilson, Panizzi, Landseer, and others. A few days afterwards Macready
dined with him. "Dined with Thackeray, met the Gordons, Kenyons,
Procters, Reeve, Villiers, Evans, Stansfeld, and saw Mrs. Sartoris and
S. C. Dance, White, H. Goldsmid, in the evening." Again; "Dined with
Forster, having called and taken up Brookfield, met Rintoul, Kenyon,
Procter, Kinglake, Alfred Tennyson, Thackeray." Macready was very
accurate in jotting down the names of those he entertained, who
entertained him, or were entertained with him. _Vanity Fair_ was coming
out, and Thackeray had become one of the personages in literary
society. In the January number of 1848 the _Edinburgh Review_ had an
article on Thackeray's works generally as they were then known. It
purports to combine the _Irish Sketch Book_, the _Journey from Cornhill
to Grand Cairo_, and _Vanity Fair_ as far as it had then gone; but it
does in truth deal chiefly with the literary merits of the latter. I
will quote a passage from the article, as proving in regard to
Thackeray's work an opinion which was well founded, and as telling the
story of his life as far as it was then known;

"Full many a valuable truth," says the reviewer, "has been sent
undulating through the air by men who have lived and died unknown. At
this moment the rising generation are supplied with the best of their
mental aliment by writers whose names are a dead letter to the mass; and
among the most remarkable of these is Michael Angelo Titmarsh, alias
William Makepeace Thackeray, author of the _Irish Sketch Book_, of _A
Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo_, of _Jeames's Diary_, of _The Snob
Papers_ in _Punch_, of _Vanity Fair_, etc. etc.

"Mr. Thackeray is now about thirty-seven years of age, of a good family,
and originally intended for the bar. He kept seven or eight terms at
Cambridge, but left the university without taking a degree, with the
view of becoming an artist; and we well remember, ten or twelve years
ago, finding him day after day engaged in copying pictures in the
Louvre, in order to qualify himself for his intended profession. It may
be doubted, however, whether any degree of assiduity would have enabled
him to excel in the money-making branches, for his talent was altogether
of the Hogarth kind, and was principally remarkable in the pen-and-ink
sketches of character and situation, which he dashed off for the
amusement of his friends. At the end of two or three years of desultory
application he gave up the notion of becoming a painter, and took to
literature. He set up and edited with marked ability a weekly journal,
on the plan of _The Athenæum_ and _Literary Gazette_, but was unable to
compete successfully with such long-established rivals. He then became a
regular man of letters,--that is, he wrote for respectable magazines and
newspapers, until the attention attracted to his contributions in
_Fraser's Magazine_ and _Punch_ emboldened him to start on his own
account, and risk an independent publication." Then follows a eulogistic
and, as I think, a correct criticism on the book as far as it had gone.
There are a few remarks perhaps a little less eulogistic as to some of
his minor writings, _The Snob Papers_ in particular; and at the end
there is a statement with which I think we shall all now agree; "A
writer with such a pen and pencil as Mr. Thackeray's is an acquisition
of real and high value in our literature."

The reviewer has done his work in a tone friendly to the author, whom he
knew,[2]--as indeed it may be said that this little book will be written
with the same feeling,--but the public has already recognised the truth
of the review generally. There can be no doubt that Thackeray, though he
had hitherto been but a contributor of anonymous pieces to
periodicals,--to what is generally considered as merely the ephemeral
literature of the month,--had already become effective on the tastes and
morals of readers. Affectation of finery; the vulgarity which apes good
breeding but never approaches it; dishonest gambling, whether with dice
or with railway shares; and that low taste for literary excitement which
is gratified by mysterious murders and Old Bailey executions had already
received condign punishment from Yellowplush, Titmarsh, Fitzboodle, and
Ikey Solomon. Under all those names Thackeray had plied his trade as a
satirist. Though the truths, as the reviewer said, had been merely sent
undulating through the air, they had already become effective.

Thackeray had now become a personage,--one of the recognised stars of
the literary heaven of the day. It was an honour to know him; and we may
well believe that the givers of dinners were proud to have him among
their guests. He had opened his oyster,--with his pen, an achievement
which he cannot be said to have accomplished until _Vanity Fair_ had
come out. In inquiring about him from those who survive him, and knew
him well in those days, I always hear the same account. "If I could only
tell you the impromptu lines which fell from him!" "If I had only kept
the drawings from his pen, which used to be chucked about as though they
were worth nothing!" "If I could only remember the drolleries!" Had they
been kept, there might now be many volumes of these sketches, as to
which the reviewer says that their talent was "altogether of the Hogarth
kind." Could there be any kind more valuable? Like Hogarth, he could
always make his picture tell his story; though, unlike Hogarth, he had
not learned to draw. I have had sent to me for my inspection an album of
drawings and letters, which, in the course of twenty years, from 1829 to
1849, were despatched from Thackeray to his old friend Edward
Fitzgerald. Looking at the wit displayed in the drawings, I feel
inclined to say that had he persisted he would have been a second
Hogarth. There is a series of ballet scenes, in which "Flore et Zephyr"
are the two chief performers, which for expression and drollery exceed
anything that I know of the kind. The set in this book are lithographs,
which were published, but I do not remember to have seen them elsewhere.
There are still among us many who knew him well;--Edward Fitzgerald and
George Venables, James Spedding and Kinglake, Mrs. Procter,--the widow
of Barry Cornwall, who loved him well,--and Monckton Milnes, as he used
to be, whose touching lines written just after Thackeray's death will
close this volume, Frederick Pollock and Frank Fladgate, John Blackwood
and William Russell,--and they all tell the same story. Though he so
rarely talked, as good talkers do, and was averse to sit down to work,
there were always falling from his mouth and pen those little pearls.
Among the friends who had been kindest and dearest to him in the days of
his strugglings he once mentioned three to me,--Matthew Higgins, or
Jacob Omnium as he was more popularly called; William Stirling, who
became Sir William Maxwell; and Russell Sturgis, who is now the senior
partner in the great house of Barings. Alas, only the last of these
three is left among us! Thackeray was a man of no great power of
conversation. I doubt whether he ever shone in what is called general
society. He was not a man to be valuable at a dinner-table as a good
talker. It was when there were but two or three together that he was
happy himself and made others happy; and then it would rather be from
some special piece of drollery that the joy of the moment would come,
than from the discussion of ordinary topics. After so many years his old
friends remember the fag-ends of the doggerel lines which used to drop
from him without any effort on all occasions of jollity. And though he
could be very sad,--laden with melancholy, as I think must have been the
case with him always,--the feeling of fun would quickly come to him, and
the queer rhymes would be poured out as plentifully as the sketches were
made. Here is a contribution which I find hanging in the memory of an
old friend, the serious nature of whose literary labours would certainly
have driven such lines from his mind, had they not at the time caught
fast hold of him:

     In the romantic little town of Highbury
     My father kept a circulatin' library;
     He followed in his youth that man immortal, who
     Conquered the Frenchmen on the plains of Waterloo.
     Mamma was an inhabitant of Drogheda,
     Very good she was to darn and to embroider.
     In the famous island of Jamaica,
     For thirty years I've been a sugar-baker;
     And here I sit, the Muses' 'appy vot'ry,
     A cultivatin' every kind of po'try,

There may, perhaps, have been a mistake in a line, but the poem has been
handed down with fair correctness over a period of forty years. He was
always versifying. He once owed me five pounds seventeen shillings and
sixpence, his share of a dinner bill at Richmond. He sent me a cheque
for the amount in rhyme, giving the proper financial document on the
second half of a sheet of note paper. I gave the poem away as an
autograph, and now forget the lines. This was all trifling, the reader
will say. No doubt. Thackeray was always trifling, and yet always
serious. In attempting to understand his character it is necessary for
you to bear within your own mind the idea that he was always, within his
own bosom, encountering melancholy with buffoonery, and meanness with
satire. The very spirit of burlesque dwelt within him,--a spirit which
does not see the grand the less because of the travesties which it is
always engendering.

In his youthful,--all but boyish,--days in London, he delighted to "put
himself up" at the Bedford, in Covent Garden. Then in his early married
days he lived in Albion Street, and from thence went to Great Coram
Street, till his household there was broken up by his wife's illness. He
afterwards took lodgings in St. James's Chambers, and then a house in
Young Street, Kensington. Here he lived from 1847, when he was achieving
his great triumph with _Vanity Fair_, down to 1853, when he removed to a
house which he bought in Onslow Square. In Young Street there had come
to lodge opposite to him an Irish gentleman, who, on the part of his
injured country, felt very angry with Thackeray. _The Irish Sketch Book_
had not been complimentary, nor were the descriptions which Thackeray
had given generally of Irishmen; and there was extant an absurd idea
that in his abominable heroine Catherine Hayes he had alluded to Miss
Catherine Hayes the Irish singer. Word was taken to Thackeray that this
Irishman intended to come across the street and avenge his country on
the calumniator's person. Thackeray immediately called upon the
gentleman, and it is said that the visit was pleasant to both parties.
There certainly was no blood shed.

He had now succeeded,--in 1848,--in making for himself a standing as a
man of letters, and an income. What was the extent of his income I have
no means of saying; nor is it a subject on which, as I think, inquiry
should be made. But he was not satisfied with his position. He felt it
to be precarious, and he was always thinking of what he owed to his two
girls. That _arbitrium popularis auræ_ on which he depended for his
daily bread was not regarded by him with the confidence which it
deserved. He did not probably know how firm was the hold he had obtained
of the public ear. At any rate he was anxious, and endeavoured to secure
for himself a permanent income in the public service. He had become by
this time acquainted, probably intimate, with the Marquis of
Clanricarde, who was then Postmaster-General. In 1848 there fell a
vacancy in the situation of Assistant-Secretary at the General Post
Office, and Lord Clanricarde either offered it to him or promised to
give it to him. The Postmaster-General had the disposal of the
place,--but was not altogether free from control in the matter. When he
made known his purpose at the Post Office, he was met by an assurance
from the officer next under him that the thing could not be done. The
services were wanted of a man who had had experience in the Post Office;
and, moreover, it was necessary that the feelings of other gentlemen
should be consulted. Men who have been serving in an office many years
do not like to see even a man of genius put over their heads. In fact,
the office would have been up in arms at such an injustice. Lord
Clanricarde, who in a matter of patronage was not scrupulous, was still
a good-natured man and amenable. He attempted to befriend his friend
till he found that it was impossible, and then, with the best grace in
the world, accepted the official nominee that was offered to him.

It may be said that had Thackeray succeeded in that attempt he would
surely have ruined himself. No man can be fit for the management and
performance of special work who has learned nothing of it before his
thirty-seventh year; and no man could have been less so than Thackeray.
There are men who, though they be not fit, are disposed to learn their
lesson and make themselves as fit as possible. Such cannot be said to
have been the case with this man. For the special duties which he would
have been called upon to perform, consisting to a great extent of the
maintenance of discipline over a large body of men, training is
required, and the service would have suffered for awhile under any
untried elderly tiro. Another man might have put himself into harness.
Thackeray never would have done so. The details of his work after the
first month would have been inexpressibly wearisome to him. To have gone
into the city, and to have remained there every day from eleven till
five, would have been all but impossible to him. He would not have done
it. And then he would have been tormented by the feeling that he was
taking the pay and not doing the work. There is a belief current, not
confined to a few, that a man may be a Government Secretary with a
generous salary, and have nothing to do. The idea is something that
remains to us from the old days of sinecures. If there be now remaining
places so pleasant, or gentlemen so happy, I do not know them.
Thackeray's notion of his future duties was probably very vague. He
would have repudiated the notion that he was looking for a sinecure, but
no doubt considered that the duties would be easy and light. It is not
too much to assert, that he who could drop his pearls as I have said
above, throwing them wide cast without an effort, would have found his
work as Assistant-Secretary at the General Post Office to be altogether
too much for him. And then it was no doubt his intention to join
literature with the Civil Service. He had been taught to regard the
Civil Service as easy, and had counted upon himself as able to add it to
his novels, and his work with his _Punch_ brethren, and to his
contributions generally to the literature of the day. He might have done
so, could he have risen at five, and have sat at his private desk for
three hours before he began his official routine at the public one. A
capability for grinding, an aptitude for continuous task work, a
disposition to sit in one's chair as though fixed to it by cobbler's
wax, will enable a man in the prime of life to go through the tedium of
a second day's work every day; but of all men Thackeray was the last to
bear the wearisome perseverance of such a life. Some more or less
continuous attendance at his office he must have given, and with it
would have gone _Punch_ and the novels, the ballads, the burlesques, the
essays, the lectures, and the monthly papers full of mingled satire and
tenderness, which have left to us that Thackeray which we could so ill
afford to lose out of the literature of the nineteenth century. And
there would have remained to the Civil Service the memory of a
disgraceful job.

He did not, however, give up the idea of the Civil Service. In a letter
to his American friend, Mr. Reed, dated 8th November, 1854, he says;
"The secretaryship of our Legation at Washington was vacant the other
day, and I instantly asked for it; but in the very kindest letter Lord
Clarendon showed how the petition was impossible. First, the place was
given away. Next, it would not be fair to appoint out of the service.
But the first was an excellent reason;--not a doubt of it." The validity
of the second was probably not so apparent to him as it is to one who
has himself waited long for promotion. "So if ever I come," he
continues, "as I hope and trust to do this time next year, it must be in
my own coat, and not the Queen's." Certainly in his own coat, and not in
the Queen's, must Thackeray do anything by which he could mend his
fortune or make his reputation. There never was a man less fit for the
Queen's coat.

Nevertheless he held strong ideas that much was due by the Queen's
ministers to men of letters, and no doubt had his feelings of slighted
merit, because no part of the debt due was paid to him. In 1850 he wrote
a letter to _The Morning Chronicle_, which has since been republished,
in which he alludes to certain opinions which had been put forth in _The
Examiner_. "I don't see," he says, "why men of letters should not very
cheerfully coincide with Mr. Examiner in accepting all the honours,
places, and prizes which they can get. The amount of such as will be
awarded to them will not, we may be pretty sure, impoverish the country
much; and if it is the custom of the State to reward by money, or titles
of honour, or stars and garters of any sort, individuals who do the
country service,--and if individuals are gratified at having 'Sir' or
'My lord' appended to their names, or stars and ribbons hooked on to
their coats and waistcoats, as men most undoubtedly are, and as their
wives, families, and relations are,--there can be no reason why men of
letters should not have the chance, as well as men of the robe or the
sword; or why, if honour and money are good for one profession, they
should not be good for another. No man in other callings thinks himself
degraded by receiving a reward from his Government; nor, surely, need
the literary man be more squeamish about pensions, and ribbons, and
titles, than the ambassador, or general, or judge. Every European state
but ours rewards its men of letters. The American Government gives them
their full share of its small patronage; and if Americans, why not

In this a great subject is discussed which would be too long for these
pages; but I think that there now exists a feeling that literature can
herself, for herself, produce a rank as effective as any that a Queen's
minister can bestow. Surely it would be a repainting of the lily, an
adding a flavour to the rose, a gilding of refined gold to create
to-morrow a Lord Viscount Tennyson, a Baron Carlyle, or a Right
Honourable Sir Robert Browning. And as for pay and pension, the less the
better of it for any profession, unless so far as it may be payment made
for work done. Then the higher the payment the better, in literature as
in all other trades. It may be doubted even whether a special rank of
its own be good for literature, such as that which is achieved by the
happy possessors of the forty chairs of the Academy in France. Even
though they had an angel to make the choice,--which they have not,--that
angel would do more harm to the excluded than good to the selected.

_Pendennis_, _Esmond_, and _The Newcomes_ followed _Vanity Fair_,--not
very quickly indeed, always at an interval of two years,--in 1850, 1852,
and 1854. As I purpose to devote a separate short chapter, or part of a
chapter, to each of these, I need say nothing here of their special
merits or demerits. _Esmond_ was brought out as a whole. The others
appeared in numbers. "He lisped in numbers, for the numbers came." It is
a mode of pronunciation in literature by no means very articulate, but
easy of production and lucrative. But though easy it is seductive, and
leads to idleness. An author by means of it can raise money and
reputation on his book before he has written it, and when the pang of
parturition is over in regard to one part, he feels himself entitled to
a period of ease because the amount required for the next division will
occupy him only half the month. This to Thackeray was so alluring that
the entirety of the final half was not always given to the task. His
self-reproaches and bemoanings when sometimes the day for reappearing
would come terribly nigh, while yet the necessary amount of copy was
far from being ready, were often very ludicrous and very sad;--ludicrous
because he never told of his distress without adding to it something of
ridicule which was irresistible, and sad because those who loved him
best were aware that physical suffering had already fallen upon him, and
that he was deterred by illness from the exercise of continuous energy.
I myself did not know him till after the time now in question. My
acquaintance with him was quite late in his life. But he has told me
something of it, and I have heard from those who lived with him how
continual were his sufferings. In 1854, he says in one of his letters to
Mr. Reed,--the only private letters of his which I know to have been
published; "I am to-day just out of bed after another, about the
dozenth, severe fit of spasms which I have had this year. My book would
have been written but for them." His work was always going on, but
though not fuller of matter,--that would have been almost
impossible,--would have been better in manner had he been delayed
neither by suffering nor by that palsying of the energies which
suffering produces.

This ought to have been the happiest period of his life, and should have
been very happy. He had become fairly easy in his circumstances. He had
succeeded in his work, and had made for himself a great name. He was
fond of popularity, and especially anxious to be loved by a small circle
of friends. These good things he had thoroughly achieved. Immediately
after the publication of _Vanity Fair_ he stood high among the literary
heroes of his country, and had endeared himself especially to a special
knot of friends. His face and figure, his six feet four in height, with
his flowing hair, already nearly gray, and his broken nose, his broad
forehead and ample chest, encountered everywhere either love or respect;
and his daughters to him were all the world,--the bairns of whom he
says, at the end of the _White Squall_ ballad;

     I thought, as day was breaking,
     My little girls were waking,
     And smiling, and making
       A prayer at home for me.

Nothing could have been more tender or endearing than his relations with
his children. But still there was a skeleton in his cupboard,--or rather
two skeletons. His home had been broken up by his wife's malady, and his
own health was shattered. When he was writing _Pendennis_, in 1849, he
had a severe fever, and then those spasms came, of which four or five
years afterwards he wrote to Mr. Reed. His home, as a home should be,
was never restored to him,--or his health. Just at that period of life
at which a man generally makes a happy exchange in taking his wife's
drawing-room in lieu of the smoking-room of his club, and assumes those
domestic ways of living which are becoming and pleasant for matured
years, that drawing-room and those domestic ways were closed against
him. The children were then no more than babies, as far as society was
concerned,--things to kiss and play with, and make a home happy if they
could only have had their mother with them. I have no doubt there were
those who thought that Thackeray was very jolly under his adversity.
Jolly he was. It was the manner of the man to be so,--if that continual
playfulness which was natural to him, lying over a melancholy which was
as continual, be compatible with jollity. He laughed, and ate, and
drank, and threw his pearls about with miraculous profusion. But I fancy
that he was far from happy. I remember once, when I was young,
receiving advice as to the manner in which I had better spend my
evenings; I was told that I ought to go home, drink tea, and read good
books. It was excellent advice, but I found that the reading of good
books in solitude was not an occupation congenial to me. It was so, I
take it, with Thackeray. He did not like his lonely drawing-room, and
went back to his life among the clubs by no means with contentment.

In 1853, Thackeray having then his own two girls to provide for, added a
third to his family, and adopted Amy Crowe, the daughter of an old
friend, and sister of the well-known artist now among us. How it came to
pass that she wanted a home, or that this special home suited her, it
would be unnecessary here to tell even if I knew. But that he did give a
home to this young lady, making her in all respects the same as another
daughter, should be told of him. He was a man who liked to broaden his
back for the support of others, and to make himself easy under such
burdens. In 1862, she married a Thackeray cousin, a young officer with
the Victoria Cross, Edward Thackeray, and went out to India,--where she

In 1854, the year in which _The Newcomes_ came out, Thackeray had broken
his close alliance with _Punch_. In December of that year there appeared
from his pen an article in _The Quarterly_ on _John Leech's Pictures of
Life and Character_. It is a rambling discourse on picture-illustration
in general, full of interest, but hardly good as a criticism,--a portion
of literary work for which he was not specially fitted. In it he tells
us how Richard Doyle, the artist, had given up his work for _Punch_, not
having been able, as a Roman Catholic, to endure the skits which, at
that time, were appearing in one number after another against what was
then called Papal aggression. The reviewer,--Thackeray himself,--then
tells us of the secession of himself from the board of brethren.
"Another member of Mr. Punch's cabinet, the biographer of _Jeames_, the
author of _The Snob Papers_, resigned his functions, on account of Mr.
Punch's assaults upon the present Emperor of the French nation, whose
anger Jeames thought it was unpatriotic to arouse." How hard it must be
for Cabinets to agree! This man or that is sure to have some pet
conviction of his own, and the better the man the stronger the
conviction! Then the reviewer went on in favour of the artist of whom he
was specially speaking, making a comparison which must at the time have
been odious enough to some of the brethren. "There can be no blinking
the fact that in Mr. Punch's Cabinet John Leech is the right-hand man.
Fancy a number of _Punch_ without Leech's pictures! What would you give
for it?" Then he breaks out into strong admiration of that one
friend,--perhaps with a little disregard as to the feelings of other
friends.[3] This _Critical Review_, if it may properly be so called,--at
any rate it is so named as now published,--is to be found in our
author's collected works, in the same volume with _Catherine_. It is
there preceded by another, from _The Westminster Review_, written
fourteen years earlier, on _The Genius of Cruikshank_. This contains a
descriptive catalogue of Cruikshank's works up to that period, and is
interesting from the piquant style in which it is written. I fancy that
these two are the only efforts of the kind which he made,--and in both
he dealt with the two great caricaturists of his time, he himself being,
in the imaginative part of a caricaturist's work, equal in power to
either of them.

We now come to a phase of Thackeray's life in which he achieved a
remarkable success, attributable rather to his fame as a writer than to
any particular excellence in the art which he then exercised. He took
upon himself the functions of a lecturer, being moved to do so by a hope
that he might thus provide a sum of money for the future sustenance of
his children. No doubt he had been advised to this course, though I do
not know from whom specially the advice may have come. Dickens had
already considered the subject, but had not yet consented to read in
public for money on his own account. John Forster, writing of the year
1846, says of Dickens and the then only thought-of exercise of a new
profession; "I continued to oppose, for reasons to be stated in their
place, that which he had set his heart upon too strongly to abandon, and
which I still can wish he had preferred to surrender with all that
seemed to be its enormous gain." And again he says, speaking of a
proposition which had been made to Dickens from the town of Bradford;
"At first this was entertained, but was abandoned, with some reluctance,
upon the argument that to become publicly a reader must alter, without
improving, his position publicly as a writer, and that it was a change
to be justified only when the higher calling should have failed of the
old success." The meaning of this was that the money to be made would
be sweet, but that the descent to a profession which was considered to
be lower than that of literature itself would carry with it something
that was bitter. It was as though one who had sat on the woolsack as
Lord Chancellor should raise the question whether for the sake of the
income attached to it, he might, without disgrace, occupy a seat on a
lower bench; as though an architect should consider with himself the
propriety of making his fortune as a contractor; or the head of a
college lower his dignity, while he increased his finances, by taking
pupils. When such discussions arise, money generally carries the
day,--and should do so. When convinced that money may be earned without
disgrace, we ought to allow money to carry the day. When we talk of
sordid gain and filthy lucre, we are generally hypocrites. If gains be
sordid and lucre filthy, where is the priest, the lawyer, the doctor, or
the man of literature, who does not wish for dirty hands? An income, and
the power of putting by something for old age, something for those who
are to come after, is the wholesome and acknowledged desire of all
professional men. Thackeray having children, and being gifted with no
power of making his money go very far, was anxious enough on the
subject. We may say now, that had he confined himself to his pen, he
would not have wanted while he lived, but would have left but little
behind him. That he was anxious we have seen, by his attempts to
subsidise his literary gains by a Government office. I cannot but think
that had he undertaken public duties for which he was ill qualified, and
received a salary which he could hardly have earned, he would have done
less for his fame than by reading to the public. Whether he did that
well or ill, he did it well enough for the money. The people who heard
him, and who paid for their seats, were satisfied with their
bargain,--as they were also in the case of Dickens; and I venture to say
that in becoming publicly a reader, neither did Dickens or Thackeray
"alter his position as a writer," and "that it was a change to be
justified," though the success of the old calling had in no degree
waned. What Thackeray did enabled him to leave a comfortable income for
his children, and one earned honestly, with the full approval of the
world around him.

Having saturated his mind with the literature of Queen Anne's time,--not
probably in the first instance as a preparation for _Esmond_, but in
such a way as to induce him to create an Esmond,--he took the authors
whom he knew so well as the subject for his first series of lectures. He
wrote _The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century_ in 1851, while
he must have been at work on _Esmond_, and first delivered the course at
Willis's Rooms in that year. He afterwards went with these through many
of our provincial towns, and then carried them to the United States,
where he delivered them to large audiences in the winter of 1852 and
1853. Some few words as to the merits of the composition I will
endeavour to say in another place. I myself never heard him lecture, and
can therefore give no opinion of the performance. That which I have
heard from others has been very various. It is, I think, certain that he
had none of those wonderful gifts of elocution which made it a pleasure
to listen to Dickens, whatever he read or whatever he said; nor had he
that power of application by using which his rival taught himself with
accuracy the exact effect to be given to every word. The rendering of a
piece by Dickens was composed as an oratorio is composed, and was then
studied by heart as music is studied. And the piece was all given by
memory, without any looking at the notes or words. There was nothing of
this with Thackeray. But the thing read was in itself of great interest
to educated people. The words were given clearly, with sufficient
intonation for easy understanding, so that they who were willing to hear
something from him felt on hearing that they had received full value for
their money. At any rate, the lectures were successful. The money was
made,--and was kept.

He came from his first trip to America to his new house in Onslow
Square, and then published _The Newcomes_. This, too, was one of his
great works, as to which I shall have to speak hereafter. Then, having
enjoyed his success in the first attempt to lecture, he prepared a
second series. He never essayed the kind of reading which with Dickens
became so wonderfully popular. Dickens recited portions from his
well-known works. Thackeray wrote his lectures expressly for the
purpose. They have since been added to his other literature, but they
were prepared as lectures. The second series were _The Four Georges_. In
a lucrative point of view they were even more successful than the first,
the sum of money realised in the United States having been considerable.
In England they were less popular, even if better attended, the subject
chosen having been distasteful to many. There arose the question whether
too much freedom had not been taken with an office which, though it be
no longer considered to be founded on divine right, is still as sacred
as can be anything that is human. If there is to remain among us a
sovereign, that sovereign, even though divested of political power,
should be endowed with all that personal respect can give. If we wish
ourselves to be high, we should treat that which is over us as high.
And this should not depend altogether on personal character, though we
know,--as we have reason to know,--how much may be added to the firmness
of the feeling by personal merit. The respect of which we speak should,
in the strongest degree, be a possession of the immediate occupant, and
will naturally become dim,--or perhaps be exaggerated,--in regard to the
past, as history or fable may tell of them. No one need hesitate to
speak his mind of King John, let him be ever so strong a stickler for
the privileges of majesty. But there are degrees of distance, and the
throne of which we wish to preserve the dignity seems to be assailed
when unmeasured evil is said of one who has sat there within our own
memory. There would seem to each of us to be a personal affront were a
departed relative delineated with all those faults by which we must own
that even our near relatives have been made imperfect. It is a general
conviction as to this which so frequently turns the biography of those
recently dead into mere eulogy. The fictitious charity which is enjoined
by the _de mortuis nil nisi bonum_ banishes truth. The feeling of which
I speak almost leads me at this moment to put down my pen. And, if so
much be due to all subjects, is less due to a sovereign?

Considerations such as these diminished, I think, the popularity of
Thackeray's second series of lectures; or, rather, not their popularity,
but the estimation in which they were held. On this head he defended
himself more than once very gallantly, and had a great deal to say on
his side of the question. "Suppose, for example, in America,--in
Philadelphia or in New York,--that I had spoken about George IV. in
terms of praise and affected reverence, do you believe they would have
hailed his name with cheers, or have heard it with anything of
respect?" And again; "We degrade our own honour and the sovereign's by
unduly and unjustly praising him; and the mere slaverer and flatterer is
one who comes forward, as it were, with flash notes, and pays with false
coin his tribute to Cæsar. I don't disguise that I feel somehow on my
trial here for loyalty,--for honest English feeling." This was said by
Thackeray at a dinner at Edinburgh, in 1857, and shows how the matter
rested on his mind. Thackeray's loyalty was no doubt true enough, but
was mixed with but little of reverence. He was one who revered modesty
and innocence rather than power, against which he had in the bottom of
his heart something of republican tendency. His leaning was no doubt of
the more manly kind. But in what he said at Edinburgh he hardly hit the
nail on the head. No one had suggested that he should have said good
things of a king which he did not believe to be true. The question was
whether it may not be well sometimes for us to hold our tongues. An
American literary man, here in England, would not lecture on the morals
of Hamilton, on the manners of General Jackson, on the general amenities
of President Johnson.

In 1857 Thackeray stood for Oxford, in the liberal interest, in
opposition to Mr. Cardwell. He had been induced to do this by his old
friend Charles Neate, who himself twice sat for Oxford, and died now not
many months since. He polled 1,017 votes, against 1,070 by Mr. Cardwell;
and was thus again saved by his good fortune from attempting to fill a
situation in which he would not have shone. There are, no doubt, many to
whom a seat in Parliament comes almost as the birthright of a well-born
and well-to-do English gentleman. They go there with no more idea of
shining than they do when they are elected to a first-class
club;--hardly with more idea of being useful. It is the thing to do, and
the House of Commons is the place where a man ought to be--for a certain
number of hours. Such men neither succeed nor fail, for nothing is
expected of them. From such a one as Thackeray something would have been
expected, which would not have been forthcoming. He was too desultory
for regular work,--full of thought, but too vague for practical
questions. He could not have endured to sit for two or three hours at a
time with his hat over his eyes, pretending to listen, as is the duty of
a good legislator. He was a man intolerant of tedium, and in the best of
his time impatient of slow work. Nor, though his liberal feelings were
very strong, were his political convictions definite or accurate. He was
a man who mentally drank in much, feeding his fancy hourly with what he
saw, what he heard, what he read, and then pouring it all out with an
immense power of amplification. But it would have been impossible for
him to study and bring home to himself the various points of a
complicated bill with a hundred and fifty clauses. In becoming a man of
letters, and taking that branch of letters which fell to him, he
obtained the special place that was fitted for him. He was a round peg
in a round hole. There was no other hole which he would have fitted
nearly so well. But he had his moment of political ambition, like
others,--and paid a thousand pounds for his attempt.

In 1857 the first number of _The Virginians_ appeared, and the
last,--the twenty-fourth,--in October, 1859. This novel, as all my
readers are aware, is a continuance of _Esmond_, and will be spoken of
in its proper place. He was then forty-eight years old, very gray, with
much of age upon him, which had come from suffering,--age shown by
dislike of activity and by an old man's way of thinking about many
things,--speaking as though the world were all behind him instead of
before; but still with a stalwart outward bearing, very erect in his
gait, and a countenance peculiarly expressive and capable of much
dignity. I speak of his personal appearance at this time, because it was
then only that I became acquainted with him. In 1859 he undertook the
last great work of his life, the editorship of _The Cornhill Magazine_,
a periodical set on foot by Mr. George Smith, of the house of Smith and
Elder, with an amount of energy greater than has generally been bestowed
upon such enterprises. It will be well remembered still how much _The
Cornhill_ was talked about and thought of before it first appeared, and
how much of that thinking and talking was due to the fact that Mr.
Thackeray was to edit it. _Macmillan's_, I think, was the first of the
shilling magazines, having preceded _The Cornhill_ by a month, and it
would ill become me, who have been a humble servant to each of them, to
give to either any preference. But it must be acknowledged that a great
deal was expected from _The Cornhill_, and I think it will be confessed
that it was the general opinion that a great deal was given by it.
Thackeray had become big enough to give a special _éclat_ to any
literary exploit to which he attached himself. Since the days of _The
Constitutional_ he had fought his way up the ladder and knew how to take
his stand there with an assurance of success. When it became known to
the world of readers that a new magazine was to appear under Thackeray's
editorship, the world of readers was quite sure that there would be a
large sale. Of the first number over one hundred and ten thousand were
sold, and of the second and third over one hundred thousand. It is in
the nature of such things that the sale should fall off when the novelty
is over. People believe that a new delight has come, a new joy for ever,
and then find that the joy is not quite so perfect or enduring as they
had expected. But the commencement of such enterprises may be taken as a
measure of what will follow. The magazine, either by Thackeray's name or
by its intrinsic merits,--probably by both,--achieved a great success.
My acquaintance with him grew from my having been one of his staff from
the first.

About two months before the opening day I wrote to him suggesting that
he should accept from me a series of four short stories on which I was
engaged. I got back a long letter in which he said nothing about my
short stories, but asking whether I could go to work at once and let him
have a long novel, so that it might begin with the first number. At the
same time I heard from the publisher, who suggested some interesting
little details as to honorarium. The little details were very
interesting, but absolutely no time was allowed to me. It was required
that the first portion of my book should be in the printer's hands
within a month. Now it was my theory,--and ever since this occurrence
has been my practice,--to see the end of my own work before the public
should see the commencement.[4] If I did this thing I must not only
abandon my theory, but instantly contrive a story, or begin to write it
before it was contrived. That was what I did, urged by the interesting
nature of the details. A novelist cannot always at the spur of the
moment make his plot and create his characters who shall, with an
arranged sequence of events, live with a certain degree of eventful
decorum, through that portion of their lives which is to be portrayed. I
hesitated, but allowed myself to be allured to what I felt to be wrong,
much dreading the event. How seldom is it that theories stand the wear
and tear of practice! I will not say that the story which came was good,
but it was received with greater favour than any I had written before or
have written since. I think that almost anything would have been then
accepted coming under Thackeray's editorship.

I was astonished that work should be required in such haste, knowing
that much preparation had been made, and that the service of almost any
English novelist might have been obtained if asked for in due time. It
was my readiness that was needed, rather than any other gift! The riddle
was read to me after a time. Thackeray had himself intended to begin
with one of his own great novels, but had put it off till it was too
late. _Lovel the Widower_ was commenced at the same time with my own
story, but _Lovel the Widower_ was not substantial enough to appear as
the principal joint at the banquet. Though your guests will undoubtedly
dine off the little delicacies you provide for them, there must be a
heavy saddle of mutton among the viands prepared. I was the saddle of
mutton, Thackeray having omitted to get his joint down to the fire in
time enough. My fitness lay in my capacity for quick roasting.

It may be interesting to give a list of the contributors to the first
number. My novel called _Framley Parsonage_ came first. At this banquet
the saddle of mutton was served before the delicacies. Then there was a
paper by Sir John Bowring on _The Chinese and Outer Barbarians_. The
commencing number of _Lovel the Widower_ followed. George Lewes came
next with his first chapters of _Studies in Animal Life_. Then there was
Father Prout's _Inauguration Ode_, dedicated to the author of _Vanity
Fair_,--which should have led the way. I need hardly say that Father
Prout was the Rev. F. Mahony. Then followed _Our Volunteers_, by Sir
John Burgoyne; _A Man of Letters of the Last Generation_, by Thornton
Hunt; _The Search for Sir John Franklin_, from a private journal of an
officer of the Fox, now Sir Allen Young; and _The First Morning of
1860_, by Mrs. Archer Clive. The number was concluded by the first of
those _Roundabout Papers_ by Thackeray himself, which became so
delightful a portion of the literature of _The Cornhill Magazine_.

It would be out of my power, and hardly interesting, to give an entire
list of those who wrote for _The Cornhill_ under Thackeray's editorial
direction. But I may name a few, to show how strong was the support
which he received. Those who contributed to the first number I have
named. Among those who followed were Alfred Tennyson, Jacob Omnium, Lord
Houghton, William Russell, Mrs. Beecher Stowe, Mrs. Browning, Robert
Bell, George Augustus Sala, Mrs. Gaskell, James Hinton, Mary Howitt,
John Kaye, Charles Lever, Frederick Locker, Laurence Oliphant, John
Ruskin, Fitzjames Stephen, T. A. Trollope, Henry Thompson, Herman
Merivale, Adelaide Proctor, Matthew Arnold, the present Lord Lytton, and
Miss Thackeray, now Mrs. Ritchie. Thackeray continued the editorship for
two years and four months, namely, up to April, 1862; but, as all
readers will remember, he continued to write for it till he died, the
day before Christmas Day, in 1863. His last contribution was, I think, a
paper written for and published in the November number, called,
"_Strange to say on Club Paper_," in which he vindicated Lord Clyde from
the accusation of having taken the club stationery home with him. It was
not a great subject, for no one could or did believe that the
Field-Marshal had been guilty of any meanness; but the handling of it
has made it interesting, and his indignation has made it beautiful.

The magazine was a great success, but justice compels me to say that
Thackeray was not a good editor. As he would have been an indifferent
civil servant, an indifferent member of Parliament, so was he
perfunctory as an editor. It has sometimes been thought well to select a
popular literary man as an editor; first, because his name will attract,
and then with an idea that he who can write well himself will be a
competent judge of the writings of others. The first may sell a
magazine, but will hardly make it good; and the second will not avail
much, unless the editor so situated be patient enough to read what is
sent to him. Of a magazine editor it is required that he should be
patient, scrupulous, judicious, but above all things hard-hearted. I
think it may be doubted whether Thackeray did bring himself to read the
basketfuls of manuscripts with which he was deluged, but he probably
did, sooner or later, read the touching little private notes by which
they were accompanied,--the heartrending appeals, in which he was told
that if this or the other little article could be accepted and paid for,
a starving family might be saved from starvation for a month. He tells
us how he felt on receiving such letters in one of his _Roundabout
Papers_, which he calls "_Thorns in the cushion_." "How am I to know,"
he says--"though to be sure I begin to know now,--as I take the letters
off the tray, which of those envelopes contains a real _bona fide_
letter, and which a thorn? One of the best invitations this year I
mistook for a thorn letter, and kept it without opening." Then he gives
the sample of a thorn letter. It is from a governess with a poem, and
with a prayer for insertion and payment. "We have known better days,
sir. I have a sick and widowed mother to maintain, and little brothers
and sisters who look to me." He could not stand this, and the money
would be sent, out of his own pocket, though the poem might
be--postponed, till happily it should be lost.

From such material a good editor could not be made. Nor, in truth, do I
think that he did much of the editorial work. I had once made an
arrangement, not with Thackeray, but with the proprietors, as to some
little story. The story was sent back to me by Thackeray--rejected.
_Virginibus puerisque!_ That was the gist of his objection. There was a
project in a gentleman's mind,--as told in my story,--to run away with a
married woman! Thackeray's letter was very kind, very regretful,--full
of apology for such treatment to such a contributor. But--_Virginibus
puerisque!_ I was quite sure that Thackeray had not taken the trouble to
read the story himself. Some moral deputy had read it, and disapproving,
no doubt properly, of the little project to which I have alluded, had
incited the editor to use his authority. That Thackeray had suffered
when he wrote it was easy to see, fearing that he was giving pain to one
he would fain have pleased. I wrote him a long letter in return, as full
of drollery as I knew how to make it. In four or five days there came a
reply in the same spirit,--boiling over with fun. He had kept my letter
by him, not daring to open it,--as he says that he did with that
eligible invitation. At last he had given it to one of his girls to
examine,--to see whether the thorn would be too sharp, whether I had
turned upon him with reproaches. A man so susceptible, so prone to work
by fits and starts, so unmethodical, could not have been a good editor.

In 1862 he went into the new house which he had built for himself at
Palace Green. I remember well, while this was still being built, how his
friends used to discuss his imprudence in building it. Though he had
done well with himself, and had made and was making a large income, was
he entitled to live in a house the rent of which could not be counted at
less than from five hundred to six hundred pounds a year? Before he had
been there two years, he solved the question by dying,--when the house
was sold for two thousand pounds more than it had cost. He himself, in
speaking of his project, was wont to declare that he was laying out his
money in the best way he could for the interest of his children;--and it
turned out that he was right.

In 1863 he died in the house which he had built, and at the period of
his death was writing a new novel in numbers, called _Denis Duval_. In
_The Cornhill_, _The Adventures of Philip_ had appeared. This new
enterprise was destined for commencement on 1st January, 1864, and,
though the writer was gone, it kept its promise, as far as it went.
Three numbers, and what might probably have been intended for half of a
fourth, appeared. It may be seen, therefore, that he by no means held to
my theory, that the author should see the end of his work before the
public sees the commencement. But neither did Dickens or Mrs. Gaskell,
both of whom died with stories not completed, which, when they died,
were in the course of publication. All the evidence goes against the
necessity of such precaution. Nevertheless, were I giving advice to a
tiro in novel writing, I should recommend it.

With the last chapter of _Denis Duval_ was published in the magazine a
set of notes on the book, taken for the most part from Thackeray's own
papers, and showing how much collateral work he had given to the
fabrication of his novel. No doubt in preparing other tales, especially
_Esmond_, a very large amount of such collateral labour was found
necessary. He was a man who did very much of such work, delighting to
deal in little historical incidents. They will be found in almost
everything that he did, and I do not know that he was ever accused of
gross mistakes. But I doubt whether on that account he should be called
a laborious man. He could go down to Winchelsea, when writing about the
little town, to see in which way the streets lay, and to provide himself
with what we call local colouring. He could jot down the suggestions, as
they came to his mind, of his future story. There was an irregularity in
such work which was to his taste. His very notes would be delightful to
read, partaking of the nature of pearls when prepared only for his own
use. But he could not bring himself to sit at his desk and do an
allotted task day after day. He accomplished what must be considered as
quite a sufficient life's work. He had about twenty-five years for the
purpose, and that which he has left is an ample produce for the time.
Nevertheless he was a man of fits and starts, who, not having been in
his early years drilled to method, never achieved it in his career.

He died on the day before Christmas Day, as has been said above, very
suddenly, in his bed, early in the morning, in the fifty-third year of
his life. To those who saw him about in the world there seemed to be no
reason why he should not continue his career for the next twenty years.
But those who knew him were so well aware of his constant sufferings,
that, though they expected no sudden catastrophe, they were hardly
surprised when it came. His death was probably caused by those spasms of
which he had complained ten years before, in his letter to Mr. Reed. On
the last day but one of the year, a crowd of sorrowing friends stood
over his grave as he was laid to rest in Kensal Green; and, as quickly
afterwards as it could be executed, a bust to his memory was put up in
Westminster Abbey. It is a fine work of art, by Marochetti; but, as a
likeness, is, I think, less effective than that which was modelled, and
then given to the Garrick Club, by Durham, and has lately been put into
marble, and now stands in the upper vestibule of the club. Neither of
them, in my opinion, give so accurate an idea of the man as a statuette
in bronze, by Boehm, of which two or three copies were made. One of them
is in my possession. It has been alleged, in reference to this, that
there is something of a caricature in the lengthiness of the figure, in
the two hands thrust into the trousers pockets, and in the protrusion of
the chin. But this feeling has originated in the general idea that any
face, or any figure, not made by the artist more beautiful or more
graceful than the original is an injustice. The face must be smoother,
the pose of the body must be more dignified, the proportions more
perfect, than in the person represented, or satisfaction is not felt.
Mr. Boehm has certainly not flattered, but, as far as my eye can judge,
he has given the figure of the man exactly as he used to stand before
us. I have a portrait of him in crayon, by Samuel Lawrence, as like, but
hardly as natural.

A little before his death Thackeray told me that he had then succeeded
in replacing the fortune which he had lost as a young man. Ho had, in
fact, done better, for he left an income of seven hundred and fifty
pounds behind him.

It has been said of Thackeray that he was a cynic. This has been said so
generally, that the charge against him has become proverbial. This,
stated barely, leaves one of two impressions on the mind, or perhaps the
two together,--that this cynicism was natural to his character and came
out in his life, or that it is the characteristic of his writings. Of
the nature of his writings generally, I will speak in the last chapter
of this little book. As to his personal character as a cynic, I must
find room to quote the following first stanzas of the little poem which
appeared to his memory in _Punch_, from the pen of Shirley Brooks;

     He was a cynic! By his life all wrought
       Of generous acts, mild words, and gentle ways;
     His heart wide open to all kindly thought,
       His hand so quick to give, his tongue to praise!

     He was a cynic! You might read it writ
       In that broad brow, crowned with its silver hair;
     In those blue eyes, with childlike candour lit,
       In that sweet smile his lips were wont to wear!

     He was a cynic! By the love that clung
       About him from his children, friends, and kin;
     By the sharp pain light pen and gossip tongue
       Wrought in him, chafing the soft heart within!

The spirit and nature of the man have been caught here with absolute
truth. A public man should of course be judged from his public work. If
he wrote as a cynic,--a point which I will not discuss here,--it may be
fair that he who is to be known as a writer should be so called. But, as
a man, I protest that it would be hard to find an individual farther
removed from the character. Over and outside his fancy, which was the
gift which made him so remarkable,--a certain feminine softness was the
most remarkable trait about him. To give some immediate pleasure was the
great delight of his life,--a sovereign to a schoolboy, gloves to a
girl, a dinner to a man, a compliment to a woman. His charity was
overflowing. His generosity excessive. I heard once a story of woe from
a man who was the dear friend of both of us. The gentleman wanted a
large sum of money instantly,--something under two thousand pounds,--had
no natural friends who could provide it, but must go utterly to the wall
without it. Pondering over this sad condition of things just revealed to
me, I met Thackeray between the two mounted heroes at the Horse Guards,
and told him the story. "Do you mean to say that I am to find two
thousand pounds?" he said, angrily, with some expletives. I explained
that I had not even suggested the doing of anything,--only that we might
discuss the matter. Then there came over his face a peculiar smile, and
a wink in his eye, and he whispered his suggestion, as though half
ashamed of his meanness. "I'll go half," he said, "if anybody will do
the rest." And he did go half, at a day or two's notice, though the
gentleman was no more than simply a friend. I am glad to be able to add
that the money was quickly repaid. I could tell various stories of the
same kind, only that I lack space, and that they, if simply added one to
the other, would lack interest.

He was no cynic, but he was a satirist, and could now and then be a
satirist in conversation, hitting very hard when he did hit. When he was
in America he met at dinner a literary gentleman of high character,
middle-aged, and most dignified deportment. The gentleman was one whose
character and acquirements stood very high,--deservedly so,--but who, in
society, had that air of wrapping his toga around him, which adds, or is
supposed to add, many cubits to a man's height. But he had a broken
nose. At dinner he talked much of the tender passion, and did so in a
manner which stirred up Thackeray's feeling of the ridiculous. "What has
the world come to," said Thackeray out loud to the table, "when two
broken-nosed old fogies like you and me sit talking about love to each
other!" The gentleman was astounded, and could only sit wrapping his
toga in silent dismay for the rest of the evening. Thackeray then, as at
other similar times, had no idea of giving pain, but when he saw a
foible he put his foot upon it, and tried to stamp it out.

Such is my idea of the man whom many call a cynic, but whom I regard as
one of the most soft-hearted of human beings, sweet as Charity itself,
who went about the world dropping pearls, doing good, and never wilfully
inflicting a wound.


[1] The report that he had lost all his money and was going to live by
painting in Paris, was still prevalent in London in 1836. Macready, on
the 27th April of that year, says in his _Diary_; "At Garrick Club,
where I dined and saw the papers. Met Thackeray, who has spent all his
fortune, and is now about to settle in Paris, I believe as an artist."
But at this time he was, in truth, turning to literature as a

[2] The article was written by Abraham Hayward, who is still with us,
and was no doubt instigated by a desire to assist Thackeray in his
struggle upwards, in which it succeeded.

[3] For a week there existed at the _Punch_ office a grudge against
Thackeray in reference to this awkward question: "What would you give
for your _Punch_ without John Leech?" Then he asked the confraternity to
dinner,--_more Thackerayano_,--and the confraternity came. Who can doubt
but they were very jolly over the little blunder? For years afterwards
Thackeray was a guest at the well-known _Punch_ dinner, though he was no
longer one of the contributors.

[4] I had begun an Irish story and half finished it, which would reach
just the required length. Would that do, I asked. I was civilly told
that my Irish story would no doubt be charming, but was not quite the
thing that was wanted. Could I not begin a new one,--English,--and if
possible about clergymen? The details were so interesting that had a
couple of archbishops been demanded, I should have produced them.



How Thackeray commenced his connection with _Fraser's Magazine_ I am
unable to say. We know how he had come to London with a view to a
literary career, and that he had at one time made an attempt to earn his
bread as a correspondent to a newspaper from Paris. It is probable that
he became acquainted with the redoubtable Oliver Yorke, otherwise Dr.
Maginn, or some of his staff, through the connection which he had thus
opened with the press. He was not known, or at any rate he was
unrecognised, by _Fraser_ in January, 1835, in which month an amusing
catalogue was given of the writers then employed, with portraits of
them, all seated at a symposium. I can trace no article to his pen
before November, 1837, when the _Yellowplush Correspondence_ was
commenced, though it is hardly probable that he should have commenced
with a work of so much pretension. There had been published a volume
called _My Book, or the Anatomy of Conduct_, by John Skelton, and a very
absurd book no doubt it was. We may presume that it contained maxims on
etiquette, and that it was intended to convey in print those invaluable
lessons on deportment which, as Dickens has told us, were subsequently
given by Mr. Turveydrop, in the academy kept by him for that purpose.
Thackeray took this as his foundation for the _Fashionable Fax and
Polite Annygoats_, by Jeames Yellowplush, with which he commenced those
repeated attacks against snobbism which he delighted to make through a
considerable portion of his literary life. Oliver Yorke has himself
added four or five pages of his own to Thackeray's lucubrations; and
with the second, and some future numbers, there appeared illustrations
by Thackeray himself, illustrations at this time not having been common
with the magazine. From all this I gather that the author was already
held in estimation by _Fraser's_ confraternity. I remember well my own
delight with _Yellowplush_ at the time, and how I inquired who was the
author. It was then that I first heard Thackeray's name.

The _Yellowplush Papers_ were continued through nine numbers. No further
reference was made to Mr. Skelton and his book beyond that given at the
beginning of the first number, and the satire is only shown by the
attempt made by Yellowplush, the footman, to give his ideas generally on
the manners of noble life. The idea seems to be that a gentleman may, in
heart and in action, be as vulgar as a footman. No doubt he may, but the
chances are very much that he won't. But the virtue of the memoir does
not consist in the lessons, but in the general drollery of the letters.
The "orthogwaphy is inaccuwate," as a certain person says in the
memoirs,--"so inaccuwate" as to take a positive study to "compwehend"
it; but the joke, though old, is so handled as to be very amusing.
Thackeray soon rushes away from his criticisms on snobbism to other
matters. There are the details of a card-sharping enterprise, in which
we cannot but feel that we recognise something of the author's own
experiences in the misfortunes of Mr. Dawkins; there is the Earl of
Crab's, and then the first of those attacks which he was tempted to
make on the absurdities of his brethren of letters, and the only one
which now has the appearance of having been ill-natured. His first
victims were Dr. Dionysius Lardner and Mr. Edward Bulwer Lytton, as he
was then. We can surrender the doctor to the whip of the satirist; and
for "Sawedwadgeorgeearllittnbulwig," as the novelist is made to call
himself, we can well believe that he must himself have enjoyed the
_Yellowplush Memoirs_ if he ever re-read them in after life. The speech
in which he is made to dissuade the footman from joining the world of
letters is so good that I will venture to insert it: "Bullwig was
violently affected; a tear stood in his glistening i. 'Yellowplush,'
says he, seizing my hand, 'you _are_ right. Quit not your present
occupation; black boots, clean knives, wear plush all your life, but
don't turn literary man. Look at me. I am the first novelist in Europe.
I have ranged with eagle wings over the wide regions of literature, and
perched on every eminence in its turn. I have gazed with eagle eyes on
the sun of philosophy, and fathomed the mysterious depths of the human
mind. All languages are familiar to me, all thoughts are known to me,
all men understood by me. I have gathered wisdom from the honeyed lips
of Plato, as we wandered in the gardens of the Academies; wisdom, too,
from the mouth of Job Johnson, as we smoked our backy in Seven Dials.
Such must be the studies, and such is the mission, in this world of the
Poet-Philosopher. But the knowledge is only emptiness; the initiation is
but misery; the initiated a man shunned and banned by his fellows. Oh!'
said Bullwig, clasping his hands, and throwing his fine i's up to the
chandelier, 'the curse of Pwomethus descends upon his wace. Wath and
punishment pursue them from genewation to genewation! Wo to genius, the
heaven-scaler, the fire-stealer! Wo and thrice-bitter desolation! Earth
is the wock on which Zeus, wemorseless, stwetches his withing
wictim;--men, the vultures that feed and fatten on him. Ai, ai! it is
agony eternal,--gwoaning and solitawy despair! And you, Yellowplush,
would penetwate these mystewies; you would waise the awful veil, and
stand in the twemendous Pwesence. Beware, as you value your peace,
beware! Withdraw, wash Neophyte! For heaven's sake! O for heaven's
sake!'--Here he looked round with agony;--'give me a glass of
bwandy-and-water, for this clawet is beginning to disagwee with me.'" It
was thus that Thackeray began that vein of satire on his contemporaries
of which it may be said that the older he grew the more amusing it was,
and at the same time less likely to hurt the feelings of the author

The next tale of any length from Thackeray's pen, in the magazine, was
that called _Catherine_, which is the story taken from the life of a
wretched woman called Catherine Hayes. It is certainly not pleasant
reading, and was not written with a pleasant purpose. It assumes to have
come from the pen of Ikey Solomon, of Horsemonger Lane, and its object
is to show how disgusting would be the records of thieves, cheats, and
murderers if their doings and language were described according to their
nature instead of being handled in such a way as to create sympathy, and
therefore imitation. Bulwer's _Eugene Aram_, Harrison Ainsworth's _Jack
Sheppard_, and Dickens' Nancy were in his mind, and it was thus that he
preached his sermon against the selection of such heroes and heroines by
the novelists of the day. "Be it granted," he says, in his epilogue,
"Solomon is dull; but don't attack his morality. He humbly submits
that, in his poem, no man shall mistake virtue for vice, no man shall
allow a single sentiment of pity or admiration to enter his bosom for
any character in the poem, it being from beginning to end a scene of
unmixed rascality, performed by persons who never deviate into good
feeling." The intention is intelligible enough, but such a story neither
could have been written nor read,--certainly not written by Thackeray,
nor read by the ordinary reader of a first-class magazine,--had he not
been enabled to adorn it by infinite wit. Captain Brock, though a brave
man, is certainly not described as an interesting or gallant soldier;
but he is possessed of great resources. Captain Macshane, too, is a
thorough blackguard; but he is one with a dash of loyalty about him, so
that the reader can almost sympathise with him, and is tempted to say
that Ikey Solomon has not quite kept his promise.

_Catherine_ appeared in 1839 and 1840. In the latter of those years _The
Shabby Genteel_ story also came out. Then in 1841 there followed _The
History of Samuel Titmarsh and the Great Hoggarty Diamond_, illustrated
by Samuel's cousin, Michael Angelo. But though so announced in _Fraser_,
there were no illustrations, and those attached to the story in later
editions are not taken from sketches by Thackeray. This, as far as I
know, was the first use of the name Titmarsh, and seems to indicate some
intention on the part of the author of creating a hoax as to two
personages,--one the writer and the other the illustrator. If it were so
he must soon have dropped the idea. In the last paragraph he has shaken
off his cousin Michael. The main object of the story is to expose the
villany of bubble companies, and the danger they run who venture to have
dealings with city matters which they do not understand. I cannot but
think that he altered his mind and changed his purpose while he was
writing it, actuated probably by that editorial monition as to its

In 1842 were commenced _The Confessions of George Fitz-Boodle_, which
were continued into 1843. I do not think that they attracted much
attention, or that they have become peculiarly popular since. They are
supposed to contain the reminiscences of a younger son, who moans over
his poverty, complains of womankind generally, laughs at the world all
round, and intersperses his pages with one or two excellent ballads. I
quote one, written for the sake of affording a parody, with the parody
along with it, because the two together give so strong an example of the
condition of Thackeray's mind in regard to literary products. The
"humbug" of everything, the pretence, the falseness of affected
sentiment, the remoteness of poetical pathos from the true condition of
the average minds of men and women, struck him so strongly, that he
sometimes allowed himself almost to feel,--or at any rate, to say,--that
poetical expression, as being above nature, must be unnatural. He had
declared to himself that all humbug was odious, and should be by him
laughed down to the extent of his capacity. His Yellowplush, his
Catherine Hayes, his Fitz-Boodle, his Barry Lyndon, and Becky Sharp,
with many others of this kind, were all invented and treated for this
purpose and after this fashion. I shall have to say more on the same
subject when I come to _The Snob Papers_. In this instance he wrote a
very pretty ballad, _The Willow Tree_,--so good that if left by itself
it would create no idea of absurdity or extravagant pathos in the mind
of the ordinary reader,--simply that he might render his own work absurd
by his own parody.


     No. I.

          THE WILLOW-TREE.

          No. II.

     Know ye the willow-tree,
       Whose gray leaves quiver,
     Whispering gloomily
       To yon pale river?
     Lady, at eventide
       Wander not near it!
     They say its branches hide
       A sad lost spirit!

          Long by the willow-tree
            Vainly they sought her,
          Wild rang the mother's screams
            O'er the gray water.
          "Where is my lovely one?
            Where is my daughter?

          Rouse thee, sir constable--
            Rouse thee and look.
          Fisherman, bring your net,
            Boatman, your hook.
          Beat in the lily-beds,
            Dive in the brook."

     Once to the willow-tree
       A maid came fearful,
     Pale seemed her cheek to be,
       Her blue eye tearful.
     Soon as she saw the tree,
       Her steps moved fleeter.
     No one was there--ah me!--
       No one to meet her!

          Vainly the constable
            Shouted and called her.
          Vainly the fisherman
            Beat the green alder.
          Vainly he threw the net.
            Never it hauled her!

     Quick beat her heart to hear
       The far bells' chime
     Toll from the chapel-tower
       The trysting-time.
     But the red sun went down
       In golden flame,
     And though she looked around,
       Yet no one came!

          Mother beside the fire
            Sat, her night-cap in;
          Father in easychair,
            Gloomily napping;
          When at the window-sill
            Came a light tapping.

     Presently came the night,
       Sadly to greet her,--
     Moon in her silver light,
       Stars in their glitter.
     Then sank the moon away
       Under the billow.
     Still wept the maid alone--
       There by the willow!

          And a pale countenance
            Looked through the casement.
          Loud beat the mother's heart,
            Sick with amazement,
          And at the vision which
            Came to surprise her!
          Shrieking in an agony--
            "Lor'! it's Elizar!"

     Through the long darkness,
       By the stream rolling,
     Hour after hour went on
       Tolling and tolling.
     Long was the darkness,
       Lonely and stilly.
     Shrill came the night wind,
       Piercing and chilly.

          Yes, 'twas Elizabeth;--
            Yes, 'twas their girl;
          Pale was her cheek, and her
            Hair out of curl.
          "Mother!" the loved one,
            Blushing, exclaimed,
          "Let not your innocent
            Lizzy be blamed.

          Yesterday, going to Aunt
            Jones's to tea,
          Mother, dear mother, I
            Forgot the door-key!
          And as the night was cold,
            And the way steep,
          Mrs. Jones kept me to
            Breakfast and sleep."

     Shrill blew the morning breeze,
       Biting and cold.
     Bleak peers the gray dawn
       Over the wold!
     Bleak over moor and stream
       Looks the gray dawn,
     Gray with dishevelled hair.
     Still stands the willow there--
       The maid is gone!

          Whether her pa and ma
            Fully believed her,
          That we shall never know.
            Stern they received her;
          And for the work of that
            Cruel, though short, night,--
          Sent her to bed without
            Tea for a fortnight.

       Domine, Domine!
       Sing we a litany--
     Sing for poor maiden-hearts broken and weary;
       Sing we a litany,
     Wail we and weep we a wild miserere!


            Hey diddle diddlety,
            Cat and the fiddlety,
          Maidens of England take caution by she!
            Let love and suicide
            Never tempt you aside,
          And always remember to take the door-key!

Mr. George Fitz-Boodle gave his name to other narratives beyond his own
_Confessions_. A series of stories was carried on by him in _Fraser_,
called _Men's Wives_, containing three; _Ravenwing_, _Mr. and Mrs.
Frank Berry_, and _Dennis Hoggarty's Wife_. The first chapter in _Mr.
and Mrs. Frank Berry_ describes "The Fight at Slaughter House."
Slaughter House, as Mr. Venables reminded us in the last chapter, was
near Smithfield in London,--the school which afterwards became Grey
Friars; and the fight between Biggs and Berry is the record of one which
took place in the flesh when Thackeray was at the Charter House. But Mr.
Fitz-Boodle's name was afterwards attached to a greater work than these,
to a work so great that subsequent editors have thought him to be
unworthy of the honour. In the January number, 1844, of _Fraser's
Magazine_, are commenced the _Memoirs of Barry Lyndon_, and the
authorship is attributed to Mr. Fitz-Boodle. The title given in the
magazine was _The Luck of Barry Lyndon: a Romance of the last Century_.
By Fitz-Boodle. In the collected edition of Thackeray's works the
_Memoirs_ are given as "Written by himself," and were, I presume, so
brought out by Thackeray, after they had appeared in _Fraser_. Why Mr.
George Fitz-Boodle should have been robbed of so great an honour I do
not know.

In imagination, language, construction, and general literary capacity,
Thackeray never did anything more remarkable than _Barry Lyndon_. I have
quoted the words which he put into the mouth of Ikey Solomon, declaring
that in the story which he has there told he has created nothing but
disgust for the wicked characters he has produced, and that he has "used
his humble endeavours to cause the public also to hate them." Here, in
_Barry Lyndon_, he has, probably unconsciously, acted in direct
opposition to his own principles: Barry Lyndon is as great a scoundrel
as the mind of man ever conceived. He is one who might have taken as his
motto Satan's words; "Evil, be thou my good." And yet his story is so
written that it is almost impossible not to entertain something of a
friendly feeling for him. He tells his own adventures as a card-sharper,
bully, and liar; as a heartless wretch, who had neither love nor
gratitude in his composition; who had no sense even of loyalty; who
regarded gambling as the highest occupation to which a man could devote
himself, and fraud as always justified by success; a man possessed by
all meannesses except cowardice. And the reader is so carried away by
his frankness and energy as almost to rejoice when he succeeds, and to
grieve with him when he is brought to the ground.

The man is perfectly satisfied as to the reasonableness,--I might almost
say, as to the rectitude,--of his own conduct throughout. He is one of a
decayed Irish family, that could boast of good blood. His father had
obtained possession of the remnants of the property by turning
Protestant, thus ousting the elder brother, who later on becomes his
nephew's confederate in gambling. The elder brother is true to the old
religion, and as the law stood in the last century, the younger brother,
by changing his religion, was able to turn him out. Barry, when a boy,
learns the slang and the gait of the debauched gentlemen of the day. He
is specially proud of being a gentleman by birth and manners. He had
been kidnapped, and made to serve as a common soldier, but boasts that
he was at once fit for the occasion when enabled to show as a court
gentleman. "I came to it at once," he says, "and as if I had never done
anything else all my life. I had a gentleman to wait upon me, a French
_friseur_ to dress my hair of a morning. I knew the taste of chocolate
as by intuition almost, and could distinguish between the right Spanish
and the French before I had been a week in my new position. I had rings
on all my fingers and watches in both my fobs, canes, trinkets, and
snuffboxes of all sorts. I had the finest natural taste for lace and
china of any man I ever knew."

To dress well, to wear a sword with a grace, to carry away his plunder
with affected indifference, and to appear to be equally easy when he
loses his last ducat, to be agreeable to women, and to look like a
gentleman,--these are his accomplishments. In one place he rises to the
height of a grand professor in the art of gambling, and gives his
lessons with almost a noble air. "Play grandly, honourably. Be not of
course cast down at losing; but above all, be not eager at winning, as
mean souls are." And he boasts of his accomplishments with so much
eloquence as to make the reader sure that he believes in them. He is
quite pathetic over himself, and can describe with heartrending words
the evils that befall him when others use against him successfully any
of the arts which he practises himself.

The marvel of the book is not so much that the hero should evidently
think well of himself, as that the author should so tell his story as to
appear to be altogether on the hero's side. In _Catherine_, the horrors
described are most truly disgusting,--so much that the story, though
very clever, is not pleasant reading. _The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon_ are
very pleasant to read. There is nothing to shock or disgust. The style
of narrative is exactly that which might be used as to the exploits of a
man whom the author intended to represent as deserving of sympathy and
praise,--so that the reader is almost brought to sympathise. But I
should be doing an injustice to Thackeray if I were to leave an
impression that he had taught lessons tending to evil practice, such as
he supposed to have been left by _Jack Sheppard_ or _Eugene Aram_. No
one will be tempted to undertake the life of a _chevalier d'industrie_
by reading the book, or be made to think that cheating at cards is
either an agreeable or a profitable profession. The following is
excellent as a tirade in favour of gambling, coming from Redmond de
Balibari, as he came to be called during his adventures abroad, but it
will hardly persuade anyone to be a gambler;

"We always played on parole with anybody,--any person, that is, of
honour and noble lineage. We never pressed for our winnings, or declined
to receive promissory notes in lieu of gold. But woe to the man who did
not pay when the note became due! Redmond de Balibari was sure to wait
upon him with his bill, and I promise you there were very few bad debts.
On the contrary, gentlemen were grateful to us for our forbearance, and
our character for honour stood unimpeached. In latter times, a vulgar
national prejudice has chosen to cast a slur upon the character of men
of honour engaged in the profession of play; but I speak of the good old
days of Europe, before the cowardice of the French aristocracy (in the
shameful revolution, which served them right) brought discredit upon our
order. They cry fie now upon men engaged in play; but I should like to
know how much more honourable _their_ modes of livelihood are than ours.
The broker of the Exchange, who bulls and bears, and buys and sells, and
dabbles with lying loans, and trades upon state-secrets,--what is he but
a gamester? The merchant who deals in teas and tallow, is he any better?
His bales of dirty indigo are his dice, his cards come up every year
instead of every ten minutes, and the sea is his green-table. You call
the profession of the law an honourable one, where a man will lie for
any bidder;--lie down poverty for the sake of a fee from wealth; lie
down right because wrong is in his brief. You call a doctor an
honourable man,--a swindling quack who does not believe in the nostrums
which he prescribes, and takes your guinea for whispering in your ear
that it is a fine morning. And yet, forsooth, a gallant man, who sits
him down before the baize and challenges all comers, his money against
theirs, his fortune against theirs, is proscribed by your modern moral
world! It is a conspiracy of the middle-class against gentlemen. It is
only the shopkeeper cant which is to go down nowadays. I say that play
was an institution of chivalry. It has been wrecked along with other
privileges of men of birth. When Seingalt engaged a man for
six-and-thirty hours without leaving the table, do you think he showed
no courage? How have we had the best blood and the brightest eyes too,
of Europe throbbing round the table, as I and my uncle have held the
cards and the bank against some terrible player, who was matching some
thousands out of his millions against our all, which was there on the
baize! When we engaged that daring Alexis Kossloffsky, and won seven
thousand louis on a single coup, had we lost we should have been beggars
the next day; when _he_ lost, he was only a village and a few hundred
serfs in pawn the worse. When at Toeplitz the Duke of Courland brought
fourteen lacqueys, each with four bags of florins, and challenged our
bank to play against the sealed bags, what did we ask? 'Sir,' said we,
'we have but eighty thousand florins in bank, or two hundred thousand at
three months. If your highness's bags do not contain more than eighty
thousand we will meet you.' And we did; and after eleven hours' play,
in which our bank was at one time reduced to two hundred and three
ducats, we won seventeen thousand florins of him. Is _this_ not
something like boldness? Does this profession not require skill, and
perseverance, and bravery? Four crowned heads looked on at the game, and
an imperial princess, when I turned up the ace of hearts and made
Paroli, burst into tears. No man on the European Continent held a higher
position than Redmond Barry then; and when the Duke of Courland lost he
was pleased to say that we had won nobly. And so we had, and spent nobly
what we won." This is very grand, and is put as an eloquent man would
put it who really wished to defend gambling.

The rascal, of course, comes to a miserable end, but the tone of the
narrative is continued throughout. He is brought to live at last with
his old mother in the Fleet prison, on a wretched annuity of fifty
pounds per annum, which she has saved out of the general wreck, and
there he dies of delirium tremens. For an assumed tone of continued
irony, maintained through the long memoir of a life, never becoming
tedious, never unnatural, astounding us rather by its naturalness, I
know nothing equal to _Barry Lyndon_.

As one reads, one sometimes is struck by a conviction that this or the
other writer has thoroughly liked the work on which he is engaged. There
is a gusto about his passages, a liveliness in the language, a spring in
the motion of the words, an eagerness of description, a lilt, if I may
so call it, in the progress of the narrative, which makes the reader
feel that the author has himself greatly enjoyed what he has written. He
has evidently gone on with his work without any sense of weariness, or
doubt; and the words have come readily to him. So it has been with
_Barry Lyndon_. "My mind was filled full with those blackguards,"
Thackeray once said to a friend. It is easy enough to see that it was
so. In the passage which I have above quoted, his mind was running over
with the idea that a rascal might be so far gone in rascality as to be
in love with his own trade.

This was the last of Thackeray's long stories in _Fraser_. I have given
by no means a complete catalogue of his contributions to the magazine,
but I have perhaps mentioned those which are best known. There were many
short pieces which have now been collected in his works, such as _Little
Travels and Roadside Sketches_, and the _Carmen Lilliense_, in which the
poet is supposed to be detained at Lille by want of money. There are
others which I think are not to be found in the collected works, such as
a _Box of Novels by Titmarsh_, and _Titmarsh in the Picture Galleries_.
After the name of Titmarsh had been once assumed it was generally used
in the papers which he sent to _Fraser_.

Thackeray's connection with _Punch_ began in 1843, and, as far as I can
learn, _Miss Tickletoby's Lectures on English History_ was his first
contribution. They, however, have not been found worthy of a place in
the collected edition. His short pieces during a long period of his life
were so numerous that to have brought them all together would have
weighted his more important works with too great an amount of extraneous
matter. The same lady, Miss Tickletoby, gave a series of lectures. There
was _The History of the next French Revolution_, and _The Wanderings of
our Fat Contributor_,--the first of which is, and the latter is not,
perpetuated in his works. Our old friend Jeames Yellowplush, or De la
Pluche,--for we cannot for a moment doubt that he is the same
Jeames,--is very prolific, and as excellent in his orthography, his
sense, and satire, as ever. These papers began with _The Lucky
Speculator_. He lives in The Albany; he hires a brougham; and is devoted
to Miss Emily Flimsey, the daughter of Sir George, who had been his
master,--to the great injury of poor Maryanne, the fellow-servant who
had loved him in his kitchen days. Then there follows that wonderful
ballad, _Jeames of Backley Square_. Upon this he writes an angry letter
to _Punch_, dated from his chambers in The Albany; "Has a reglar
suscriber to your amusing paper, I beg leaf to state that I should never
have done so had I supposed that it was your 'abbit to igspose the
mistaries of privit life, and to hinger the delligit feelings of umble
individyouls like myself." He writes in his own defence, both as to
Maryanne and to the share-dealing by which he had made his fortune; and
he ends with declaring his right to the position which he holds. "You
are corrict in stating that I am of hancient Normin fam'ly. This is more
than Peal can say, to whomb I applied for a barnetcy; but the primmier
being of low igstraction, natrally stikles for his horder." And the
letter is signed "Fitzjames De la Pluche." Then follows his diary,
beginning with a description of the way in which he rushed into
_Punch's_ office, declaring his misfortunes, when losses had come upon
him. "I wish to be paid for my contribewtions to your paper.
Suckmstances is altered with me." Whereupon he gets a cheque upon
Messrs. Pump and Aldgate, and has himself carried away to new
speculations. He leaves his diary behind him, and _Punch_
surreptitiously publishes it. There is much in the diary which comes
from Thackeray's very heart. Who does not remember his indignation
against Lord Bareacres? "I gave the old humbug a few shares out of my
own pocket. 'There, old Pride,' says I, 'I like to see you down on your
knees to a footman. There, old Pomposity! Take fifty pounds. I like to
see you come cringing and begging for it!' Whenever I see him in a very
public place, I take my change for my money. I digg him in the ribbs, or
clap his padded old shoulders. I call him 'Bareacres, my old brick,' and
I see him wince. It does my 'art good." It does Thackeray's heart good
to pour himself out in indignation against some imaginary Bareacres. He
blows off his steam with such an eagerness that he forgets for a time,
or nearly forgets, his cacography. Then there are "Jeames on Time
Bargings," "Jeames on the Gauge Question," "Mr. Jeames again." Of all
our author's heroes Jeames is perhaps the most amusing. There is not
much in that joke of bad spelling, and we should have been inclined to
say beforehand, that Mrs. Malaprop had done it so well and so
sufficiently, that no repetition of it would be received with great
favour. Like other dishes, it depends upon the cooking. Jeames, with his
"suckmstances," high or low, will be immortal.

There were _The Travels in London_, a long series of them; and then
_Punch's Prize Novelists_, in which Thackeray imitates the language and
plots of Bulwer, Disraeli, Charles Lever, G. P. R. James, Mrs. Gore, and
Cooper, the American. They are all excellent; perhaps Codlingsby is the
best. Mendoza, when he is fighting with the bargeman, or drinking with
Codlingsby, or receiving Louis Philippe in his rooms, seems to have come
direct from the pen of our Premier. Phil Fogerty's jump, and the younger
and the elder horsemen, as they come riding into the story, one in his
armour and the other with his feathers, have the very savour and tone of
Lever and James; but then the savour and the tone are not so piquant. I
know nothing in the way of imitation to equal Codlingsby, if it be not
The Tale of Drury Lane, by W. S. in the _Rejected Addresses_, of which
it is said that Walter Scott declared that he must have written it
himself. The scene between Dr. Franklin, Louis XVI., Marie Antoinette,
and Tatua, the chief of the Nose-rings, as told in _The Stars and
Stripes_, is perfect in its way, but it fails as being a caricature of
Cooper. The caricaturist has been carried away beyond and above his
model, by his own sense of fun.

Of the ballads which appeared in _Punch_ I will speak elsewhere, as I
must give a separate short chapter to our author's power of
versification; but I must say a word of _The Snob Papers_, which were at
the time the most popular and the best known of all Thackeray's
contributions to _Punch_. I think that perhaps they were more charming,
more piquant, more apparently true, when they came out one after another
in the periodical, than they are now as collected together. I think that
one at a time would be better than many. And I think that the first half
in the long list of snobs would have been more manifestly snobs to us
than they are now with the second half of the list appended. In fact,
there are too many of them, till the reader is driven to tell himself
that the meaning of it all is that Adam's family is from first to last a
family of snobs. "First," says Thackeray, in preface, "the world was
made; then, as a matter of course, snobs; they existed for years and
years, and were no more known than America. But presently,--ingens
patebat tellus,--the people became darkly aware that there was such a
race. Not above five-and-twenty years since, a name, an expressive
monosyllable, arose to designate that case. That name has spread over
England like railroads subsequently; snobs are known and recognised
throughout an empire on which I am given to understand the sun never
sets. _Punch_ appears at the right season to chronicle their history;
and the individual comes forth to write that history in _Punch_.

"I have,--and for this gift I congratulate myself with a deep and
abiding thankfulness,--an eye for a snob. If the truthful is the
beautiful, it is beautiful to study even the snobbish;--to track snobs
through history as certain little dogs in Hampshire hunt out truffles;
to sink shafts in society, and come upon rich veins of snob-ore.
Snobbishness is like Death, in a quotation from Horace, which I hope you
never heard, 'beating with equal foot at poor men's doors, and kicking
at the gates of emperors.' It is a great mistake to judge of snobs
lightly, and think they exist among the lower classes merely. An immense
percentage of snobs, I believe, is to be found in every rank of this
mortal life. You must not judge hastily or vulgarly of snobs; to do so
shows that you are yourself a snob. I myself have been taken for one."

The state of Thackeray's mind when he commenced his delineations of
snobbery is here accurately depicted. Written, as these papers were, for
_Punch_, and written, as they were, by Thackeray, it was a necessity
that every idea put forth should be given as a joke, and that the satire
on society in general should be wrapped up in burlesque absurdity. But
not the less eager and serious was his intention. When he tells us, at
the end of the first chapter, of a certain Colonel Snobley, whom he met
at "Bagnigge Wells," as he says, and with whom he was so disgusted that
he determined to drive the man out of the house, we are well aware that
he had met an offensive military gentleman,--probably at Tunbridge.
Gentlemen thus offensive, even though tamely offensive, were peculiarly
offensive to him. We presume, by what follows, that this gentleman,
ignorantly,--for himself most unfortunately,--spoke of Public[=o]la.
Thackeray was disgusted,--disgusted that such a name should be lugged
into ordinary conversation at all, and then that a man should talk about
a name with which he was so little acquainted as not to know how to
pronounce it. The man was therefore a snob, and ought to be put down; in
all which I think that Thackeray was unnecessarily hard on the man, and
gave him too much importance.

So it was with him in his whole intercourse with snobs,--as he calls
them. He saw something that was distasteful, and a man instantly became
a snob in his estimation. "But you _can_ draw," a man once said to him,
there having been some discussion on the subject of Thackeray's art
powers. The man meant no doubt to be civil, but meant also to imply that
for the purpose needed the drawing was good enough, a matter on which he
was competent to form an opinion. Thackeray instantly put the man down
as a snob for flattering him. The little courtesies of the world and the
little discourtesies became snobbish to him. A man could not wear his
hat, or carry his umbrella, or mount his horse, without falling into
some error of snobbism before his hypercritical eyes. St. Michael would
have carried his armour amiss, and St. Cecilia have been snobbish as she
twanged her harp.

I fancy that a policeman considers that every man in the street would be
properly "run in," if only all the truth about the man had been known.
The tinker thinks that every pot is unsound. The cobbler doubts the
stability of every shoe. So at last it grew to be the case with
Thackeray. There was more hope that the city should be saved because of
its ten just men, than for society, if society were to depend on ten who
were not snobs. All this arose from the keenness of his vision into that
which was really mean. But that keenness became so aggravated by the
intenseness of his search that the slightest speck of dust became to his
eyes as a foul stain. Public[=o]la, as we saw, damned one poor man to a
wretched immortality, and another was called pitilessly over the coals,
because he had mixed a grain of flattery with a bushel of truth.
Thackeray tells us that he was born to hunt out snobs, as certain dogs
are trained to find truffles. But we can imagine that a dog, very
energetic at producing truffles, and not finding them as plentiful as
his heart desired, might occasionally produce roots which were not
genuine,--might be carried on in his energies till to his senses every
fungus-root became a truffle. I think that there has been something of
this with our author's snob-hunting, and that his zeal was at last
greater than his discrimination.

The nature of the task which came upon him made this fault almost
unavoidable. When a hit is made, say with a piece at a theatre, or with
a set of illustrations, or with a series of papers on this or the other
subject,--when something of this kind has suited the taste of the
moment, and gratified the public, there is a natural inclination on the
part of those who are interested to continue that which has been found
to be good. It pays and it pleases, and it seems to suit everybody. Then
it is continued usque ad nauseam. We see it in everything. When the king
said he liked partridges, partridges were served to him every day. The
world was pleased with certain ridiculous portraits of its big men. The
big men were soon used up, and the little men had to be added.

We can imagine that even _Punch_ may occasionally be at a loss for
subjects wherewith to delight its readers. In fact, _The Snob Papers_
were too good to be brought to an end, and therefore there were
forty-five of them. A dozen would have been better. As he himself says
in his last paper, "for a mortal year we have been together flattering
and abusing the human race." It was exactly that. Of course we
know,--everybody always knows,--that a bad specimen of his order may be
found in every division of society. There may be a snob king, a snob
parson, a snob member of parliament, a snob grocer, tailor, goldsmith,
and the like. But that is not what has been meant. We did not want a
special satirist to tell us what we all knew before. Had snobbishness
been divided for us into its various attributes and characteristics,
rather than attributed to various classes, the end sought,--the
exposure, namely, of the evil,--would have been better attained. The
snobbishness of flattery, of falsehood, of cowardice, lying,
time-serving, money-worship, would have been perhaps attacked to a
better purpose than that of kings, priests, soldiers, merchants, or men
of letters. The assault as made by Thackeray seems to have been made on
the profession generally.

The paper on clerical snobs is intended to be essentially generous, and
is ended by an allusion to certain old clerical friends which has a
sweet tone of tenderness in it. "How should he who knows you, not
respect you or your calling? May this pen never write a pennyworth again
if it ever casts ridicule upon either." But in the meantime he has
thrown his stone at the covetousness of bishops, because of certain
Irish prelates who died rich many years before he wrote. The
insinuation is that bishops generally take more of the loaves and fishes
than they ought, whereas the fact is that bishops' incomes are generally
so insufficient for the requirements demanded of them, that a feeling
prevails that a clergyman to be fit for a bishopric should have a
private income. He attacks the snobbishness of the universities, showing
us how one class of young men consists of fellow-commoners, who wear
lace and drink wine with their meals, and another class consists of
sizars, or servitors, who wear badges, as being poor, and are never
allowed to take their food with their fellow-students. That arrangements
fit for past times are not fit for these is true enough. Consequently
they should gradually be changed; and from day to day are changed. But
there is no snobbishness in this. Was the fellow-commoner a snob when he
acted in accordance with the custom of his rank and standing? or the
sizar who accepted aid in achieving that education which he could not
have got without it? or the tutor of the college, who carried out the
rules entrusted to him? There are two military snobs, Rag and Famish.
One is a swindler and the other a debauched young idiot. No doubt they
are both snobs, and one has been, while the other is, an officer. But
there is,--I think, not an unfairness so much as an absence of
intuition,--in attaching to soldiers especially two vices to which all
classes are open. Rag was a gambling snob, and Famish a drunken
snob,--but they were not specially military snobs. There is a chapter
devoted to dinner-giving snobs, in which I think the doctrine laid down
will not hold water, and therefore that the snobbism imputed is not
proved. "Your usual style of meal," says the satirist--"that is
plenteous, comfortable, and in its perfection,--should be that to which
you welcome your friends." Then there is something said about the
"Brummagem plate pomp," and we are told that it is right that dukes
should give grand dinners, but that we,--of the middle class,--should
entertain our friends with the simplicity which is customary with us. In
all this there is, I think, a mistake. The duke gives a grand dinner
because he thinks his friends will like it, sitting down when alone with
the duchess, we may suppose, with a retinue and grandeur less than that
which is arrayed for gala occasions. So is it with Mr. Jones, who is no
snob because he provides a costly dinner,--if he can afford it. He does
it because he thinks his friends will like it. It may be that the grand
dinner is a bore,--and that the leg of mutton with plenty of gravy and
potatoes all hot, would be nicer. I generally prefer the leg of mutton
myself. But I do not think that snobbery is involved in the other. A
man, no doubt, may be a snob in giving a dinner. I am not a snob because
for the occasion I eke out my own dozen silver forks with plated ware;
but if I make believe that my plated ware is true silver, then I am a

In that matter of association with our betters,--we will for the moment
presume that gentlemen and ladies with titles or great wealth are our
betters,--great and delicate questions arise as to what is snobbery, and
what is not, in speaking of which Thackeray becomes very indignant, and
explains the intensity of his feelings as thoroughly by a charming
little picture as by his words. It is a picture of Queen Elizabeth as
she is about to trample with disdain on the coat which that snob Raleigh
is throwing for her use on the mud before her. This is intended to
typify the low parasite nature of the Englishman which has been
described in the previous page or two. "And of these calm
moralists,"--it matters not for our present purpose who were the
moralists in question,--"is there one I wonder whose heart would not
throb with pleasure if he could be seen walking arm-in-arm with a couple
of dukes down Pall Mall? No; it is impossible, in our condition of
society, not to be sometimes a snob." And again: "How should it be
otherwise in a country where lordolatry is part of our creed, and where
our children are brought up to respect the 'Peerage' as the Englishman's
second Bible." Then follows the wonderfully graphic picture of Queen
Elizabeth and Raleigh.

In all this Thackeray has been carried away from the truth by his hatred
for a certain meanness of which there are no doubt examples enough. As
for Raleigh, I think we have always sympathised with the young man,
instead of despising him, because he felt on the impulse of the moment
that nothing was too good for the woman and the queen combined. The idea
of getting something in return for his coat could hardly have come so
quick to him as that impulse in favour of royalty and womanhood. If one
of us to-day should see the queen passing, would he not raise his hat,
and assume, unconsciously, something of an altered demeanour because of
his reverence for majesty? In doing so he would have no mean desire of
getting anything. The throne and its occupant are to him honourable, and
he honours them. There is surely no greater mistake than to suppose that
reverence is snobbishness. I meet a great man in the street, and some
chance having brought me to his knowledge, he stops and says a word to
me. Am I a snob because I feel myself to be graced by his notice? Surely
not. And if his acquaintance goes further and he asks me to dinner, am I
not entitled so far to think well of myself because I have been found
worthy of his society?

They who have raised themselves in the world, and they, too, whose
position has enabled them to receive all that estimation can give, all
that society can furnish, all that intercourse with the great can give,
are more likely to be pleasant companions than they who have been less
fortunate. That picture of two companion dukes in Pall Mall is too
gorgeous for human eye to endure. A man would be scorched to cinders by
so much light, as he would be crushed by a sack of sovereigns even
though he might be allowed to have them if he could carry them away. But
there can be no doubt that a peer taken at random as a companion would
be preferable to a clerk from a counting-house,--taken at random. The
clerk might turn out a scholar on your hands, and the peer no better
than a poor spendthrift;--but the chances are the other way.

A tufthunter is a snob, a parasite is a snob, the man who allows the
manhood within him to be awed by a coronet is a snob. The man who
worships mere wealth is a snob. But so also is he who, in fear lest he
should be called a snob, is afraid to seek the acquaintance,--or if it
come to speak of the acquaintance,--of those whose acquaintance is
manifestly desirable. In all this I feel that Thackeray was carried
beyond the truth by his intense desire to put down what is mean.

It is in truth well for us all to know what constitutes snobbism, and I
think that Thackeray, had he not been driven to dilution and dilatation,
could have told us. If you will keep your hands from picking and
stealing, and your tongue from evil speaking, lying, and slandering, you
will not be a snob. The lesson seems to be simple, and perhaps a little
trite, but if you look into it, it will be found to contain nearly all
that is necessary.

But the excellence of each individual picture as it is drawn is not the
less striking because there may be found some fault with the series as a
whole. What can excel the telling of the story of Captain Shindy at his
club,--which is, I must own, as true as it is graphic. Captain Shindy is
a real snob. "'Look at it, sir; is it cooked? Smell it, sir. Is it meat
fit for a gentleman?' he roars out to the steward, who stands trembling
before him, and who in vain tells him that the Bishop of Bullocksmithy
has just had three from the same loin." The telling as regards Captain
Shindy is excellent, but the sidelong attack upon the episcopate is
cruel. "All the waiters in the club are huddled round the captain's
mutton-chop. He roars out the most horrible curses at John for not
bringing the pickles. He utters the most dreadful oaths because Thomas
has not arrived with the Harvey sauce. Peter comes tumbling with the
water-jug over Jeames, who is bringing the 'glittering canisters with

       *       *       *       *       *

"Poor Mrs. Shindy and the children are, meanwhile, in dingy lodgings
somewhere, waited upon by a charity girl in pattens."

The visit to Castle Carabas, and the housekeeper's description of the
wonders of the family mansion, is as good. "'The Side Entrance and
'All,' says the housekeeper. 'The halligator hover the mantelpiece was
brought home by Hadmiral St. Michaels, when a capting with Lord Hanson.
The harms on the cheers is the harms of the Carabas family. The great
'all is seventy feet in lenth, fifty-six in breath, and thirty-eight
feet 'igh. The carvings of the chimlies, representing the buth of Venus
and 'Ercules and 'Eyelash, is by Van Chislum, the most famous sculpture
of his hage and country. The ceiling, by Calimanco, represents Painting,
Harchitecture, and Music,--the naked female figure with the
barrel-organ,--introducing George, first Lord Carabas, to the Temple of
the Muses. The winder ornaments is by Vanderputty. The floor is
Patagonian marble; and the chandelier in the centre was presented to
Lionel, second marquis, by Lewy the Sixteenth, whose 'ead was cut hoff
in the French Revolution. We now henter the South Gallery," etc. etc.
All of which is very good fun, with a dash of truth in it also as to the
snobbery;--only in this it will be necessary to be quite sure where the
snobbery lies. If my Lord Carabas has a "buth of Venus," beautiful for
all eyes to see, there is no snobbery, only good-nature, in the showing
it; nor is there snobbery in going to see it, if a beautiful "buth of
Venus" has charms for you. If you merely want to see the inside of a
lord's house, and the lord is puffed up with the pride of showing his,
then there will be two snobs.

Of all those papers it may be said that each has that quality of a pearl
about it which in the previous chapter I endeavoured to explain. In each
some little point is made in excellent language, so as to charm by its
neatness, incision, and drollery. But _The Snob Papers_ had better be
read separately, and not taken in the lump.

Thackeray ceased to write for _Punch_ in 1852, either entirely or almost



Something has been said, in the biographical chapter, of the way in
which _Vanity Fair_ was produced, and of the period in the author's life
in which it was written. He had become famous,--to a limited extent,--by
the exquisite nature of his contributions to periodicals; but he desired
to do something larger, something greater, something, perhaps, less
ephemeral. For though _Barry Lyndon_ and others have not proved to be
ephemeral, it was thus that he regarded them. In this spirit he went to
work and wrote _Vanity Fair_.

It may be as well to speak first of the faults which were attributed to
it. It was said that the good people were all fools, and that the clever
people were all knaves. When the critics,--the talking critics as well
as the writing critics,--began to discuss _Vanity Fair_, there had
already grown up a feeling as to Thackeray as an author--that he was one
who had taken up the business of castigating the vices of the world.
Scott had dealt with the heroics, whether displayed in his Flora
MacIvors or Meg Merrilieses, in his Ivanhoes or Ochiltrees. Miss
Edgeworth had been moral; Miss Austen conventional; Bulwer had been
poetical and sentimental; Marryat and Lever had been funny and
pugnacious, always with a dash of gallantry, displaying funny naval and
funny military life; and Dickens had already become great in painting
the virtues of the lower orders. But by all these some kind of virtue
had been sung, though it might be only the virtue of riding a horse or
fighting a duel. Even Eugene Aram and Jack Sheppard, with whom Thackeray
found so much fault, were intended to be fine fellows, though they broke
into houses and committed murders. The primary object of all those
writers was to create an interest by exciting sympathy. To enhance our
sympathy personages were introduced who were very vile indeed,--as
Bucklaw, in the guise of a lover, to heighten our feelings for
Ravenswood and Lucy; as Wild, as a thief-taker, to make us more anxious
for the saving of Jack; as Ralph Nickleby, to pile up the pity for his
niece Kate. But each of these novelists might have appropriately begun
with an _Arma virumque cano_. The song was to be of something
godlike,--even with a Peter Simple. With Thackeray it had been
altogether different. Alas, alas! the meanness of human wishes; the
poorness of human results! That had been his tone. There can be no doubt
that the heroic had appeared contemptible to him, as being untrue. The
girl who had deceived her papa and mamma seemed more probable to him
than she who perished under the willow-tree from sheer love,--as given
in the last chapter. Why sing songs that are false? Why tell of Lucy
Ashtons and Kate Nicklebys, when pretty girls, let them be ever so
beautiful, can be silly and sly? Why pour philosophy out of the mouth of
a fashionable young gentleman like Pelham, seeing that young gentlemen
of that sort rarely, or we may say never, talk after that fashion? Why
make a housebreaker a gallant charming young fellow, the truth being
that housebreakers as a rule are as objectionable in their manners as
they are in their morals? Thackeray's mind had in truth worked in this
way, and he had become a satirist. That had been all very well for
_Fraser_ and _Punch_; but when his satire was continued through a long
novel, in twenty-four parts, readers,--who do in truth like the heroic
better than the wicked,--began to declare that this writer was no
novelist, but only a cynic.

Thence the question arises what a novel should be,--which I will
endeavour to discuss very shortly in a later chapter. But this special
fault was certainly found with _Vanity Fair_ at the time. Heroines
should not only be beautiful, but should be endowed also with a quasi
celestial grace,--grace of dignity, propriety, and reticence. A heroine
should hardly want to be married, the arrangement being almost too
mundane,--and, should she be brought to consent to undergo such bond,
because of its acknowledged utility, it should be at some period so
distant as hardly to present itself to the mind as a reality. Eating and
drinking should be altogether indifferent to her, and her clothes should
be picturesque rather than smart, and that from accident rather than
design. Thackeray's Amelia does not at all come up to the description
here given. She is proud of having a lover, constantly declaring to
herself and to others that he is "the greatest and the best of
men,"--whereas the young gentleman is, in truth, a very little man. She
is not at all indifferent as to her finery, nor, as we see incidentally,
to enjoying her suppers at Vauxhall. She is anxious to be married,--and
as soon as possible. A hero too should be dignified and of a noble
presence; a man who, though he may be as poor as Nicholas Nickleby,
should nevertheless be beautiful on all occasions, and never deficient
in readiness, address, or self-assertion. _Vanity Fair_ is specially
declared by the author to be "a novel without a hero," and therefore we
have hardly a right to complain of deficiency of heroic conduct in any
of the male characters. But Captain Dobbin does become the hero, and is
deficient. Why was he called Dobbin, except to make him ridiculous? Why
is he so shamefully ugly, so shy, so awkward? Why was he the son of a
grocer? Thackeray in so depicting him was determined to run counter to
the recognised taste of novel readers. And then again there was the
feeling of another great fault. Let there be the virtuous in a novel and
let there be the vicious, the dignified and the undignified, the sublime
and the ridiculous,--only let the virtuous, the dignified, and the
sublime be in the ascendant. Edith Bellenden, and Lord Evandale, and
Morton himself would be too stilted, were they not enlivened by Mause,
and Cuddie, and Poundtext. But here, in this novel, the vicious and the
absurd have been made to be of more importance than the good and the
noble. Becky Sharp and Rawdon Crawley are the real heroine and hero of
the story. It is with them that the reader is called upon to interest
himself. It is of them that he will think when he is reading the book.
It is by them that he will judge the book when he has read it. There was
no doubt a feeling with the public that though satire may be very well
in its place, it should not be made the backbone of a work so long and
so important as this. A short story such as _Catherine_ or _Barry
Lyndon_ might be pronounced to have been called for by the iniquities of
an outside world; but this seemed to the readers to have been addressed
almost to themselves. Now men and women like to be painted as Titian
would paint them, or Raffaelle,--not as Rembrandt, or even Rubens.

Whether the ideal or the real is the best form of a novel may be
questioned, but there can be no doubt that as there are novelists who
cannot descend from the bright heaven of the imagination to walk with
their feet upon the earth, so there are others to whom it is not given
to soar among clouds. The reader must please himself, and make his
selection if he cannot enjoy both. There are many who are carried into a
heaven of pathos by the woes of a Master of Ravenswood, who fail
altogether to be touched by the enduring constancy of a Dobbin. There
are others,--and I will not say but they may enjoy the keenest delight
which literature can give,--who cannot employ their minds on fiction
unless it be conveyed in poetry. With Thackeray it was essential that
the representations made by him should be, to his own thinking,
lifelike. A Dobbin seemed to him to be such a one as might probably be
met with in the world, whereas to his thinking a Ravenswood was simply a
creature of the imagination. He would have said of such, as we would say
of female faces by Raffaelle, that women would like to be like them, but
are not like them. Men might like to be like Ravenswood, and women may
dream of men so formed and constituted, but such men do not exist.
Dobbins do, and therefore Thackeray chose to write of a Dobbin.

So also of the preference given to Becky Sharp and to Rawdon Crawley.
Thackeray thought that more can be done by exposing the vices than
extolling the virtues of mankind. No doubt he had a more thorough belief
in the one than in the other. The Dobbins he did encounter--seldom; the
Rawdon Crawleys very often. He saw around him so much that was mean! He
was hurt so often by the little vanities of people! It was thus that he
was driven to that overthoughtfulness about snobs of which I have spoken
in the last chapter. It thus became natural to him to insist on the
thing which he hated with unceasing assiduity, and only to break out now
and again into a rapture of love for the true nobility which was dear to
him,--as he did with the character of Captain Dobbin.

It must be added to all this that, before he has done with his snob or
his knave, he will generally weave in some little trait of humanity by
which the sinner shall be relieved from the absolute darkness of utter
iniquity. He deals with no Varneys or Deputy-Shepherds, all villany and
all lies, because the snobs and knaves he had seen had never been all
snob or all knave. Even Shindy probably had some feeling for the poor
woman he left at home. Rawdon Crawley loved his wicked wife dearly, and
there were moments even with her in which some redeeming trait half
reconciles her to the reader.

Such were the faults which were found in _Vanity Fair_; but though the
faults were found freely, the book was read by all. Those who are old
enough can well remember the effect which it had, and the welcome which
was given to the different numbers as they appeared. Though the story is
vague and wandering, clearly commenced without any idea of an ending,
yet there is something in the telling which makes every portion of it
perfect in itself. There are absurdities in it which would not be
admitted to anyone who had not a peculiar gift of making even his
absurdities delightful. No schoolgirl who ever lived would have thrown
back her gift-book, as Rebecca did the "dixonary," out of the carriage
window as she was taken away from school. But who does not love that
scene with which the novel commences? How could such a girl as Amelia
Osborne have got herself into such society as that in which we see her
at Vauxhall? But we forgive it all because of the telling. And then
there is that crowning absurdity of Sir Pitt Crawley and his

I never could understand how Thackeray in his first serious attempt
could have dared to subject himself and Sir Pitt Crawley to the critics
of the time. Sir Pitt is a baronet, a man of large property, and in
Parliament, to whom Becky Sharp goes as a governess at the end of a
delightful visit with her friend Amelia Sedley, on leaving Miss
Pinkerton's school. The Sedley carriage takes her to Sir Pitt's door.
"When the bell was rung a head appeared between the interstices of the
dining-room shutters, and the door was opened by a man in drab breeches
and gaiters, with a dirty old coat, a foul old neckcloth lashed round
his bristly neck, a shining bald head, a leering red face, a pair of
twinkling gray eyes, and a mouth perpetually on the grin.

"'This Sir Pitt Crawley's?' says John from the box.

"'E'es,' says the man at the door with a nod.

"'Hand down these 'ere trunks there,' said John.

"'Hand 'em down yourself,' said the porter." But John on the box
declines to do this, as he cannot leave his horses.

"The bald-headed man, taking his hands out of his breeches' pockets,
advanced on this summons, and throwing Miss Sharp's trunk over his
shoulder, carried it into the house." Then Becky is shown into the
house, and a dismantled dining-room is described, into which she is led
by the dirty man with the trunk.

     Two kitchen chairs, and a round table, and an attenuated old
     poker and tongs, were, however, gathered round the fireplace,
     as was a saucepan over a feeble, sputtering fire. There was a
     bit of cheese and bread and a tin candlestick on the table,
     and a little black porter in a pint pot.

     "Had your dinner, I suppose?" This was said by him of the bald
     head. "It is not too warm for you? Like a drop of beer?"

     "Where is Sir Pitt Crawley?" said Miss Sharp majestically.

     "He, he! _I_'m Sir Pitt Crawley. Rek'lect you owe me a pint
     for bringing down your luggage. He, he! ask Tinker if I

     The lady addressed as Mrs. Tinker at this moment made her
     appearance, with a pipe and a paper of tobacco, for which she
     had been despatched a minute before Miss Sharp's arrival; and
     she handed the articles over to Sir Pitt, who had taken his
     seat by the fire.

     "Where's the farden?" said he. "I gave you three-halfpence;
     where's the change, old Tinker?"

     "There," replied Mrs. Tinker, flinging down the coin. "It's
     only baronets as cares about farthings."

Sir Pitt Crawley has always been to me a stretch of audacity which I
have been unable to understand. But it has been accepted; and from this
commencement of Sir Pitt Crawley have grown the wonderful characters of
the Crawley family,--old Miss Crawley, the worldly, wicked,
pleasure-loving aunt, the Rev. Bute Crawley and his wife, who are quite
as worldly, the sanctimonious elder son, who in truth is not less so,
and Rawdon, who ultimately becomes Becky's husband,--who is the bad hero
of the book, as Dobbin is the good hero. They are admirable; but it is
quite clear that Thackeray had known nothing of what was coming about
them when he caused Sir Pitt to eat his tripe with Mrs. Tinker in the
London dining-room.

There is a double story running through the book, the parts of which are
but lightly woven together, of which the former tells us the life and
adventures of that singular young woman Becky Sharp, and the other the
troubles and ultimate success of our noble hero Captain Dobbin. Though
it be true that readers prefer, or pretend to prefer, the romantic to
the common in their novels, and complain of pages which are defiled with
that which is low, yet I find that the absurd, the ludicrous, and even
the evil, leave more impression behind them than the grand, the
beautiful, or even the good. Dominie Sampson, Dugald Dalgetty, and
Bothwell are, I think, more remembered than Fergus MacIvor, than Ivanhoe
himself, or Mr. Butler the minister. It certainly came to pass that, in
spite of the critics, Becky Sharp became the first attraction in _Vanity
Fair_. When we speak now of _Vanity Fair_, it is always to Becky that
our thoughts recur. She has made a position for herself in the world of
fiction, and is one of our established personages.

I have already said how she left school, throwing the "dixonary" out of
the window, like dust from her feet, and was taken to spend a few
halcyon weeks with her friend Amelia Sedley, at the Sedley mansion in
Russell Square. There she meets a brother Sedley home from India,--the
immortal Jos,--at whom she began to set her hitherto untried cap. Here
we become acquainted both with the Sedley and with the Osborne families,
with all their domestic affections and domestic snobbery, and have to
confess that the snobbery is stronger than the affection. As we desire
to love Amelia Sedley, we wish that the people around her were less
vulgar or less selfish,--especially we wish it in regard to that
handsome young fellow, George Osborne, whom she loves with her whole
heart. But with Jos Sedley we are inclined to be content, though he be
fat, purse-proud, awkward, a drunkard, and a coward, because we do not
want anything better for Becky. Becky does not want anything better for
herself, because the man has money. She has been born a pauper. She
knows herself to be but ill qualified to set up as a beauty,--though by
dint of cleverness she does succeed in that afterwards. She has no
advantages in regard to friends or family as she enters life. She must
earn her bread for herself. Young as she is, she loves money, and has a
great idea of the power of money. Therefore, though Jos is distasteful
at all points, she instantly makes her attack. She fails, however, at
any rate for the present. She never becomes his wife, but at last she
succeeds in getting some of his money. But before that time comes she
has many a suffering to endure, and many a triumph to enjoy.

She goes to Sir Pitt Crawley as governess for his second family, and is
taken down to Queen's Crawley in the country. There her cleverness
prevails, even with the baronet, of whom I have just given Thackeray's
portrait. She keeps his accounts, and writes his letters, and helps him
to save money; she reads with the elder sister books they ought not to
have read; she flatters the sanctimonious son. In point of fact, she
becomes all in all at Queen's Crawley, so that Sir Pitt himself falls in
love with her,--for there is reason to think that Sir Pitt may soon
become again a widower. But there also came down to the baronet's house,
on an occasion of general entertaining, Captain Rawdon Crawley. Of
course Becky sets her cap at him, and of course succeeds. She always
succeeds. Though she is only the governess, he insists upon dancing with
her, to the neglect of all the young ladies of the neighbourhood. They
continue to walk together by moonlight,--or starlight,--the great,
heavy, stupid, half-tipsy dragoon, and the intriguing, covetous,
altogether unprincipled young woman. And the two young people absolutely
come to love one another in their way,--the heavy, stupid, fuddled
dragoon, and the false, covetous, altogether unprincipled young woman.

The fat aunt Crawley is a maiden lady, very rich, and Becky quite
succeeds in gaining the rich aunt by her wiles. The aunt becomes so fond
of Becky down in the country, that when she has to return to her own
house in town, sick from over-eating, she cannot be happy without taking
Becky with her. So Becky is installed in the house in London, having
been taken away abruptly from her pupils, to the great dismay of the old
lady's long-established resident companion. They all fall in love with
her; she makes herself so charming, she is so clever; she can even, by
help of a little care in dressing, become so picturesque! As all this
goes on, the reader feels what a great personage is Miss Rebecca Sharp.

Lady Crawley dies down in the country, while Becky is still staying with
his sister, who will not part with her. Sir Pitt at once rushes up to
town, before the funeral, looking for consolation where only he can find
it. Becky brings him down word from his sister's room that the old lady
is too ill to see him.

     "So much the better," Sir Pitt answered; "I want to see you,
     Miss Sharp. I want you back at Queen's Crawley, miss," the
     baronet said. His eyes had such a strange look, and were fixed
     upon her so stedfastly that Rebecca Sharp began almost to
     tremble. Then she half promises, talks about the dear
     children, and angles with the old man. "I tell you I want
     you," he says; "I'm going back to the vuneral, will you come
     back?--yes or no?"

     "I daren't. I don't think--it wouldn't be right--to be
     alone--with you, sir," Becky said, seemingly in great

     "I say again, I want you. I can't get on without you. I didn't
     see what it was till you went away. The house all goes wrong.
     It's not the same place. All my accounts has got muddled
     again. You must come back. Do come back. Dear Becky, do come."

     "Come,--as what, sir?" Rebecca gasped out.

     "Come as Lady Crawley, if you like. There, will that zatisfy
     you? Come back and be my wife. You're vit for it. Birth be
     hanged. You're as good a lady as ever I see. You've got more
     brains in your little vinger than any baronet's wife in the
     country. Will you come? Yes or no?" Rebecca is startled, but
     the old man goes on. "I'll make you happy; zee if I don't. You
     shall do what you like, spend what you like, and have it all
     your own way. I'll make you a settlement. I'll do everything
     regular. Look here," and the old man fell down on his knees
     and leered at her like a satyr.

But Rebecca, though she had been angling, angling for favour and love
and power, had not expected this. For once in her life she loses her
presence of mind, and exclaims: "Oh Sir Pitt; oh sir; I--I'm married
already!" She has married Rawdon Crawley, Sir Pitt's younger son, Miss
Crawley's favourite among those of her family who are looking for her
money. But she keeps her secret for the present, and writes a charming
letter to the Captain; "Dearest,--Something tells me that we shall
conquer. You shall leave that odious regiment. Quit gaming, racing, and
be a good boy, and we shall all live in Park Lane, and _ma tante_ shall
leave us all her money." _Ma tante's_ money has been in her mind all
through, but yet she loves him.

     "Suppose the old lady doesn't come to," Rawdon said to his
     little wife as they sat together in the snug little Brompton
     lodgings. She had been trying the new piano all the morning.
     The new gloves fitted her to a nicety. The new shawl became
     her wonderfully. The new rings glittered on her little hands,
     and the new watch ticked at her waist.

     "_I'll_ make your fortune," she said; and Delilah patted
     Samson's cheek.

     "You can do anything," he said, kissing the little hand. "By
     Jove you can! and we'll drive down to the Star and Garter and
     dine, by Jove!"

They were neither of them quite heartless at that moment, nor did Rawdon
ever become quite bad. Then follow the adventures of Becky as a married
woman, through all of which there is a glimmer of love for her stupid
husband, while it is the real purpose of her heart to get money how she
may,--by her charms, by her wit, by her lies, by her readiness. She
makes love to everyone,--even to her sanctimonious brother-in-law, who
becomes Sir Pitt in his time,--and always succeeds. But in her
love-making there is nothing of love. She gets hold of that
well-remembered old reprobate, the Marquis of Steyne, who possesses the
two valuable gifts of being very dissolute and very rich, and from him
she obtains money and jewels to her heart's desire. The abominations of
Lord Steyne are depicted in the strongest language of which _Vanity
Fair_ admits. The reader's hair stands almost on end in horror at the
wickedness of the two wretches,--at her desire for money, sheer money;
and his for wickedness, sheer wickedness. Then her husband finds her
out,--poor Rawdon! who with all his faults and thickheaded stupidity,
has become absolutely entranced by the wiles of his little wife. He is
carried off to a sponging-house, in order that he may be out of the way,
and, on escaping unexpectedly from thraldom, finds the lord in his
wife's drawing-room. Whereupon he thrashes the old lord, nearly killing
him; takes away the plunder which he finds on his wife's person, and
hurries away to seek assistance as to further revenge;--for he is
determined to shoot the marquis, or to be shot. He goes to one Captain
Macmurdo, who is to act as his second, and there he pours out his heart.
"You don't know how fond I was of that one," Rawdon said,
half-inarticulately. "Damme, I followed her like a footman! I gave up
everything I had to her. I'm a beggar because I would marry her. By
Jove, sir, I've pawned my own watch to get her anything she fancied. And
she,--she's been making a purse for herself all the time, and grudged me
a hundred pounds to get me out of quod!" His friend alleges that the
wife may be innocent after all. "It may be so," Rawdon exclaimed sadly;
"but this don't look very innocent!" And he showed the captain the
thousand-pound note which he had found in Becky's pocketbook.

But the marquis can do better than fight; and Rawdon, in spite of his
true love, can do better than follow the quarrel up to his own undoing.
The marquis, on the spur of the moment, gets the lady's husband
appointed governor of Coventry Island, with a salary of three thousand
pounds a year; and poor Rawdon at last condescends to accept the
appointment. He will not see his wife again, but he makes her an
allowance out of his income.

In arranging all this, Thackeray is enabled to have a side blow at the
British way of distributing patronage,--for the favour of which he was
afterwards himself a candidate. He quotes as follows from _The Royalist_
newspaper: "We hear that the governorship"--of Coventry Island--"has
been offered to Colonel Rawdon Crawley, C.B., a distinguished Waterloo
officer. We need not only men of acknowledged bravery, but men of
administrative talents to superintend the affairs of our colonies; and
we have no doubt that the gentleman selected by the Colonial Office to
fill the lamented vacancy which has occurred at Coventry Island, is
admirably calculated for the post." The reader, however, is aware that
the officer in question cannot write a sentence or speak two words

Our heroine's adventures are carried on much further, but they cannot be
given here in detail. To the end she is the same,--utterly false,
selfish, covetous, and successful. To have made such a woman really in
love would have been a mistake. Her husband she likes best,--because he
is, or was, her own. But there is no man so foul, so wicked, so
unattractive, but that she can fawn over him for money and jewels. There
are women to whom nothing is nasty, either in person, language, scenes,
actions, or principle,--and Becky is one of them; and yet she is herself
attractive. A most wonderful sketch, for the perpetration of which all
Thackeray's power of combined indignation and humour was necessary!

The story of Amelia and her two lovers, George Osborne and Captain, or
as he came afterwards to be, Major, and Colonel Dobbin, is less
interesting, simply because goodness and eulogy are less exciting than
wickedness and censure. Amelia is a true, honest-hearted, thoroughly
English young woman, who loves her love because he is grand,--to her
eyes,--and loving him, loves him with all her heart. Readers have said
that she is silly, only because she is not heroic. I do not know that
she is more silly than many young ladies whom we who are old have loved
in our youth, or than those whom our sons are loving at the present
time. Readers complain of Amelia because she is absolutely true to
nature. There are no Raffaellistic touches, no added graces, no divine
romance. She is feminine all over, and British,--loving, true,
thoroughly unselfish, yet with a taste for having things comfortable,
forgiving, quite capable of jealousy, but prone to be appeased at once,
at the first kiss; quite convinced that her lover, her husband, her
children are the people in all the world to whom the greatest
consideration is due. Such a one is sure to be the dupe of a Becky
Sharp, should a Becky Sharp come in her way,--as is the case with so
many sweet Amelias whom we have known. But in a matter of love she is
sound enough and sensible enough,--and she is as true as steel. I know
no trait in Amelia which a man would be ashamed to find in his own

She marries her George Osborne, who, to tell the truth of him, is but a
poor kind of fellow, though he is a brave soldier. He thinks much of his
own person, and is selfish. Thackeray puts in a touch or two here and
there by which he is made to be odious. He would rather give a present
to himself than to the girl who loved him. Nevertheless, when her father
is ruined he marries her, and he fights bravely at Waterloo, and is
killed. "No more firing was heard at Brussels. The pursuit rolled miles
away. Darkness came down on the field and the city,--and Amelia was
praying for George, who was lying on his face, dead, with a bullet
through his heart."

Then follows the long courtship of Dobbin, the true hero,--he who has
been the friend of George since their old school-days; who has lived
with him and served him, and has also loved Amelia. But he has loved
her,--as one man may love another,--solely with a view to the profit of
his friend. He has known all along that George and Amelia have been
engaged to each other as boy and girl. George would have neglected her,
but Dobbin would not allow it. George would have jilted the girl who
loved him, but Dobbin would not let him. He had nothing to get for
himself, but loving her as he did, it was the work of his life to get
for her all that she wanted.

George is shot at Waterloo, and then come fifteen years of
widowhood,--fifteen years during which Becky is carrying on her
manoeuvres,--fifteen years during which Amelia cannot bring herself to
accept the devotion of the old captain, who becomes at last a colonel.
But at the end she is won. "The vessel is in port. He has got the prize
he has been trying for all his life. The bird has come in at last. There
it is, with its head on its shoulder, billing and cooing clean up to his
heart, with soft outstretched fluttering wings. This is what he has
asked for every day and hour for eighteen years. This is what he has
pined after. Here it is,--the summit, the end, the last page of the
third volume."

The reader as he closes the book has on his mind a strong conviction,
the strongest possible conviction, that among men George is as weak and
Dobbin as noble as any that he has met in literature; and that among
women Amelia is as true and Becky as vile as any he has encountered. Of
so much he will be conscious. In addition to this he will unconsciously
have found that every page he has read will have been of interest to
him. There has been no padding, no longueurs; every bit will have had
its weight with him. And he will find too at the end, if he will think
of it--though readers, I fear, seldom think much of this in regard to
books they have read--that the lesson taught in every page has been
good. There may be details of evil painted so as to disgust,--painted
almost too plainly,--but none painted so as to allure.



The absence of the heroic was, in Thackeray, so palpable to Thackeray
himself that in his original preface to _Pendennis_, when he began to be
aware that his reputation was made, he tells his public what they may
expect and what they may not, and makes his joking complaint of the
readers of his time because they will not endure with patience the true
picture of a natural man. "Even the gentlemen of our age," he
says,--adding that the story of _Pendennis_ is an attempt to describe
one of them, just as he is,--"even those we cannot show as they are with
the notorious selfishness of their time and their education. Since the
author of _Tom Jones_ was buried, no writer of fiction among us has been
permitted to depict to his utmost power a MAN. We must shape him, and
give him a certain conventional temper." Then he rebukes his audience
because they will not listen to the truth. "You will not hear what moves
in the real world, what passes in society, in the clubs, colleges,
mess-rooms,--what is the life and talk of your sons." You want the
Raffaellistic touch, or that of some painter of horrors equally removed
from the truth. I tell you how a man really does act,--as did Fielding
with Tom Jones,--but it does not satisfy you. You will not sympathise
with this young man of mine, this Pendennis, because he is neither
angel nor imp. If it be so, let it be so. I will not paint for you
angels or imps, because I do not see them. The young man of the day,
whom I do see, and of whom I know the inside and the out thoroughly, him
I have painted for you; and here he is, whether you like the picture or
not. This is what Thackeray meant, and, having this in his mind, he
produced _Pendennis_.

The object of a novel should be to instruct in morals while it amuses. I
cannot think but that every novelist who has thought much of his art
will have realised as much as that for himself. Whether this may best be
done by the transcendental or by the commonplace is the question which
it more behoves the reader than the author to answer, because the author
may be fairly sure that he who can do the one will not, probably cannot,
do the other. If a lad be only five feet high he does not try to enlist
in the Guards. Thackeray complains that many ladies have "remonstrated
and subscribers left him," because of his realistic tendency.
Nevertheless he has gone on with his work, and, in _Pendennis_, has
painted a young man as natural as Tom Jones. Had he expended himself in
the attempt, he could not have drawn a Master of Ravenswood.

It has to be admitted that Pendennis is not a fine fellow. He is not as
weak, as selfish, as untrustworthy as that George Osborne whom Amelia
married in _Vanity Fair_; but nevertheless, he is weak, and selfish, and
untrustworthy. He is not such a one as a father would wish to see his
son, or a mother to welcome as a lover for her daughter. But then,
fathers are so often doomed to find their sons not all that they wish,
and mothers to see their girls falling in love with young men who are
not Paladins. In our individual lives we are contented to endure an
admixture of evil, which we should resent if imputed to us in the
general. We presume ourselves to be truth-speaking, noble in our
sentiments, generous in our actions, modest and unselfish, chivalrous
and devoted. But we forgive and pass over in silence a few delinquencies
among ourselves. What boy at school ever is a coward,--in the general?
What gentleman ever tells a lie? What young lady is greedy? We take it
for granted, as though they were fixed rules in life, that our boys from
our public schools look us in the face and are manly; that our gentlemen
tell the truth as a matter of course; and that our young ladies are
refined and unselfish. Thackeray is always protesting that it is not so,
and that no good is to be done by blinking the truth. He knows that we
have our little home experiences. Let us have the facts out, and mend
what is bad if we can. This novel of _Pendennis_ is one of his loudest
protests to this effect.

I will not attempt to tell the story of Pendennis, how his mother loved
him, how he first came to be brought up together with Laura Bell, how he
thrashed the other boys when he was a boy, and how he fell in love with
Miss Fotheringay, née Costigan, and was determined to marry her while he
was still a hobbledehoy, how he went up to Boniface, that well-known
college at Oxford, and there did no good, spending money which he had
not got, and learning to gamble. The English gentleman, as we know,
never lies; but Pendennis is not quite truthful; when the college tutor,
thinking that he hears the rattling of dice, makes his way into Pen's
room, Pen and his two companions are found with three _Homers_ before
them, and Pen asks the tutor with great gravity; "What was the present
condition of the river Scamander, and whether it was navigable or no?"
He tells his mother that, during a certain vacation he must stay up and
read, instead of coming home,--but, nevertheless, he goes up to London
to amuse himself. The reader is soon made to understand that, though Pen
may be a fine gentleman, he is not trustworthy. But he repents and comes
home, and kisses his mother; only, alas! he will always be kissing
somebody else also.

The story of the Amorys and the Claverings, and that wonderful French
cook M. Alcide Mirobolant, forms one of those delightful digressions
which Thackeray scatters through his novels rather than weaves into
them. They generally have but little to do with the story itself, and
are brought in only as giving scope for some incident to the real hero
or heroine. But in this digression Pen is very much concerned indeed,
for he is brought to the very verge of matrimony with that peculiarly
disagreeable lady Miss Amory. He does escape at last, but only within a
few pages of the end, when we are made unhappy by the lady's victory
over that poor young sinner Foker, with whom we have all come to
sympathise, in spite of his vulgarity and fast propensities. She would
to the last fain have married Pen, in whom she believes, thinking that
he would make a name for her. "Il me faut des émotions," says Blanche.
Whereupon the author, as he leaves her, explains the nature of this Miss
Amory's feelings. "For this young lady was not able to carry out any
emotion to the full, but had a sham enthusiasm, a sham hatred, a sham
love, a sham taste, a sham grief; each of which flared and shone very
vehemently for an instant, but subsided and gave place to the next sham
emotion." Thackeray, when he drew this portrait, must certainly have
had some special young lady in his view. But though we are made unhappy
for Foker, Foker too escapes at last, and Blanche, with her emotions,
marries that very doubtful nobleman Comte Montmorenci de Valentinois.

But all this of Miss Amory is but an episode. The purport of the story
is the way in which the hero is made to enter upon the world, subject as
he has been to the sweet teaching of his mother, and subject as he is
made to be to the worldly lessons of his old uncle the major. Then he is
ill, and nearly dies, and his mother comes up to nurse him. And there is
his friend Warrington, of whose family down in Suffolk we shall have
heard something when we have read _The Virginians_,--one I think of the
finest characters, as it is certainly one of the most touching, that
Thackeray ever drew. Warrington, and Pen's mother, and Laura are our
hero's better angels,--angels so good as to make us wonder that a
creature so weak should have had such angels about him; though we are
driven to confess that their affection and loyalty for him are natural.
There is a melancholy beneath the roughness of Warrington, and a
feminine softness combined with the reticent manliness of the man, which
have endeared him to readers beyond perhaps any character in the book.
Major Pendennis has become immortal. Selfish, worldly, false, padded,
caring altogether for things mean and poor in themselves; still the
reader likes him. It is not quite all for himself. To Pen he is
good,--to Pen who is the head of his family, and to come after him as
the Pendennis of the day. To Pen and to Pen's mother he is beneficent
after his lights. In whatever he undertakes it is so contrived that the
reader shall in some degree sympathise with him. And so it is with poor
old Costigan, the drunken Irish captain, Miss Fotheringay's papa. He was
not a pleasant person. "We have witnessed the déshabille of Major
Pendennis," says our author; "will any one wish to be valet-de-chambre
to our other hero, Costigan? It would seem that the captain, before
issuing from his bedroom, scented himself with otto of whisky." Yet
there is a kindliness about him which softens our hearts, though in
truth he is very careful that the kindness shall always be shown to

Among these people Pen makes his way to the end of the novel, coming
near to shipwreck on various occasions, and always deserving the
shipwreck which he has almost encountered. Then there will arise the
question whether it might not have been better that he should be
altogether shipwrecked, rather than housed comfortably with such a wife
as Laura, and left to that enjoyment of happiness forever after, which
is the normal heaven prepared for heroes and heroines who have done
their work well through three volumes. It is almost the only instance in
all Thackeray's works in which this state of bliss is reached. George
Osborne, who is the beautiful lover in _Vanity Fair_, is killed almost
before our eyes, on the field of battle, and we feel that Nemesis has
with justice taken hold of him. Poor old Dobbin does marry the widow,
after fifteen years of further service, when we know him to be a
middle-aged man and her a middle-aged woman. That glorious Paradise of
which I have spoken requires a freshness which can hardly be attributed
to the second marriage of a widow who has been fifteen years mourning
for her first husband. Clive Newcome, "the first young man," if we may
so call him, of the novel which I shall mention just now, is carried so
far beyond his matrimonial elysium that we are allowed to see too
plainly how far from true may be those promises of hymeneal happiness
forever after. The cares of married life have settled down heavily upon
his young head before we leave him. He not only marries, but loses his
wife, and is left a melancholy widower with his son. Esmond and Beatrix
certainly reach no such elysium as that of which we are speaking. But
Pen, who surely deserved a Nemesis, though perhaps not one so black as
that demanded by George Osborne's delinquencies, is treated as though he
had been passed through the fire, and had come out,--if not pure gold,
still gold good enough for goldsmiths. "And what sort of a husband will
this Pendennis be?" This is the question asked by the author himself at
the end of the novel; feeling, no doubt, some hesitation as to the
justice of what he had just done. "And what sort of a husband will this
Pendennis be?" many a reader will ask, doubting the happiness of such a
marriage and the future of Laura. The querists are referred to that lady
herself, who, seeing his faults and wayward moods--seeing and owning
that there are better men than he--loves him always with the most
constant affection. The assertion could be made with perfect confidence,
but is not to the purpose. That Laura's affection should be constant, no
one would doubt; but more than that is wanted for happiness. How about
Pendennis and his constancy?

_The Newcomes_, which I bracket in this chapter with _Pendennis_, was
not written till after _Esmond_, and appeared between that novel and
_The Virginians_, which was a sequel to _Esmond_. It is supposed to be
edited by Pen, whose own adventures we have just completed, and is
commenced by that celebrated night passed by Colonel Newcome and his boy
Clive at the Cave of Harmony, during which the colonel is at first so
pleasantly received and so genially entertained, but from which he is at
last banished, indignant at the iniquities of our drunken old friend
Captain Costigan, with whom we had become intimate in Pen's own memoirs.
The boy Clive is described as being probably about sixteen. At the end
of the story he has run through the adventures of his early life, and is
left a melancholy man, a widower, one who has suffered the extremity of
misery from a stepmother, and who is wrapped up in the only son that is
left to him,--as had been the case with his father at the beginning of
the novel. _The Newcomes_, therefore, like Thackeray's other tales, is
rather a slice from the biographical memoirs of a family, than a romance
or novel in itself.

It is full of satire from the first to the last page. Every word of it
seems to have been written to show how vile and poor a place this world
is; how prone men are to deceive, how prone to be deceived. There is a
scene in which "his Excellency Rummun Loll, otherwise his Highness
Rummun Loll," is introduced to Colonel Newcome,--or rather
presented,--for the two men had known each other before. All London was
talking of Rummun Loll, taking him for an Indian prince, but the
colonel, who had served in India, knew better. Rummun Loll was no more
than a merchant, who had made a precarious fortune by doubtful means.
All the girls, nevertheless, are running after his Excellency. "He's
known to have two wives already in India," says Barnes Newcome; "but, by
gad, for a settlement, I believe some of the girls here would marry
him." We have a delightful illustration of the London girls, with their
bare necks and shoulders, sitting round Rummun Loll and worshipping him
as he reposes on his low settee. There are a dozen of them so enchanted
that the men who wish to get a sight of the Rummun are quite kept at a
distance. This is satire on the women. A few pages on we come upon a
clergyman who is no more real than Rummun Loll. The clergyman, Charles
Honeyman, had married the colonel's sister and had lost his wife, and
now the brothers-in-law meet. "'Poor, poor Emma!' exclaimed the
ecclesiastic, casting his eyes towards the chandelier and passing a
white cambric pocket-handkerchief gracefully before them. No man in
London understood the ring business or the pocket-handkerchief business
better, or smothered his emotion more beautifully. 'In the gayest
moments, in the giddiest throng of fashion, the thoughts of the past
will rise; the departed will be among us still. But this is not the
strain wherewith to greet the friend newly arrived on our shores. How it
rejoices me to behold you in old England.'" And so the satirist goes on
with Mr. Honeyman the clergyman. Mr. Honeyman the clergyman has been
already mentioned, in that extract made in our first chapter from _Lovel
the Widower_. It was he who assisted another friend, "with his wheedling
tongue," in inducing Thackeray to purchase that "neat little literary
paper,"--called then _The Museum_, but which was in truth _The National
Standard_. In describing Barnes Newcome, the colonel's relative,
Thackeray in the same scene attacks the sharpness of the young men of
business of the present day. There were, or were to be, some
transactions with Rummun Loll, and Barnes Newcome, being in doubt, asks
the colonel a question or two as to the certainty of the Rummun's money,
much to the colonel's disgust. "The young man of business had dropped
his drawl or his languor, and was speaking quite unaffectedly,
good-naturedly, and selfishly. Had you talked to him for a week you
would not have made him understand the scorn and loathing with which the
colonel regarded him. Here was a young fellow as keen as the oldest
curmudgeon,--a lad with scarce a beard to his chin, that would pursue
his bond as rigidly as Shylock." "Barnes Newcome never missed a church,"
he goes on, "or dressing for dinner. He never kept a tradesman waiting
for his money. He seldom drank too much, and never was late for
business, or huddled over his toilet, however brief his sleep or severe
his headache. In a word, he was as scrupulously whited as any sepulchre
in the whole bills of mortality." Thackeray had lately seen some Barnes
Newcome when he wrote that.

It is all satire; but there is generally a touch of pathos even through
the satire. It is satire when Miss Quigley, the governess in Park
Street, falls in love with the old colonel after some dim fashion of her
own. "When she is walking with her little charges in the Park, faint
signals of welcome appear on her wan cheeks. She knows the dear colonel
amidst a thousand horsemen." The colonel had drunk a glass of wine with
her after his stately fashion, and the foolish old maid thinks too much
of it. Then we are told how she knits purses for him, "as she sits alone
in the schoolroom,--high up in that lone house, when the little ones are
long since asleep,--before her dismal little tea-tray, and her little
desk containing her mother's letters and her mementoes of home." Miss
Quigley is an ass; but we are made to sympathise entirely with the ass,
because of that morsel of pathos as to her mother's letters.

Clive Newcome, our hero, who is a second Pen, but a better fellow, is
himself a satire on young men,--on young men who are idle and ambitious
at the same time. He is a painter; but, instead of being proud of his
art, is half ashamed of it,--because not being industrious he has not,
while yet young, learned to excel. He is "doing" a portrait of Mrs.
Pendennis, Laura, and thus speaks of his business. "No. 666,"--he is
supposed to be quoting from the catalogue of the Royal Academy for the
year,--"No. 666. Portrait of Joseph Muggins, Esq., Newcome, George
Street. No. 979. Portrait of Mrs. Muggins on her gray pony, Newcome. No.
579. Portrait of Joseph Muggins, Esq.'s dog Toby, Newcome. This is what
I am fit for. These are the victories I have set myself on achieving. Oh
Mrs. Pendennis! isn't it humiliating? Why isn't there a war? Why haven't
I a genius? There is a painter who lives hard by, and who begs me to
come and look at his work. He is in the Muggins line too. He gets his
canvases with a good light upon them; excludes the contemplation of
other objects; stands beside his picture in an attitude himself; and
thinks that he and they are masterpieces. Oh me, what drivelling
wretches we are! Fame!--except that of just the one or two,--what's the
use of it?" In all of which Thackeray is speaking his own feelings about
himself as well as the world at large. What's the use of it all? Oh
vanitas vanitatum! Oh vanity and vexation of spirit! "So Clive Newcome,"
he says afterwards, "lay on a bed of down and tossed and tumbled there.
He went to fine dinners, and sat silent over them; rode fine horses, and
black care jumped up behind the moody horseman." As I write this I have
before me a letter from Thackeray to a friend describing his own
success when _Vanity Fair_ was coming out, full of the same feeling. He
is making money, but he spends it so fast that he never has any; and as
for the opinions expressed on his books, he cares little for what he
hears. There was always present to him a feeling of black care seated
behind the horseman,--and would have been equally so had there been no
real care present to him. A sardonic melancholy was the characteristic
most common to him,--which, however, was relieved by an always present
capacity for instant frolic. It was these attributes combined which made
him of all satirists the most humorous, and of all humorists the most
satirical. It was these that produced the Osbornes, the Dobbins, the
Pens, the Clives, and the Newcomes, whom, when he loved them the most,
he could not save himself from describing as mean and unworthy. A
somewhat heroic hero of romance,--such a one, let us say, as Waverley,
or Lovel in _The Antiquary_, or Morton in _Old Mortality_,--was
revolting to him, as lacking those foibles which human nature seemed to
him to demand.

The story ends with two sad tragedies, neither of which would have been
demanded by the story, had not such sadness been agreeable to the
author's own idiosyncrasy. The one is the ruin of the old colonel's
fortunes, he having allowed himself to be enticed into bubble
speculations; and the other is the loss of all happiness, and even
comfort, to Clive the hero, by the abominations of his mother-in-law.
The woman is so iniquitous, and so tremendous in her iniquities, that
she rises to tragedy. Who does not know Mrs. Mack the Campaigner? Why at
the end of his long story should Thackeray have married his hero to so
lackadaisical a heroine as poor little Rosey, or brought on the stage
such a she-demon as Rosey's mother? But there is the Campaigner in all
her vigour, a marvel of strength of composition,--one of the most
vividly drawn characters in fiction;--but a woman so odious that one is
induced to doubt whether she should have been depicted.

The other tragedy is altogether of a different kind, and though
unnecessary to the story, and contrary to that practice of story-telling
which seems to demand that calamities to those personages with whom we
are to sympathise should not be brought in at the close of a work of
fiction, is so beautifully told that no lover of Thackeray's work would
be willing to part with it. The old colonel, as we have said, is ruined
by speculation, and in his ruin is brought to accept the alms of the
brotherhood of the Grey Friars. Then we are introduced to the Charter
House, at which, as most of us know, there still exists a brotherhood of
the kind. He dons the gown,--this old colonel, who had always been
comfortable in his means, and latterly apparently rich,--and occupies
the single room, and eats the doled bread, and among his poor brothers
sits in the chapel of his order. The description is perhaps as fine as
anything that Thackeray ever did. The gentleman is still the gentleman,
with all the pride of gentry;--but not the less is he the humble
bedesman, aware that he is living upon charity, not made to grovel by
any sense of shame, but knowing that, though his normal pride may be
left to him, an outward demeanour of humility is befitting.

And then he dies. "At the usual evening hour the chapel bell began to
toll, and Thomas Newcome's hands outside the bed feebly beat time,--and,
just as the last bell struck, a peculiar sweet smile shone over his
face, and he lifted up his head a little, and quickly said,
'Adsum,'--and fell back. It was the word we used at school when names
were called; and, lo, he whose heart was as that of a little child had
answered to his name, and stood in the presence of his Maker!"



The novel with which we are now going to deal I regard as the greatest
work that Thackeray did. Though I do not hesitate to compare himself
with himself, I will make no comparison between him and others; I
therefore abstain from assigning to _Esmond_ any special niche among
prose fictions in the English language, but I rank it so high as to
justify me in placing him among the small number of the highest class of
English novelists. Much as I think of _Barry Lyndon_ and _Vanity Fair_,
I cannot quite say this of them; but, as a chain is not stronger than
its weakest link, so is a poet, or a dramatist, or a novelist to be
placed in no lower level than that which he has attained by his highest
sustained flight. The excellence which has been reached here Thackeray
achieved, without doubt, by giving a greater amount of forethought to
the work he had before him than had been his wont. When we were young we
used to be told, in our house at home, that "elbow-grease" was the one
essential necessary to getting a tough piece of work well done. If a
mahogany table was to be made to shine, it was elbow-grease that the
operation needed. Forethought is the elbow-grease which a novelist,--or
poet, or dramatist,--requires. It is not only his plot that has to be
turned and re-turned in his mind, not his plot chiefly, but he has to
make himself sure of his situations, of his characters, of his effects,
so that when the time comes for hitting the nail he may know where to
hit it on the head,--so that he may himself understand the passion, the
calmness, the virtues, the vices, the rewards and punishments which he
means to explain to others,--so that his proportions shall be correct,
and he be saved from the absurdity of devoting two-thirds of his book to
the beginning, or two-thirds to the completion of his task. It is from
want of this special labour, more frequently than from intellectual
deficiency, that the tellers of stories fail so often to hit their nails
on the head. To think of a story is much harder work than to write it.
The author can sit down with the pen in his hand for a given time, and
produce a certain number of words. That is comparatively easy, and if he
have a conscience in regard to his task, work will be done regularly.
But to think it over as you lie in bed, or walk about, or sit cosily
over your fire, to turn it all in your thoughts, and make the things
fit,--that requires elbow-grease of the mind. The arrangement of the
words is as though you were walking simply along a road. The arrangement
of your story is as though you were carrying a sack of flour while you
walked. Fielding had carried his sack of flour before he wrote _Tom
Jones_, and Scott his before he produced _Ivanhoe_. So had Thackeray
done,--a very heavy sack of flour,--in creating _Esmond_. In _Vanity
Fair_, in _Pendennis_, and in _The Newcomes_, there was more of that
mere wandering in which no heavy burden was borne. The richness of the
author's mind, the beauty of his language, his imagination and
perception of character are all there. For that which was lovely he has
shown his love, and for the hateful his hatred; but, nevertheless, they
are comparatively idle books. His only work, as far as I can judge them,
in which there is no touch of idleness, is _Esmond_. _Barry Lyndon_ is
consecutive, and has the well-sustained purpose of exhibiting a finished
rascal; but _Barry Lyndon_ is not quite the same from beginning to end.
All his full-fledged novels, except _Esmond_, contain rather strings of
incidents and memoirs of individuals, than a completed story. But
_Esmond_ is a whole from beginning to end, with its tale well told, its
purpose developed, its moral brought home,--and its nail hit well on the
head and driven in.

I told Thackeray once that it was not only his best work, but so much
the best, that there was none second to it. "That was what I intended,"
he said, "but I have failed. Nobody reads it. After all, what does it
matter?" he went on after awhile. "If they like anything, one ought to
be satisfied. After all, Esmond was a prig." Then he laughed and changed
the subject, not caring to dwell on thoughts painful to him. The
elbow-grease of thinking was always distasteful to him, and had no doubt
been so when he conceived and carried out this work.

To the ordinary labour necessary for such a novel he added very much by
his resolution to write it in a style different, not only from that
which he had made his own, but from that also which belonged to the
time. He had devoted himself to the reading of the literature of Queen
Anne's reign, and having chosen to throw his story into that period, and
to create in it personages who were to be peculiarly concerned with the
period, he resolved to use as the vehicle for his story the forms of
expression then prevalent. No one who has not tried it can understand
how great is the difficulty of mastering a phase of one's own language
other than that which habit has made familiar. To write in another
language, if the language be sufficiently known, is a much less arduous
undertaking. The lad who attempts to write his essay in Ciceronian Latin
struggles to achieve a style which is not indeed common to him, but is
more common than any other he has become acquainted with in that tongue.
But Thackeray in his work had always to remember his Swift, his Steele,
and his Addison, and to forget at the same time the modes of expression
which the day had adopted. Whether he asked advice on the subject, I do
not know. But I feel sure that if he did he must have been counselled
against it. Let my reader think what advice he would give to any writer
on such a subject. Probably he asked no advice, and would have taken
none. No doubt he found himself, at first imperceptibly, gliding into a
phraseology which had attractions for his ear, and then probably was so
charmed with the peculiarly masculine forms of sentences which thus
became familiar to him, that he thought it would be almost as difficult
to drop them altogether as altogether to assume the use of them. And if
he could do so successfully, how great would be the assistance given to
the local colouring which is needed for a novel in prose, the scene of
which is thrown far back from the writer's period! Were I to write a
poem about Coeur de Lion I should not mar my poem by using the simple
language of the day; but if I write a prose story of the time, I cannot
altogether avoid some attempt at far-away quaintnesses in language. To
call a purse a "gypsire," and to begin your little speeches with "Marry
come up," or to finish them with "Quotha," are but poor attempts. But
even they have had their effect. Scott did the best he could with his
Coeur de Lion. When we look to it we find that it was but little;
though in his hands it passed for much. "By my troth," said the knight,
"thou hast sung well and heartily, and in high praise of thine order."
We doubt whether he achieved any similarity to the language of the time;
but still, even in the little which he attempted there was something of
the picturesque. But how much more would be done if in very truth the
whole language of a story could be thrown with correctness into the form
of expression used at the time depicted?

It was this that Thackeray tried in his _Esmond_, and he has done it
almost without a flaw. The time in question is near enough to us, and
the literature sufficiently familiar to enable us to judge. Whether folk
swore by their troth in the days of king Richard I. we do not know, but
when we read Swift's letters, and Addison's papers, or Defoe's novels we
do catch the veritable sounds of Queen Anne's age, and can say for
ourselves whether Thackeray has caught them correctly or not. No reader
can doubt that he has done so. Nor is the reader ever struck with the
affectation of an assumed dialect. The words come as though they had
been written naturally,--though not natural to the middle of the
nineteenth century. It was a tour de force; and successful as such a
tour de force so seldom is. But though Thackeray was successful in
adopting the tone he wished to assume, he never quite succeeded, as far
as my ear can judge, in altogether dropping it again.

And yet it has to be remembered that though _Esmond_ deals with the
times of Queen Anne, and "copies the language" of the time, as Thackeray
himself says in the dedication, the story is not supposed to have been
written till the reign of George II. Esmond in his narrative speaks of
Fielding and Hogarth, who did their best work under George II. The idea
is that Henry Esmond, the hero, went out to Virginia after the events
told, and there wrote the memoir in the form of an autobiography. The
estate of Castlewood in Virginia had been given to the Esmond family by
Charles II., and this Esmond, our hero, finding that expatriation would
best suit both his domestic happiness and his political
difficulties,--as the reader of the book will understand might be the
case,--settles himself in the colony, and there writes the history of
his early life. He retains the manners, and with the manners the
language of his youth. He lives among his own people, a country
gentleman with a broad domain, mixing but little with the world beyond,
and remains an English gentleman of the time of Queen Anne. The story is
continued in _The Virginians_, the name given to a record of two lads
who were grandsons of Harry Esmond, whose names are Warrington. Before
_The Virginians_ appeared we had already become acquainted with a scion
of that family, the friend of Arthur Pendennis, a younger son of Sir
Miles Warrington, of Suffolk. Henry Esmond's daughter had in a previous
generation married a younger son of the then baronet. This is mentioned
now to show the way in which Thackeray's mind worked afterwards upon the
details and characters which he had originated in _Esmond_.

It is not my purpose to tell the story here, but rather to explain the
way in which it is written, to show how it differs from other stories,
and thus to explain its effect. Harry Esmond, who tells the story, is of
course the hero. There are two heroines who equally command our
sympathy,--Lady Castlewood the wife of Harry's kinsman, and her
daughter Beatrix. Thackeray himself declared the man to be a prig, and
he was not altogether wrong. Beatrix, with whom throughout the whole
book he is in love, knew him well. "Shall I be frank with you, Harry,"
she says, when she is engaged to another suitor, "and say that if you
had not been down on your knees and so humble, you might have fared
better with me? A woman of my spirit, cousin, is to be won by gallantry,
and not by sighs and rueful faces. All the time you are worshipping and
singing hymns to me, I know very well I am no goddess." And again: "As
for you, you want a woman to bring your slippers and cap, and to sit at
your feet and cry, O caro, caro! O bravo! whilst you read your
Shakespeares and Miltons and stuff." He was a prig, and the girl he
loved knew him, and being quite of another way of thinking herself,
would have nothing to say to him in the way of love. But without
something of the aptitudes of a prig the character which the author
intended could not have been drawn. There was to be courage,--military
courage,--and that propensity to fighting which the tone of the age
demanded in a finished gentleman. Esmond therefore is ready enough to
use his sword. But at the same time he has to live as becomes one whose
name is in some degree under a cloud; for though he be not in truth an
illegitimate offshoot of the noble family which is his, and though he
knows that he is not so, still he has to live as though he were. He
becomes a soldier, and it was just then that our army was accustomed "to
swear horribly in Flanders." But Esmond likes his books, and cannot
swear or drink like other soldiers. Nevertheless he has a sort of liking
for fast ways in others, knowing that such are the ways of a gallant
cavalier. There is a melancholy over his life which makes him always,
to himself and to others, much older than his years. He is well aware
that, being as he is, it is impossible that Beatrix should love him. Now
and then there is a dash of lightness about him, as though he had taught
himself in his philosophy that even sorrow may be borne with a
smile,--as though there was something in him of the Stoic's doctrine,
which made him feel that even disappointed love should not be seen to
wound too deep. But still when he smiles, even when he indulges in some
little pleasantry, there is that garb of melancholy over him which
always makes a man a prig. But he is a gentleman from the crown of his
head to the sole of his foot. Thackeray had let the whole power of his
intellect apply itself to a conception of the character of a gentleman.
This man is brave, polished, gifted with that old-fashioned courtesy
which ladies used to love, true as steel, loyal as faith himself, with a
power of self-abnegation which astonishes the criticising reader when he
finds such a virtue carried to such an extent without seeming to be
unnatural. To draw the picture of a man and say that he is gifted with
all the virtues is easy enough,--easy enough to describe him as
performing all the virtues. The difficulty is to put your man on his
legs, and make him move about, carrying his virtues with a natural gait,
so that the reader shall feel that he is becoming acquainted with flesh
and blood, not with a wooden figure. The virtues are all there with
Henry Esmond, and the flesh and blood also, so that the reader believes
in them. But still there is left a flavour of the character which
Thackeray himself tasted when he called his hero a prig.

The two heroines, Lady Castlewood and Beatrix, are mother and daughter,
of whom the former is in love with Esmond, and the latter is loved by
him. Fault has been found with the story, because of the unnatural
rivalry,--because it has been felt that a mother's solicitude for her
daughter should admit of no such juxtaposition. But the criticism has
come, I think, from those who have failed to understand, not from those
who have understood, the tale;--not because they have read it, but
because they have not read it, and have only looked at it or heard of
it. Lady Castlewood is perhaps ten years older than the boy Esmond, whom
she first finds in her husband's house, and takes as a protégé; and from
the moment in which she finds that he is in love with her own daughter,
she does her best to bring about a marriage between them. Her husband is
alive, and though he is a drunken brute,--after the manner of lords of
that time,--she is thoroughly loyal to him. The little touches, of which
the woman is herself altogether unconscious, that gradually turn a love
for the boy into a love for the man, are told so delicately, that it is
only at last that the reader perceives what has in truth happened to the
woman. She is angry with him, grateful to him, careful over him,
gradually conscious of all his worth, and of all that he does to her and
hers, till at last her heart is unable to resist. But then she is a
widow;--and Beatrix has declared that her ambition will not allow her to
marry so humble a swain, and Esmond has become,--as he says of himself
when he calls himself "an old gentleman,"--"the guardian of all the
family," "fit to be the grandfather of you all."

The character of Lady Castlewood has required more delicacy in its
manipulation than perhaps any other which Thackeray has drawn. There is
a mixture in it of self-negation and of jealousy, of gratefulness of
heart and of the weary thoughtfulness of age, of occasional
sprightliness with deep melancholy, of injustice with a thorough
appreciation of the good around her, of personal weakness,--as shown
always in her intercourse with her children, and of personal
strength,--as displayed when she vindicates the position of her kinsman
Henry to the Duke of Hamilton, who is about to marry Beatrix;--a mixture
which has required a master's hand to trace. These contradictions are
essentially feminine. Perhaps it must be confessed that in the
unreasonableness of the woman, the author has intended to bear more
harshly on the sex than it deserves. But a true woman will forgive him,
because of the truth of Lady Castlewood's heart. Her husband had been
killed in a duel, and there were circumstances which had induced her at
the moment to quarrel with Harry and to be unjust to him. He had been
ill, and had gone away to the wars, and then she had learned the truth,
and had been wretched enough. But when he comes back, and she sees him,
by chance at first, as the anthem is being sung in the cathedral choir,
as she is saying her prayers, her heart flows over with tenderness to
him. "I knew you would come back," she said; "and to-day, Harry, in the
anthem when they sang it,--'When the Lord turned the captivity of Zion
we were like them that dream,'--I thought, yes, like them that
dream,--them that dream. And then it went on, 'They that sow in tears
shall reap in joy, and he that goeth forth and weepeth, shall doubtless
come home again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.' I looked
up from the book and saw you. I was not surprised when I saw you. I knew
you would come, my dear, and saw the gold sunshine round your head." And
so it goes on, running into expressions of heartmelting tenderness. And
yet she herself does not know that her own heart is seeking his with
all a woman's love. She is still willing that he should possess Beatrix.
"I would call you my son," she says, "sooner than the greatest prince in
Europe." But she warns him of the nature of her own girl. "'Tis for my
poor Beatrix I tremble, whose headstrong will affrights me, whose
jealous temper, and whose vanity no prayers of mine can cure." It is but
very gradually that Esmond becomes aware of the truth. Indeed, he has
not become altogether aware of it till the tale closes. The reader does
not see that transfer of affection from the daughter to the mother which
would fail to reach his sympathy. In the last page of the last chapter
it is told that it is so,--that Esmond marries Lady Castlewood,--but it
is not told till all the incidents of the story have been completed.

But of the three characters I have named, Beatrix is the one that has
most strongly exercised the writer's powers, and will most interest the
reader. As far as outward person is concerned she is very lovely,--so
charming, that every man that comes near to her submits himself to her
attractions and caprices. It is but rarely that a novelist can succeed
in impressing his reader with a sense of female loveliness. The attempt
is made so frequently,--comes so much as a matter of course in every
novel that is written, and fails so much as a matter of course, that the
reader does not feel the failure. There are things which we do not
expect to have done for us in literature because they are done so
seldom. Novelists are apt to describe the rural scenes among which their
characters play their parts, but seldom leave any impression of the
places described. Even in poetry how often does this occur? The words
used are pretty, well chosen, perhaps musical to the ear, and in that
way befitting; but unless the spot has violent characteristics of its
own, such as Burley's cave or the waterfall of Lodore, no striking
portrait is left. Nor are we disappointed as we read, because we have
not been taught to expect it to be otherwise. So it is with those
word-painted portraits of women, which are so frequently given and so
seldom convey any impression. Who has an idea of the outside look of
Sophia Western, or Edith Bellenden, or even of Imogen, though
Iachimo, who described her, was so good at words? A series of
pictures,--illustrations,--as we have with Dickens' novels, and with
Thackeray's, may leave an impression of a figure,--though even then not
often of feminine beauty. But in this work Thackeray has succeeded in
imbuing us with a sense of the outside loveliness of Beatrix by the mere
force of words. We are not only told it, but we feel that she was such a
one as a man cannot fail to covet, even when his judgment goes against
his choice.

Here the judgment goes altogether against the choice. The girl grows up
before us from her early youth till her twenty-fifth or twenty-sixth
year, and becomes,--such as her mother described her,--one whose
headlong will, whose jealousy, and whose vanity nothing could restrain.
She has none of those soft foibles, half allied to virtues, by which
weak women fall away into misery or perhaps distraction. She does not
want to love or to be loved. She does not care to be fondled. She has no
longing for caresses. She wants to be admired,--and to make use of the
admiration she shall achieve for the material purposes of her life. She
wishes to rise in the world; and her beauty is the sword with which she
must open her oyster. As to her heart, it is a thing of which she
becomes aware, only to assure herself that it must be laid aside and
put out of the question. Now and again Esmond touches it. She just
feels that she has a heart to be touched. But she never has a doubt as
to her conduct in that respect. She will not allow her dreams of
ambition to be disturbed by such folly as love.

In all that there might be something, if not good and great,
nevertheless grand, if her ambition, though worldly, had in it a touch
of nobility. But this poor creature is made with her bleared blind eyes
to fall into the very lowest depths of feminine ignobility. One lover
comes after another. Harry Esmond is, of course, the lover with whom the
reader interests himself. At last there comes a duke,--fifty years old,
indeed, but with semi-royal appanages. As his wife she will become a
duchess, with many diamonds, and be her Excellency. The man is stern,
cold, and jealous; but she does not doubt for a moment. She is to be
Duchess of Hamilton, and towers already in pride of place above her
mother, and her kinsman lover, and all her belongings. The story here,
with its little incidents of birth, and blood, and ignoble pride, and
gratified ambition, with a dash of true feminine nobility on the part of
the girl's mother, is such as to leave one with the impression that it
has hardly been beaten in English prose fiction. Then, in the last
moment, the duke is killed in a duel, and the news is brought to the
girl by Esmond. She turns upon him and rebukes him harshly. Then she
moves away, and feels in a moment that there is nothing left for her in
this world, and that she can only throw herself upon devotion for
consolation. "I am best in my own room and by myself," she said. Her
eyes were quite dry, nor did Esmond ever see them otherwise, save once,
in respect of that grief. She gave him a cold hand as she went out.
"Thank you, brother," she said in a low voice, and with a simplicity
more touching than tears, "all that you have said is true and kind, and
I will go away and will ask pardon."

But the consolation coming from devotion did not go far with such a one
as her. We cannot rest on religion merely by saying that we will do so.
Very speedily there comes consolation in another form. Queen Anne is on
her deathbed, and a young Stuart prince appears upon the scene, of whom
some loyal hearts dream that they can make a king. He is such as Stuarts
were, and only walks across the novelist's canvas to show his folly and
heartlessness. But there is a moment in which Beatrix thinks that she
may rise in the world to the proud place of a royal mistress. That is
her last ambition! That is her pride! That is to be her glory! The
bleared eyes can see no clearer than that. But the mock prince passes
away, and nothing but the disgrace of the wish remains.

Such is the story of _Esmond_, leaving with it, as does all Thackeray's
work, a melancholy conviction of the vanity of all things human.
_Vanitas vanitatum_, as he wrote on the pages of the French lady's
album, and again in one of the earlier numbers of _The Cornhill
Magazine_. With much that is picturesque, much that is droll, much that
is valuable as being a correct picture of the period selected, the gist
of the book is melancholy throughout. It ends with the promise of
happiness to come, but that is contained merely in a concluding
paragraph. The one woman, during the course of the story, becomes a
widow, with a living love in which she has no hope, with children for
whom her fears are almost stronger than her affection, who never can
rally herself to happiness for a moment. The other, with all her beauty
and all her brilliance, becomes what we have described,--and marries at
last her brother's tutor, who becomes a bishop by means of her
intrigues. Esmond, the hero, who is compounded of all good gifts, after
a childhood and youth tinged throughout with melancholy, vanishes from
us, with the promise that he is to be rewarded by the hand of the mother
of the girl he has loved.

And yet there is not a page in the book over which a thoughtful reader
cannot pause with delight. The nature in it is true nature. Given a
story thus sad, and persons thus situated, and it is thus that the
details would follow each other, and thus that the people would conduct
themselves. It was the tone of Thackeray's mind to turn away from the
prospect of things joyful, and to see,--or believe that he saw,--in all
human affairs, the seed of something base, of something which would be
antagonistic to true contentment. All his snobs, and all his fools, and
all his knaves, come from the same conviction. Is it not the doctrine on
which our religion is founded,--though the sadness of it there is
alleviated by the doubtful promise of a heaven?

     Though thrice a thousand years are passed
       Since David's son, the sad and splendid,
     The weary king ecclesiast
       Upon his awful tablets penned it.

So it was that Thackeray preached his sermon. But melancholy though it
be, the lesson taught in _Esmond_ is salutary from beginning to end. The
sermon truly preached is that glory can only come from that which is
truly glorious, and that the results of meanness end always in the mean.
No girl will be taught to wish to shine like Beatrix, nor will any youth
be made to think that to gain the love of such a one it can be worth his
while to expend his energy or his heart.

_Esmond_ was published in 1852. It was not till 1858, some time after he
had returned from his lecturing tours, that he published the sequel
called _The Virginians_. It was first brought out in twenty-four monthly
numbers, and ran through the years 1858 and 1859, Messrs. Bradbury and
Evans having been the publishers. It takes up by no means the story of
_Esmond_, and hardly the characters. The twin lads, who are called the
Virginians, and whose name is Warrington, are grandsons of Esmond and
his wife Lady Castlewood. Their one daughter, born at the estate in
Virginia, had married a Warrington, and the Virginians are the issue of
that marriage. In the story, one is sent to England, there to make his
way; and the other is for awhile supposed to have been killed by the
Indians. How he was not killed, but after awhile comes again forward in
the world of fiction, will be found in the story, which it is not our
purpose to set forth here. The most interesting part of the narrative is
that which tells us of the later fortunes of Madame Beatrix,--the
Baroness Bernstein,--the lady who had in her youth been Beatrix Esmond,
who had then condescended to become Mrs. Tasker, the tutor's wife,
whence she rose to be the "lady" of a bishop, and, after the bishop had
been put to rest under a load of marble, had become the baroness,--a
rich old woman, courted by all her relatives because of her wealth.

In _The Virginians_, as a work of art, is discovered, more strongly than
had shown itself yet in any of his works, that propensity to wandering
which came to Thackeray because of his idleness. It is, I think, to be
found in every book he ever wrote,--except _Esmond_; but is here more
conspicuous than it had been in his earlier years. Though he can settle
himself down to his pen and ink,--not always even to that without a
struggle, but to that with sufficient burst of energy to produce a
large average amount of work,--he cannot settle himself down to the task
of contriving a story. There have been those,--and they have not been
bad judges of literature,--who have told me that they have best liked
these vague narratives. The mind of the man has been clearly exhibited
in them. In them he has spoken out his thoughts, and given the world to
know his convictions, as well as could have been done in the carrying
out any well-conducted plot. And though the narratives be vague, the
characters are alive. In _The Virginians_, the two young men and their
mother, and the other ladies with whom they have to deal, and especially
their aunt, the Baroness Bernstein, are all alive. For desultory
reading, for that picking up of a volume now and again which requires
permission to forget the plot of a novel, this novel is admirably
adapted. There is not a page of it vacant or dull. But he who takes it
up to read as a whole, will find that it is the work of a desultory
writer, to whom it is not infrequently difficult to remember the
incidents of his own narrative. "How good it is, even as it is!--but if
he would have done his best for us, what might he not have done!" This,
I think, is what we feel when we read _The Virginians_. The author's
mind has in one way been active enough,--and powerful, as it always is;
but he has been unable to fix it to an intended purpose, and has gone on
from day to day furthering the difficulty he has intended to master,
till the book, under the stress of circumstances,--demands for copy and
the like,--has been completed before the difficulty has even in truth
been encountered.



As so much of Thackeray's writing partakes of the nature of burlesque,
it would have been unnecessary to devote a separate chapter to the
subject, were it not that there are among his tales two or three so
exceedingly good of their kind, coming so entirely up to our idea of
what a prose burlesque should be, that were I to omit to mention them I
should pass over a distinctive portion of our author's work.

The volume called _Burlesques_, published in 1869, begins with the
_Novels by Eminent Hands_, and _Jeames's Diary_, to which I have already
alluded. It contains also _The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan_,
_A Legend of the Rhine_, and _Rebecca and Rowena_. It is of these that I
will now speak. _The History of the Next French Revolution_ and _Cox's
Diary_, with which the volume is concluded, are, according to my
thinking, hardly equal to the others; nor are they so properly called

Nor will I say much of Major Gahagan, though his adventures are very
good fun. He is a warrior,--that is, of course,--and he is one in whose
wonderful narrative all that distant India can produce in the way of
boasting, is superadded to Ireland's best efforts in the same line.
Baron Munchausen was nothing to him; and to the bare and simple
miracles of the baron is joined that humour without which Thackeray
never tells any story. This is broad enough, no doubt, but is still
humour;--as when the major tells us that he always kept in his own
apartment a small store of gunpowder; "always keeping it under my bed,
with a candle burning for fear of accidents." Or when he describes his
courage; "I was running,--running as the brave stag before the
hounds,--running, as I have done a great number of times in my life,
when there was no help for it but a run." Then he tells us of his
digestion. "Once in Spain I ate the leg of a horse, and was so eager to
swallow this morsel, that I bolted the shoe as well as the hoof, and
never felt the slightest inconvenience from either." He storms a
citadel, and has only a snuff box given him for his reward. "Never
mind," says Major Gahagan; "when they want me to storm a fort again, I
shall know better." By which we perceive that the major remembered his
Horace, and had in his mind the soldier who had lost his purse. But the
major's adventures, excellent as they are, lack the continued interest
which is attached to the two following stories.

Of what nature is _The Legend of the Rhine_, we learn from the
commencement. "It was in the good old days of chivalry, when every
mountain that bathes its shadow in the Rhine had its castle; not
inhabited as now by a few rats and owls, nor covered with moss and
wallflowers and funguses and creeping ivy. No, no; where the ivy now
clusters there grew strong portcullis and bars of steel; where the
wallflowers now quiver in the ramparts there were silken banners
embroidered with wonderful heraldry; men-at-arms marched where now you
shall only see a bank of moss or a hideous black champignon; and in
place of the rats and owlets, I warrant me there were ladies and
knights to revel in the great halls, and to feast and dance, and to make
love there." So that we know well beforehand of what kind will this
story be. It will be pure romance,--burlesqued. "Ho seneschal, fill me a
cup of hot liquor; put sugar in it, good fellow; yea, and a little hot
water,--but very little, for my soul is sad as I think of those days and
knights of old."

A knight is riding alone on his war-horse, with all his armour with
him,--and his luggage. His rank is shown by the name on his portmanteau,
and his former address and present destination by a card which was
attached. It had run, "Count Ludwig de Hombourg, Jerusalem, but the name
of the Holy City had been dashed out with the pen, and that of Godesberg
substituted." "By St. Hugo of Katzenellenbogen," said the good knight
shivering, "'tis colder here than at Damascus. Shall I be at Godesberg
in time for dinner?" He has come to see his friend Count Karl, Margrave
of Godesberg.

But at Godesberg everything is in distress and sorrow. There is a new
inmate there, one Sir Gottfried, since whose arrival the knight of the
castle has become a wretched man, having been taught to believe all
evils of his wife, and of his child Otto, and a certain stranger, one
Hildebrandt. Gottfried, we see with half an eye, has done it all. It is
in vain that Ludwig de Hombourg tells his old friend Karl that this
Gottfried is a thoroughly bad fellow, that he had been found to be a
cardsharper in the Holy Land, and had been drummed out of his regiment.
"'Twas but some silly quarrel over the wine-cup," says Karl. "Hugo de
Brodenel would have no black bottle on the board." We think we can
remember the quarrel of "Brodenel" and the black bottle, though so many
things have taken place since that.

There is a festival in the castle, and Hildebrandt comes with the other
guests. Then Ludwig's attention is called by poor Karl, the father, to a
certain family likeness. Can it be that he is not the father of his own
child? He is playing cards with his friend Ludwig when that traitor
Gottfried comes and whispers to him, and makes an appointment. "I will
be there too," thought Count Ludwig, the good Knight of Hombourg.

On the next morning, before the stranger knight had shaken off his
slumbers, all had been found out and everything done. The lady has been
sent to a convent and her son to a monastery. The knight of the castle
has no comfort but in his friend Gottfried, a distant cousin who is to
inherit everything. All this is told to Sir Ludwig,--who immediately
takes steps to repair the mischief. "A cup of coffee straight," says he
to the servitors. "Bid the cook pack me a sausage and bread in paper,
and the groom saddle Streithengst. We have far to ride." So this
redresser of wrongs starts off, leaving the Margrave in his grief.

Then there is a great fight between Sir Ludwig and Sir Gottfried,
admirably told in the manner of the later chroniclers,--a hermit sitting
by and describing everything almost as well as Rebecca did on the tower.
Sir Ludwig being in the right, of course gains the day. But the escape
of the fallen knight's horse is the cream of this chapter. "Away, ay,
away!--away amid the green vineyards and golden cornfields; away up the
steep mountains, where he frightened the eagles in their eyries; away
down the clattering ravines, where the flashing cataracts tumble; away
through the dark pine-forests, where the hungry wolves are howling; away
over the dreary wolds, where the wild wind walks alone; away through the
splashing quagmires, where the will-o'-the wisp slunk frightened among
the reeds; away through light and darkness, storm and sunshine; away by
tower and town, highroad and hamlet.... Brave horse! gallant steed!
snorting child of Araby! On went the horse, over mountains, rivers,
turnpikes, applewomen; and never stopped until he reached a
livery-stable in Cologne, where his master was accustomed to put him

The conquered knight, Sir Gottfried, of course reveals the truth. This
Hildebrandt is no more than the lady's brother,--as it happened a
brother in disguise,--and hence the likeness. Wicked knights when they
die always divulge their wicked secrets, and this knight Gottfried does
so now. Sir Ludwig carries the news home to the afflicted husband and
father; who of course instantly sends off messengers for his wife and
son. The wife won't come. All she wants is to have her dresses and
jewels sent to her. Of so cruel a husband she has had enough. As for the
son, he has jumped out of a boat on the Rhine, as he was being carried
to his monastery, and was drowned!

But he was not drowned, but had only dived. "The gallant boy swam on
beneath the water, never lifting his head for a single moment between
Godesberg and Cologne; the distance being twenty-five or thirty miles."

Then he becomes an archer, dressed in green from head to foot. How it
was is all told in the story; and he goes to shoot for a prize at the
Castle of Adolf the Duke of Cleeves. On his way he shoots a raven
marvellously,--almost as marvellously as did Robin Hood the twig in
Ivanhoe. Then one of his companions is married, or nearly married, to
the mysterious "Lady of Windeck,"--would have been married but for Otto,
and that the bishop and dean, who were dragged up from their long-ago
graves to perform the ghostly ceremony, were prevented by the ill-timed
mirth of a certain old canon of the church named Schidnischmidt. The
reader has to read the name out long before he recognises an old friend.
But this of the Lady of Windeck is an episode.

How at the shooting-match, which of course ensued, Otto shot for and won
the heart of a fair lady, the duke's daughter, need not be told here,
nor how he quarrelled with the Rowski of Donnerblitz,--the hideous and
sulky, but rich and powerful, nobleman who had come to take the hand,
whether he could win the heart or not, of the daughter of the duke. It
is all arranged according to the proper and romantic order. Otto, though
he enlists in the duke's archer-guard as simple soldier, contrives to
fight with the Rowski de Donnerblitz, Margrave of Eulenschrenkenstein,
and of course kills him. "'Yield, yield, Sir Rowski!' shouted he in a
calm voice. A blow dealt madly at his head was the reply. It was the
last blow that the count of Eulenschrenkenstein ever struck in battle.
The curse was on his lips as the crashing steel descended into his brain
and split it in two. He rolled like a dog from his horse, his enemy's
knee was in a moment on his chest, and the dagger of mercy at his
throat, as the knight once more called upon him to yield." The knight
was of course the archer who had come forward as an unknown champion,
and had touched the Rowski's shield with the point of his lance. For
this story, as well as the rest, is a burlesque on our dear old
favourite Ivanhoe.

That everything goes right at last, that the wife comes back from her
monastery, and joins her jealous husband, and that the duke's daughter
has always, in truth, known that the poor archer was a noble
knight,--these things are all matters of course.

But the best of the three burlesques is _Rebecca and Rowena, or A
Romance upon Romance_, which I need not tell my readers is a
continuation of _Ivanhoe_. Of this burlesque it is the peculiar
characteristic that, while it has been written to ridicule the persons
and the incidents of that perhaps the most favourite novel in the
English language, it has been so written that it would not have offended
the author had he lived to read it, nor does it disgust or annoy those
who most love the original. There is not a word in it having an
intention to belittle Scott. It has sprung from the genuine humour
created in Thackeray's mind by his aspect of the romantic. We remember
how reticent, how dignified was Rowena,--how cold we perhaps thought
her, whether there was so little of that billing and cooing, that
kissing and squeezing, between her and Ivanhoe which we used to think
necessary to lovers' blisses. And there was left too on our minds, an
idea that Ivanhoe had liked the Jewess almost as well as Rowena, and
that Rowena might possibly have become jealous. Thackeray's mind at once
went to work and pictured to him a Rowena such as such a woman might
become after marriage; and as Ivanhoe was of a melancholy nature and apt
to be hipped, and grave, and silent, as a matter of course Thackeray
presumes him to have been henpecked after his marriage.

Our dear Wamba disturbs his mistress in some devotional conversation
with her chaplain, and the stern lady orders that the fool shall have
three-dozen lashes. "I got you out of Front de Boeuf's castle," said
poor Wamba, piteously, appealing to Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe, "and canst
thou not save me from the lash?"

"Yes; from Front de Boeuf's castle, _when you were locked up with the
Jewess in the tower_!" said Rowena, haughtily replying to the timid
appeal of her husband. "Gurth, give him four-dozen,"--and this was all
poor Wamba got by applying for the mediation of his master. Then the
satirist moralises; "Did you ever know a right-minded woman pardon
another for being handsomer and more love-worthy than herself?" Rowena
is "always flinging Rebecca into Ivanhoe's teeth;" and altogether life
at Rotherwood, as described by the later chronicles, is not very happy
even when most domestic. Ivanhoe becomes sad and moody. He takes to
drinking, and his lady does not forget to tell him of it. "Ah dear axe!"
he exclaims, apostrophising his weapon, "ah gentle steel! that was a
merry time when I sent thee crashing into the pate of the Emir Abdul
Melek!" There was nothing left to him but his memories; and "in a word,
his life was intolerable." So he determines that he will go and look
after king Richard, who of course was wandering abroad. He anticipates a
little difficulty with his wife; but she is only too happy to let him
go, comforting herself with the idea that Athelstane will look after
her. So her husband starts on his journey. "Then Ivanhoe's trumpet blew.
Then Rowena waved her pocket-handkerchief. Then the household gave a
shout. Then the pursuivant of the good knight, Sir Wilfrid the Crusader,
flung out his banner,--which was argent, a gules cramoisy with three
Moors impaled,--then Wamba gave a lash on his mule's haunch, and
Ivanhoe, heaving a great sigh, turned the tail of his war-horse upon the
castle of his fathers."

Ivanhoe finds Coeur de Leon besieging the Castle of Chalons, and there
they both do wondrous deeds, Ivanhoe always surpassing the king. The
jealousy of the courtiers, the ingratitude of the king, and the
melancholy of the knight, who is never comforted except when he has
slaughtered some hundreds, are delightful. Roger de Backbite and Peter
de Toadhole are intended to be quite real. Then his majesty sings,
passing off as his own, a song of Charles Lever's. Sir Wilfrid declares
the truth, and twits the king with his falsehood, whereupon he has the
guitar thrown at his head for his pains. He catches the guitar, however,
gracefully in his left hand, and sings his own immortal ballad of _King
Canute_,--than which Thackeray never did anything better.

     "Might I stay the sun above us, good Sir Bishop?" Canute cried;
     "Could I bid the silver moon to pause upon her heavenly ride?
     If the moon obeys my orders, sure I can command the tide.

     Will the advancing waves obey me, Bishop, if I make the sign?"
     Said the bishop, bowing lowly; "Land and sea, my lord, are thine."
     Canute turned towards the ocean; "Back," he said, "thou foaming

     But the sullen ocean answered with a louder deeper roar,
     And the rapid waves drew nearer, falling, sounding on the shore;
     Back the keeper and the bishop, back the king and courtiers bore.

We must go to the book to look at the picture of the king as he is
killing the youngest of the sons of the Count of Chalons. Those
illustrations of Doyle's are admirable. The size of the king's head, and
the size of his battle-axe as contrasted with the size of the child, are
burlesque all over. But the king has been wounded by a bolt from the bow
of Sir Bertrand de Gourdon while he is slaughtering the infant, and
there is an end of him. Ivanhoe, too, is killed at the siege,--Sir Roger
de Backbite having stabbed him in the back during the scene. Had he not
been then killed, his widow Rowena could not have married Athelstane,
which she soon did after hearing the sad news; nor could he have had
that celebrated epitaph in Latin and English;

     Hie est Guilfridus, belli dum vixit avidus.
     Cum gladeo et lancea Normannia et quoque Francia
     Verbera dura dabat. Per Turcos multum equitabat.
     Guilbertum occidit;--atque Hyerosolyma vidit.
     Heu! nunc sub fossa sunt tanti militis ossa.
     Uxor Athelstani est conjux castissima Thani.[5]

The translation we are told was by Wamba;

     Under the stone you behold,
     Buried and coffined and cold,
     Lieth Sir Wilfrid the Bold.

     Always he marched in advance,
     Warring in Flanders and France,
     Doughty with sword and with lance

     Famous in Saracen fight,
     Rode in his youth, the Good Knight,
     Scattering Paynims in flight.

     Brian, the Templar untrue,
     Fairly in tourney he slew;
     Saw Hierusalem too.

     Now he is buried and gone,
     Lying beneath the gray stone.
     Where shall you find such a one?

     Long time his widow deplored,
     Weeping, the fate of her lord,
     Sadly cut off by the sword.

     When she was eased of her pain,
     Came the good lord Athelstane,
     When her ladyship married again.

The next chapter begins naturally as follows; "I trust nobody will
suppose, from the events described in the last chapter, that our friend
Ivanhoe is really dead." He is of course cured of his wounds, though
they take six years in the curing. And then he makes his way back to
Rotherwood, in a friar's disguise, much as he did on that former
occasion when we first met him, and there is received by Athelstane and
Rowena,--and their boy!--while Wamba sings him a song:

     Then you know the worth of a lass,
     Once you have come to forty year!

No one, of course, but Wamba knows Ivanhoe, who roams about the country,
melancholy,--as he of course would be,--charitable,--as he perhaps might
be,--for we are specially told that he had a large fortune and nothing
to do with it, and slaying robbers wherever he met them;--but sad at
heart all the time. Then there comes a little burst of the author's own
feelings, while he is burlesquing. "Ah my dear friends and British
public, are there not others who are melancholy under a mask of gaiety,
and who in the midst of crowds are lonely! Liston was a most melancholy
man; Grimaldi had feelings; and then others I wot of. But psha!--let us
have the next chapter." In all of which there was a touch of

Ivanhoe's griefs were enhanced by the wickedness of king John, under
whom he would not serve. "It was Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe, I need scarcely
say, who got the Barons of England to league together and extort from
the king that famous instrument and palladium of our liberties, at
present in the British Museum, Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury,--The
Magna Charta." Athelstane also quarrels with the king, whose orders he
disobeys, and Rotherwood is attacked by the royal army. No one was of
real service in the way of fighting except Ivanhoe,--and how could he
take up that cause? "No; be hanged to me," said the knight bitterly.
"This is a quarrel in which I can't interfere. Common politeness
forbids. Let yonder ale-swilling Athelstane defend his,--ha,
ha!--_wife_; and my Lady Rowena guard her,--ha, ha!--_son_!" and he
laughed wildly and madly.

But Athelstane is killed,--this time in earnest,--and then Ivanhoe
rushes to the rescue. He finds Gurth dead at the park-lodge, and though
he is all alone,--having outridden his followers,--he rushes up the
chestnut avenue to the house, which is being attacked. "An Ivanhoe! an
Ivanhoe!" he bellowed out with a shout that overcame all the din of
battle;--"Notre Dame à la recousse?" and to hurl his lance through the
midriff of Reginald de Bracy, who was commanding the assault,--who fell
howling with anguish,--to wave his battle-axe over his own head, and to
cut off those of thirteen men-at-arms, was the work of an instant. "An
Ivanhoe! an Ivanhoe!" he still shouted, and down went a man as sure as
he said "hoe!"

Nevertheless he is again killed by multitudes, or very nearly,--and has
again to be cured by the tender nursing of Wamba. But Athelstane is
really dead, and Rowena and the boy have to be found. He does his duty
and finds them,--just in time to be present at Rowena's death. She has
been put in prison by king John, and is in extremis when her first
husband gets to her. "Wilfrid, my early loved,"[6] slowly gasped she
removing her gray hair from her furrowed temples, and gazing on her boy
fondly as he nestled on Ivanhoe's knee,--"promise me by St. Waltheof of
Templestowe,--promise me one boon!"

"I do," said Ivanhoe, clasping the boy, and thinking that it was to that
little innocent that the promise was intended to apply.

"By St. Waltheof?"

"By St. Waltheof!"

"Promise me then," gasped Rowena, staring wildly at him, "that you will
never marry a Jewess!"

"By St. Waltheof!" cried Ivanhoe, "but this is too much," and he did not
make the promise.

"Having placed young Cedric at school at the Hall of Dotheboys, in
Yorkshire, and arranged his family affairs, Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe
quitted a country which had no longer any charm for him, as there was no
fighting to be done, and in which his stay was rendered less agreeable
by the notion that king John would hang him." So he goes forth and
fights again, in league with the Knights of St. John,--the Templars
naturally having a dislike to him because of Brian de Bois Guilbert.
"The only fault that the great and gallant, though severe and ascetic
Folko of Heydenbraten, the chief of the Order of St. John, found with
the melancholy warrior whose lance did such service to the cause, was
that he did not persecute the Jews as so religious a knight should. So
the Jews, in cursing the Christians, always excepted the name of the
Desdichado,--or the double disinherited, as he now was,--the Desdichado
Doblado." Then came the battle of Alarcos, and the Moors were all but in
possession of the whole of Spain. Sir Wilfrid, like other good
Christians, cannot endure this, so he takes ship in Bohemia, where he
happens to be quartered, and has himself carried to Barcelona, and
proceeds "to slaughter the Moors forthwith." Then there is a scene in
which Isaac of York comes on as a messenger, to ransom from a Spanish
knight, Don Beltram de Cuchilla y Trabuco, y Espada, y Espelon, a little
Moorish girl. The Spanish knight of course murders the little girl
instead of taking the ransom. Two hundred thousand dirhems are offered,
however much that may be; but the knight, who happens to be in funds at
the time, prefers to kill the little girl. All this is only necessary to
the story as introducing Isaac of York. Sir Wilfrid is of course intent
upon finding Rebecca. Through all his troubles and triumphs, from his
gaining and his losing of Rowena, from the day on which he had been
"_locked up with the Jewess in the tower_," he had always been true to
her. "Away from me!" said the old Jew, tottering. "Away, Rebecca
is,--dead!" Then Ivanhoe goes out and kills fifty thousand Moors, and
there is the picture of him,--killing them.

But Rebecca is not dead at all. Her father had said so because Rebecca
had behaved very badly to him. She had refused to marry the Moorish
prince, or any of her own people, the Jews, and had gone as far as to
declare her passion for Ivanhoe and her resolution to be a Christian.
All the Jews and Jewesses in Valencia turned against her,--so that she
was locked up in the back-kitchen and almost starved to death. But
Ivanhoe found her of course, and makes her Mrs. Ivanhoe, or Lady Wilfrid
the second. Then Thackeray tells us how for many years he, Thackeray,
had not ceased to feel that it ought to be so. "Indeed I have thought of
it any time these five-and-twenty years,--ever since, as a boy at
school, I commenced the noble study of novels,--ever since the day when,
lying on sunny slopes, of half-holidays, the fair chivalrous figures
and beautiful shapes of knights and ladies were visible to me, ever
since I grew to love Rebecca, that sweetest creature of the poet's
fancy, and longed to see her righted."

And so, no doubt, it had been. The very burlesque had grown from the way
in which his young imagination had been moved by Scott's romance. He had
felt from the time of those happy half-holidays in which he had been
lucky enough to get hold of the novel, that according to all laws of
poetic justice, Rebecca, as being the more beautiful and the more
interesting of the heroines, was entitled to the possession of the hero.
We have all of us felt the same. But to him had been present at the same
time all that is ludicrous in our ideas of middle-age chivalry; the
absurdity of its recorded deeds, the blood-thirstiness of its
recreations, the selfishness of its men, the falseness of its honour,
the cringing of its loyalty, the tyranny of its princes. And so there
came forth Rebecca and Rowena, all broad fun from beginning to end, but
never without a purpose,--the best burlesque, as I think, in our


[5] I doubt that Thackeray did not write the Latin epitaph, but I hardly
dare suggest the name of any author. The "vixit avidus" is quite worthy
of Thackeray; but had he tried his hand at such mode of expression he
would have done more of it. I should like to know whether he had been in
company with Father Prout at the time.

[6] There is something almost illnatured in his treatment of Rowena, who
is very false in her declarations of love;--and it is to be feared that
by Rowena, the author intends the normal married lady of English



In speaking of Thackeray's life I have said why and how it was that he
took upon himself to lecture, and have also told the reader that he was
altogether successful in carrying out the views proposed to himself. Of
his peculiar manner of lecturing I have said but little, never having
heard him. "He pounded along,--very clearly," I have been told; from
which I surmise that there was no special grace of eloquence, but that
he was always audible. I cannot imagine that he should have been ever
eloquent. He could not have taken the trouble necessary with his voice,
with his cadences, or with his outward appearance. I imagine that they
who seem so naturally to fall into the proprieties of elocution have
generally taken a great deal of trouble beyond that which the mere
finding of their words has cost them. It is clearly to the matter of
what he then gave the world, and not to the manner, that we must look
for what interest is to be found in the lectures.

Those on _The English Humorists_ were given first. The second set was on
_The Four Georges_. In the volume now before us _The Georges_ are
printed first, and the whole is produced simply as a part of Thackeray's
literary work. Looked at, however, in that light the merit of the two
sets of biographical essays is very different. In the one we have all
the anecdotes which could be brought together respecting four of our
kings,--who as men were not peculiar, though their reigns were, and will
always be, famous, because the country during the period was increasing
greatly in prosperity and was ever strengthening the hold it had upon
its liberties. In the other set the lecturer was a man of letters
dealing with men of letters, and himself a prince among humorists is
dealing with the humorists of his own country and language. One could
not imagine a better subject for such discourses from Thackeray's mouth
than the latter. The former was not, I think, so good.

In discussing the lives of kings the biographer may trust to personal
details or to historical facts. He may take the man, and say what good
or evil may be said of him as a man;--or he may take the period, and
tell his readers what happened to the country while this or the other
king was on the throne. In the case with which we are dealing, the
lecturer had not time enough or room enough for real history. His object
was to let his audience know of what nature were the men; and we are
bound to say that the pictures have not on the whole been flattering. It
was almost necessary that with such a subject such should be the result.
A story of family virtues, with princes and princesses well brought up,
with happy family relations, all couleur de rose,--as it would of course
become us to write if we were dealing with the life of a living
sovereign,--would not be interesting. No one on going to hear Thackeray
lecture on the Georges expected that. There must be some piquancy given,
or the lecture would be dull;--and the eulogy of personal virtues can
seldom be piquant. It is difficult to speak fittingly of a sovereign,
either living or not, long since gone. You can hardly praise such a
one without flattery. You can hardly censure him without injustice.
We are either ignorant of his personal doings or we know them as
secrets, which have been divulged for the most part either falsely or
treacherously,--often both falsely and treacherously. It is better,
perhaps, that we should not deal with the personalities of princes.

I believe that Thackeray fancied that he had spoken well of George III.,
and am sure that it was his intention to do so. But the impression he
leaves is poor. "He is said not to have cared for Shakespeare or tragedy
much; farces and pantomimes were his joy;--and especially when clown
swallowed a carrot or a string of sausages, he would laugh so
outrageously that the lovely princess by his side would have to say, 'My
gracious monarch, do compose yourself.' 'George, be a king!' were the
words which she,"--his mother,--"was ever croaking in the ears of her
son; and a king the simple, stubborn, affectionate, bigoted man tried to
be." "He did his best; he worked according to his lights; what virtues
he knew he tried to practise; what knowledge he could master he strove
to acquire." If the lectures were to be popular, it was absolutely
necessary that they should be written in this strain. A lecture simply
laudatory on the life of St. Paul would not draw even the bench of
bishops to listen to it; but were a flaw found in the apostle's life,
the whole Church of England would be bound to know all about it. I am
quite sure that Thackeray believed every word that he said in the
lectures, and that he intended to put in the good and the bad, honestly,
as they might come to his hand. We may be quite sure that he did not
intend to flatter the royal family;--equally sure that he would not
calumniate. There were, however, so many difficulties to be encountered
that I cannot but think that the subject was ill-chosen. In making them
so amusing as he did and so little offensive great ingenuity was shown.

I will now go back to the first series, in which the lecturer treated of
Swift, Congreve, Addison, Steele, Prior, Gay, Pope, Hogarth, Smollett,
Fielding, Sterne, and Goldsmith. All these Thackeray has put in their
proper order, placing the men from the date of their birth, except
Prior, who was in truth the eldest of the lot, but whom it was necessary
to depose, in order that the great Swift might stand first on the list,
and Smollett, who was not born till fourteen years after Fielding, eight
years after Sterne, and who has been moved up, I presume, simply from
caprice. From the birth of the first to the death of the last, was a
period of nearly a hundred years. They were never absolutely all alive
together; but it was nearly so, Addison and Prior having died before
Smollett was born. Whether we should accept as humorists the full
catalogue, may be a question; though we shall hardly wish to eliminate
any one from such a dozen of names. Pope we should hardly define as a
humorist, were we to be seeking for a definition specially fit for him,
though we shall certainly not deny the gift of humour to the author of
_The Rape of the Lock_, or to the translator of any portion of _The
Odyssey_. Nor should we have included Fielding or Smollett, in spite of
Parson Adams and Tabitha Bramble, unless anxious to fill a good company.
That Hogarth was specially a humorist no one will deny; but in speaking
of humorists we should have presumed, unless otherwise notified, that
humorists in letters only had been intended. As Thackeray explains
clearly what he means by a humorist, I may as well here repeat the
passage: "If humour only meant laughter, you would scarcely feel more
interest about humorous writers than about the private life of poor
Harlequin just mentioned, who possesses in common with these the power
of making you laugh. But the men regarding whose lives and stories your
kind presence here shows that you have curiosity and sympathy, appeal to
a great number of our other faculties, besides our mere sense of
ridicule. The humorous writer professes to awaken and direct your love,
your pity, your kindness,--your scorn for untruth, pretension,
imposture,--your tenderness for the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the
unhappy. To the best of his means and ability he comments on all the
ordinary actions and passions of life almost. He takes upon himself to
be the week-day preacher, so to speak. Accordingly, as he finds, and
speaks, and feels the truth best, we regard him, esteem him,--sometimes
love him. And as his business is to mark other people's lives and
peculiarities, we moralise upon _his_ life when he is gone,--and
yesterday's preacher becomes the text for to-day's sermon."

Having thus explained his purpose, Thackeray begins his task, and puts
Swift in his front rank as a humorist. The picture given of this great
man has very manifestly the look of truth, and if true, is terrible
indeed. We do, in fact, know it to be true,--even though it be admitted
that there is still room left for a book to be written on the life of
the fearful dean. Here was a man endued with an intellect pellucid as
well as brilliant; who could not only conceive but see also,--with some
fine instincts too; whom fortune did not flout; whom circumstances
fairly served; but who, from first to last, was miserable himself, who
made others miserable, and who deserved misery. Our business, during the
page or two which we can give to the subject, is not with Swift but
with Thackeray's picture of Swift. It is painted with colours terribly
strong and with shadows fearfully deep. "Would you like to have lived
with him?" Thackeray asks. Then he says how pleasant it would have been
to have passed some time with Fielding, Johnson, or Goldsmith. "I should
like to have been Shakespeare's shoeblack," he says. "But Swift! If you
had been his inferior in parts,--and that, with a great respect for all
persons present, I fear is only very likely,--his equal in mere social
station, he would have bullied, scorned, and insulted you. If,
undeterred by his great reputation, you had met him like a man, he would
have quailed before you and not had the pluck to reply,--and gone home,
and years after written a foul epigram upon you." There is a picture!
"If you had been a lord with a blue riband, who flattered his vanity, or
could help his ambition, he would have been the most delightful company
in the world.... How he would have torn your enemies to pieces for you,
and made fun of the Opposition! His servility was so boisterous that it
looked like independence." He was a man whose mind was never fixed on
high things, but was striving always after something which, little as it
might be, and successful as he was, should always be out of his reach.
It had been his misfortune to become a clergyman, because the way to
church preferment seemed to be the readiest. He became, as we all know,
a dean,--but never a bishop, and was therefore wretched. Thackeray
describes him as a clerical highwayman, seizing on all he could get. But
"the great prize has not yet come. The coach with the mitre and crozier
in it, which he intends to have for _his_ share, has been delayed on the
way from St. James's; and he waits and waits till nightfall, when his
runners come and tell him that the coach has taken a different way and
escaped him. So he fires his pistol into the air with a curse, and rides
away into his own country;"--or, in other words, takes a poor deanery in

Thackeray explains very correctly, as I think, the nature of the weapons
which the man used,--namely, the words and style with which he wrote.
"That Swift was born at No. 7, Hoey's Court, Dublin, on November 30,
1667, is a certain fact, of which nobody will deny the sister-island the
honour and glory; but it seems to me he was no more an Irishman than a
man born of English parents at Calcutta is a Hindoo. Goldsmith was an
Irishman and always an Irishman; Steele was an Irishman and always an
Irishman; Swift's heart was English and in England, his habits English,
his logic eminently English; his statement is elaborately simple; he
shuns tropes and metaphors, and uses his ideas and words with a wise
thrift and economy, as he used his money;--with which he could be
generous and splendid upon great occasions, but which he husbanded when
there was no need to spend it. He never indulges in needless
extravagance of rhetoric, lavish epithets, profuse imagery. He lays his
opinions before you with a grave simplicity and a perfect neatness."
This is quite true of him, and the result is that though you may deny
him sincerity, simplicity, humanity, or good taste, you can hardly find
fault with his language.

Swift was a clergyman, and this is what Thackeray says of him in regard
to his sacred profession. "I know of few things more conclusive as to
the sincerity of Swift's religion, than his advice to poor John Gay to
turn clergyman, and look out for a seat on the Bench! Gay, the author of
_The Beggar's Opera_; Gay, the wildest of the wits about town! It was
this man that Jonathan Swift advised to take orders, to mount in a
cassock and bands,--just as he advised him to husband his shillings, and
put his thousand pounds out to interest."

It was not that he was without religion,--or without, rather, his
religious beliefs and doubts, "for Swift," says Thackeray, "was a
reverent, was a pious spirit. For Swift could love and could pray." Left
to himself and to the natural thoughts of his mind, without those
"orders" to which he had bound himself as a necessary part of his trade,
he could have turned to his God with questionings which need not then
have been heartbreaking. "It is my belief," says Thackeray, "that he
suffered frightfully from the consciousness of his own scepticism, and
that he had bent his pride so far down as to put his apostasy out to
hire." I doubt whether any of Swift's works are very much read now, but
perhaps Gulliver's travels are oftener in the hands of modern readers
than any other. Of all the satires in our language it is probably the
most cynical, the most absolutely illnatured, and therefore the falsest.
Let those who care to form an opinion of Swift's mind from the best
known of his works, turn to Thackeray's account of Gulliver. I can
imagine no greater proof of misery than to have been able to write such
a book as that.

It is thus that the lecturer concludes his lecture about Swift. "He
shrank away from all affections sooner or later. Stella and Vanessa both
died near him, and away from him. He had not heart enough to see them
die. He broke from his fastest friend, Sheridan. He slunk away from his
fondest admirer, Pope. His laugh jars on one's ear after seven-score
years. He was always alone,--alone and gnashing in the darkness, except
when Stella's sweet smile came and shone on him. When that went, silence
and utter night closed over him. An immense genius, an awful downfall
and ruin! So great a man he seems to me, that thinking of him is like
thinking of an empire falling. We have other great names to
mention,--none I think, however, so great or so gloomy." And so we pass
on from Swift, feeling that though the man was certainly a humorist, we
have had as yet but little to do with humour.

Congreve is the next who, however truly he may have been a humorist, is
described here rather as a man of fashion. A man of fashion he certainly
was, but is best known in our literature as a comedian,--worshipping
that comic Muse to whom Thackeray hesitates to introduce his audience,
because she is not only merry but shameless also. Congreve's muse was
about as bad as any muse that ever misbehaved herself,--and I think, as
little amusing. "Reading in these plays now," says Thackeray, "is like
shutting your ears and looking at people dancing. What does it
mean?--the measures, the grimaces, the bowing, shuffling, and
retreating, the cavaliers seuls advancing upon their ladies, then ladies
and men twirling round at the end in a mad galop, after which everybody
bows and the quaint rite is celebrated?" It is always so with Congreve's
plays, and Etherege's and Wycherley's. The world we meet there is not
our world, and as we read the plays we have no sympathy with these
unknown people. It was not that they lived so long ago. They are much
nearer to us in time than the men and women who figured on the stage in
the reign of James I. But their nature is farther from our nature. They
sparkle but never warm. They are witty but leave no impression. I might
almost go further, and say that they are wicked but never allure. "When
Voltaire came to visit the Great Congreve," says Thackeray, "the latter
rather affected to despise his literary reputation; and in this,
perhaps, the great Congreve was not far wrong. A touch of Steele's
tenderness is worth all his finery; a flash of Swift's lightning, a beam
of Addison's pure sunshine, and his tawdry playhouse taper is invisible.
But the ladies loved him, and he was undoubtedly a pretty fellow."

There is no doubt as to the true humour of Addison, who next comes up
before us, but I think that he makes hardly so good a subject for a
lecturer as the great gloomy man of intellect, or the frivolous man of
pleasure. Thackeray tells us all that is to be said about him as a
humorist in so few lines that I may almost insert them on this page:
"But it is not for his reputation as the great author of _Cato_ and _The
Campaign_, or for his merits as Secretary of State, or for his rank and
high distinction as Lady Warwick's husband, or for his eminence as an
examiner of political questions on the Whig side, or a guardian of
British liberties, that we admire Joseph Addison. It is as a Tattler of
small talk and a Spectator of mankind that we cherish and love him, and
owe as much pleasure to him as to any human being that ever wrote. He
came in that artificial age, and began to speak with his noble natural
voice. He came the gentle satirist, who hit no unfair blow; the kind
judge, who castigated only in smiling. While Swift went about hanging
and ruthless, a literary Jeffreys, in Addison's kind court only minor
cases were tried;--only peccadilloes and small sins against society,
only a dangerous libertinism in tuckers and hoops, or a nuisance in the
abuse of beaux canes and snuffboxes." Steele set _The Tatler_ a going.
"But with his friend's discovery of _The Tatler_, Addison's calling was
found, and the most delightful Tattler in the world began to speak. He
does not go very deep. Let gentlemen of a profound genius, critics
accustomed to the plunge of the bathos, console themselves by thinking
that he couldn't go very deep. There is no trace of suffering in his
writing. He was so good, so honest, so healthy, so cheerfully
selfish,--if I must use the word!"

Such was Addison as a humorist; and when the hearer shall have heard
also,--or the reader read,--that this most charming Tattler also wrote
_Cato_, became a Secretary of State, and married a countess, he will
have learned all that Thackeray had to tell of him.

Steele was one who stood much less high in the world's esteem, and who
left behind him a much smaller name,--but was quite Addison's equal as a
humorist and a wit. Addison, though he had the reputation of a toper,
was respectability itself. Steele was almost always disreputable. He was
brought from Ireland, placed at the Charter House, and then transferred
to Oxford, where he became acquainted with Addison. Thackeray says that
"Steele found Addison a stately college don at Oxford." The stateliness
and the don's rank were attributable no doubt to the more sober
character of the English lad, for, in fact, the two men were born in the
same year, 1672. Steele, who during his life was affected by various
different tastes, first turned himself to literature, but early in life
was bitten by the hue of a red coat and became a trooper in the Horse
Guards. To the end he vacillated in the same way. "In that charming
paper in _The Tatler_, in which he records his father's death, his
mother's griefs, his own most solemn and tender emotions, he says he is
interrupted by the arrival of a hamper of wine, 'the same as is to be
sold at Garraway's next week;' upon the receipt of which he sends for
three friends, and they fall to instantly, drinking two bottles apiece,
with great benefit to themselves, and not separating till two o'clock in
the morning."

He had two wives, whom he loved dearly and treated badly. He hired grand
houses, and bought fine horses for which he could never pay. He was
often religious, but more often drunk. As a man of letters, other men of
letters who followed him, such as Thackeray, could not be very proud of
him. But everybody loved him; and he seems to have been the inventor of
that flying literature which, with many changes in form and manner, has
done so much for the amusement and edification of readers ever since his
time. He was always commencing, or carrying on,--often editing,--some
one of the numerous periodicals which appeared during his time.
Thackeray mentions seven: _The Tatler_, _The Spectator_, _The Guardian_,
_The Englishman_, _The Lover_, _The Reader_, and _The Theatre_; that
three of them are well known to this day,--the three first named,--and
are to be found in all libraries, is proof that his life was not thrown

I almost question Prior's right to be in the list, unless indeed the
mastery over well-turned conceits is to be included within the border of
humour. But Thackeray had a strong liking for Prior, and in his own
humorous way rebukes his audience for not being familiar with _The Town
and Country Mouse_. He says that Prior's epigrams have the genuine
sparkle, and compares Prior to Horace. "His song, his philosophy, his
good sense, his happy easy turns and melody, his loves and his
epicureanism bear a great resemblance to that most delightful and
accomplished master." I cannot say that I agree with this. Prior is
generally neat in his expression. Horace is happy,--which is surely a
great deal more.

All that is said of Gay, Pope, Hogarth, Smollett, and Fielding is worth
reading, and may be of great value both to those who have not time to
study the authors, and to those who desire to have their own judgments
somewhat guided, somewhat assisted. That they were all men of humour
there can be no doubt. Whether either of them, except perhaps Gay, would
have been specially ranked as a humorist among men of letters, may be a

Sterne was a humorist, and employed his pen in that line, if ever a
writer did so, and so was Goldsmith. Of the excellence and largeness of
the disposition of the one, and the meanness and littleness of the
other, it is not necessary that I should here say much. But I will give
a short passage from our author as to each. He has been quoting somewhat
at length from Sterne, and thus he ends; "And with this pretty dance and
chorus the volume artfully concludes. Even here one can't give the whole
description. There is not a page in Sterne's writing but has something
that were better away, a latent corruption,--a hint as of an impure
presence. Some of that dreary double entendre may be attributed to freer
times and manners than ours,--but not all. The foul satyr's eyes leer
out of the leaves constantly. The last words the famous author wrote
were bad and wicked. The last lines the poor stricken wretch penned were
for pity and pardon." Now a line or two about Goldsmith, and I will then
let my reader go to the volume and study the lectures for himself. "The
poor fellow was never so friendless but that he could befriend some
one; never so pinched and wretched but he could give of his crust, and
speak his word of compassion. If he had but his flute left, he would
give that, and make the children happy in the dreary London courts."

Of this too I will remind my readers,--those who have bookshelves
well-filled to adorn their houses,--that Goldsmith stands in the front
where all the young people see the volumes. There are few among the
young people who do not refresh their sense of humour occasionally from
that shelf, Sterne is relegated to some distant and high corner. The
less often that he is taken down the better. Thackeray makes some half
excuse for him because of the greater freedom of the times. But "the
times" were the same for the two. Both Sterne and Goldsmith wrote in the
reign of George II.; both died in the reign of George III.



We have a volume of Thackeray's poems, republished under the name of
_Ballads_, which is, I think, to a great extent a misnomer. They are all
readable, almost all good, full of humour, and with some fine touches of
pathos, most happy in their versification, and, with a few exceptions,
hitting well on the head the nail which he intended to hit. But they are
not on that account ballads. Literally, a ballad is a song, but it has
come to signify a short chronicle in verse, which may be political, or
pathetic, or grotesque,--or it may have all three characteristics or any
two of them; but not on that account is any grotesque poem a
ballad,--nor, of course, any pathetic or any political poem. _Jacob
Omnium's Hoss_ may fairly be called a ballad, containing as it does a
chronicle of a certain well-defined transaction; and the story of _King
Canute_ is a ballad,--one of the best that has been produced in our
language in modern years. But such pieces as those called _The End of
the Play_ and _Vanitas Vanitatum_, which are didactic as well as
pathetic, are not ballads in the common sense; nor are such songs as
_The Mahogany Tree_, or the little collection called _Love Songs made
Easy_. The majority of the pieces are not ballads, but if they be good
of the kind we should be ungrateful to quarrel much with the name.

How very good most of them are, I did not know till I re-read them for
the purpose of writing this chapter. There is a manifest falling off in
some few,--which has come from that source of literary failure which is
now so common. If a man write a book or a poem because it is in him to
write it,--the motive power being altogether in himself and coming from
his desire to express himself,--he will write it well, presuming him to
be capable of the effort. But if he write his book or poem simply
because a book or poem is required from him, let his capability be what
it may, it is not unlikely that he will do it badly. Thackeray
occasionally suffered from the weakness thus produced. A ballad from
_Policeman X_,--_Bow Street Ballads_ they were first called,--was
required by _Punch_, and had to be forthcoming, whatever might be the
poet's humour, by a certain time. _Jacob Omnium's Hoss_ is excellent.
His heart and feeling were all there, on behalf of his friend, and
against that obsolete old court of justice. But we can tell well when he
was looking through the police reports for a subject, and taking what
chance might send him, without any special interest in the matter. _The
Knight and the Lady of Bath_, and the _Damages Two Hundred Pounds_, as
they were demanded at Guildford, taste as though they were written to

Here, in his verses as in his prose, the charm of Thackeray's work lies
in the mingling of humour with pathos and indignation. There is hardly a
piece that is not more or less funny, hardly a piece that is not
satirical;--and in most of them, for those who will look a little below
the surface, there is something that will touch them. Thackeray, though
he rarely uttered a word, either with his pen or his mouth, in which
there was not an intention to reach our sense of humour, never was only
funny. When he was most determined to make us laugh, he had always a
further purpose;--some pity was to be extracted from us on behalf of the
sorrows of men, or some indignation at the evil done by them.

This is the beginning of that story as to the _Two Hundred Pounds_, for
which as a ballad I do not care very much:

     Special jurymen of England who admire your country's laws,
     And proclaim a British jury worthy of the nation's applause,
     Gaily compliment each other at the issue of a cause,
     Which was tried at Guildford 'sizes, this day week as ever was.

Here he is indignant, not only in regard to some miscarriage of justice
on that special occasion, but at the general unfitness of jurymen for
the work confided to them. "Gaily compliment yourselves," he says, "on
your beautiful constitution, from which come such beautiful results as
those I am going to tell you!" When he reminded us that Ivanhoe had
produced Magna Charta, there was a purpose of irony even there in regard
to our vaunted freedom. With all your Magna Charta and your juries, what
are you but snobs! There is nothing so often misguided as general
indignation, and I think that in his judgment of outside things, in the
measure which he usually took of them, Thackeray was very frequently
misguided. A satirist by trade will learn to satirise everything, till
the light of the sun and the moon's loveliness will become evil and mean
to him. I think that he was mistaken in his views of things. But we have
to do with him as a writer, not as a political economist or a
politician. His indignation was all true, and the expression of it was
often perfect. The lines in which he addresses that Pallis Court, at
the end of Jacob Omnium's Hoss, are almost sublime.

     O Pallis Court, you move
       My pity most profound.
     A most amusing sport
       You thought it, I'll be bound,
     To saddle hup a three-pound debt,
       With two-and-twenty pound.

     Good sport it is to you
       To grind the honest poor,
     To pay their just or unjust debts
       With eight hundred per cent, for Lor;
     Make haste and get your costes in,
       They will not last much mor!

     Come down from that tribewn,
       Thou shameless and unjust;
     Thou swindle, picking pockets in
       The name of Truth august;
     Come down, thou hoary Blasphemy,
       For die thou shalt and must.

     And go it, Jacob Homnium,
       And ply your iron pen,
     And rise up, Sir John Jervis,
       And shut me up that den;
     That sty for fattening lawyers in,
       On the bones of honest men.

"Come down from that tribewn, thou shameless and unjust!" It is
impossible not to feel that he felt this as he wrote it.

There is a branch of his poetry which he calls,--or which at any rate is
now called, _Lyra Hybernica_, for which no doubt _The Groves of Blarney_
was his model. There have been many imitations since, of which perhaps
Barham's ballad on the coronation was the best, "When to Westminster the
Royal Spinster and the Duke of Leinster all in order did repair!"
Thackeray in some of his attempts has been equally droll and equally
graphic. That on _The Cristal Palace_,--not that at Sydenham, but its
forerunner, the palace of the Great Exhibition,--is very good, as the
following catalogue of its contents will show;

     There's holy saints
     And window paints,
       By Maydiayval Pugin;
     Alhamborough Jones
     Did paint the tones
       Of yellow and gambouge in.

     There's fountains there
     And crosses fair;
       There's water-gods with urns;
     There's organs three,
     To play, d'ye see?
       "God save the Queen," by turns.

     There's statues bright
     Of marble white,
       Of silver, and of copper;
     And some in zinc,
     And some, I think,
       That isn't over proper.

     There's staym ingynes,
     That stands in lines,
       Enormous and amazing,
     That squeal and snort
     Like whales in sport,
       Or elephants a grazing.

     There's carts and gigs,
     And pins for pigs,
       There's dibblers and there's harrows,
     And ploughs like toys
     For little boys,
       And ilegant wheel-barrows.

     For thim genteels
     Who ride on wheels,
       There's plenty to indulge 'em
     There's droskys snug
     From Paytersbug,
       And vayhycles from Bulgium.

     There's cabs on stands
     And shandthry danns;
       There's waggons from New York here;
     There's Lapland sleighs
     Have cross'd the seas,
       And jaunting cyars from Cork here.

In writing this Thackeray was a little late with his copy for _Punch_;
not, we should say, altogether an uncommon accident to him. It should
have been with the editor early on Saturday, if not before, but did not
come till late on Saturday evening. The editor, who was among men the
most good-natured and I should think the most forbearing, either could
not, or in this case would not, insert it in the next week's issue, and
Thackeray, angry and disgusted, sent it to _The Times_. In _The Times_
of next Monday it appeared,--very much I should think to the delight of
the readers of that august newspaper.

Mr. Molony's account of the ball given to the Nepaulese ambassadors by
the Peninsular and Oriental Company, is so like Barham's coronation in
the account it gives of the guests, that one would fancy it must be by
the same hand.

     The noble Chair[7] stud at the stair
       And bade the dhrums to thump; and he
     Did thus evince to that Black Prince
       The welcome of his Company.[8]

     O fair the girls and rich the curls,
       And bright the oys you saw there was;
     And fixed each oye you then could spoi
       On General Jung Bahawther was!

     This gineral great then tuck his sate,
       With all the other ginerals,
     Bedad his troat, his belt, his coat,
       All bleezed with precious minerals;
     And as he there, with princely air,
       Recloinin on his cushion was,
     All round about his royal chair
       The squeezin and the pushin was.

     O Pat, such girls, such jukes and earls,
       Such fashion and nobilitee!
     Just think of Tim, and fancy him
       Amidst the high gentilitee!
     There was the Lord de L'Huys, and the Portygeese
       Ministher and his lady there,
     And I recognised, with much surprise,
       Our messmate, Bob O'Grady, there.

All these are very good fun,--so good in humour and so good in
expression, that it would be needless to criticise their peculiar
dialect, were it not that Thackeray has made for himself a reputation by
his writing of Irish. In this he has been so entirely successful that
for many English readers he has established a new language which may
not improperly be called Hybernico-Thackerayan. If comedy is to be got
from peculiarities of dialect, as no doubt it is, one form will do as
well as another, so long as those who read it know no better. So it has
been with Thackeray's Irish, for in truth he was not familiar with the
modes of pronunciation which make up Irish brogue. Therefore, though he
is always droll, he is not true to nature. Many an Irishman coming to
London, not unnaturally tries to imitate the talk of Londoners. You or
I, reader, were we from the West, and were the dear County Galway to
send either of us to Parliament, would probably endeavour to drop the
dear brogue of our country, and in doing so we should make some
mistakes. It was these mistakes which Thackeray took for the natural
Irish tone. He was amused to hear a major called "Meejor," but was
unaware that the sound arose from Pat's affection of English softness of
speech. The expression natural to the unadulterated Irishman would
rather be "Ma-ajor." He discovers his own provincialism, and trying to
be polite and urbane, he says "Meejor." In one of the lines I have
quoted there occurs the word "troat." Such a sound never came naturally
from the mouth of an Irishman. He puts in an h instead of omitting it,
and says "dhrink." He comes to London, and finding out that he is wrong
with his "dhrink," he leaves out all the h's he can, and thus comes to
"troat." It is this which Thackeray has heard. There is a little piece
called the _Last Irish Grievance_, to which Thackeray adds a still later
grievance, by the false sounds which he elicits from the calumniated
mouth of the pretended Irish poet. Slaves are "sleeves," places are
"pleeces," Lord John is "Lard Jahn," fatal is "fetal," danger is
"deenger," and native is "neetive." All these are unintended slanders.
Tea, Hibernicé, is "tay," please is "plaise," sea is "say," and ease is
"aise." The softer sound of e is broadened out by the natural
Irishman,--not, to my ear, without a certain euphony;--but no one in
Ireland says or hears the reverse. The Irishman who in London might talk
of his "neetive" race, would be mincing his words to please the ear of
the cockney.

_The Chronicle of the Drum_ would be a true ballad all through, were it
not that there is tacked on to it a long moral in an altered metre. I do
not much value the moral, but the ballad is excellent, not only in much
of its versification and in the turns of its language, but in the quaint
and true picture it gives of the French nation. The drummer, either by
himself or by some of his family, has drummed through a century of
French battling, caring much for his country and its glory, but
understanding nothing of the causes for which he is enthusiastic.
Whether for King, Republic, or Emperor, whether fighting and conquering
or fighting and conquered, he is happy as long as he can beat his drum
on a field of glory. But throughout his adventures there is a touch of
chivalry about our drummer. In all the episodes of his country's career
he feels much of patriotism and something of tenderness. It is thus he
sings during the days of the Revolution:

     We had taken the head of King Capet,
       We called for the blood of his wife;
     Undaunted she came to the scaffold,
       And bared her fair neck to the knife.
     As she felt the foul fingers that touched her,
       She shrank, but she deigned not to speak;
     She looked with a royal disdain,
       And died with a blush on her cheek!

     'Twas thus that our country was saved!
       So told us the Safety Committee!
     But, psha, I've the heart of a soldier,--
       All gentleness, mercy, and pity.
     I loathed to assist at such deeds,
       And my drum beat its loudest of tunes,
     As we offered to justice offended,
       The blood of the bloody tribunes.

     Away with such foul recollections!
       No more of the axe and the block.
     I saw the last fight of the sections,
       As they fell 'neath our guns at St. Rock.
     Young Bonaparte led us that day.

And so it goes on. I will not continue the stanza, because it contains
the worst rhyme that Thackeray ever permitted himself to use. _The
Chronicle of the Drum_ has not the finish which he achieved afterwards,
but it is full of national feeling, and carries on its purpose to the
end with an admirable persistency;

     A curse on those British assassins
       Who ordered the slaughter of Ney;
     A curse on Sir Hudson who tortured
       The life of our hero away.
     A curse on all Russians,--I hate them;
       On all Prussian and Austrian fry;
     And, oh, but I pray we may meet them
       And fight them again ere I die.

_The White Squall_,--which I can hardly call a ballad, unless any
description of a scene in verse may be included in the name,--is surely
one of the most graphic descriptions ever put into verse. Nothing
written by Thackeray shows more plainly his power over words and rhymes.
He draws his picture without a line omitted or a line too much, saying
with apparent facility all that he has to say, and so saying it that
every word conveys its natural meaning.

     When a squall, upon a sudden,
     Came o'er the waters scudding;
     And the clouds began to gather,
     And the sea was lashed to lather,
     And the lowering thunder grumbled,
     And the lightning jumped and tumbled,
     And the ship and all the ocean
     Woke up in wild commotion.
     Then the wind set up a howling,
     And the poodle dog a yowling,
     And the cocks began a crowing,
     And the old cow raised a lowing,
     As she heard the tempest blowing;
     And fowls and geese did cackle,
     And the cordage and the tackle
     Began to shriek and crackle;
     And the spray dashed o'er the funnels,
     And down the deck in runnels;
     And the rushing water soaks all,
     From the seamen in the fo'ksal
     To the stokers whose black faces
     Peer out of their bed-places;
     And the captain, he was bawling,
     And the sailors pulling, hauling,
     And the quarter-deck tarpauling
     Was shivered in the squalling;
     And the passengers awaken,
     Most pitifully shaken;
     And the steward jumps up and hastens
     For the necessary basins.

     Then the Greeks they groaned and quivered,
     And they knelt, and moaned, and shivered,
     As the plunging waters met them,
     And splashed and overset them;
     And they call in their emergence
     Upon countless saints and virgins;
     And their marrowbones are bended,
     And they think the world is ended.

     And the Turkish women for'ard
     Were frightened and behorror'd;
     And shrieking and bewildering,
     The mothers clutched their children;
     The men sang "Allah! Illah!
     Mashallah Bis-millah!"
     As the warning waters doused them,
     And splashed them and soused them
     And they called upon the Prophet,
     And thought but little of it.

     Then all the fleas in Jewry
     Jumped up and bit like fury;
     And the progeny of Jacob
     Did on the main-deck wake up.
     (I wot these greasy Rabbins
     Would never pay for cabins);
     And each man moaned and jabbered in
     His filthy Jewish gaberdine,
     In woe and lamentation,
     And howling consternation.
     And the splashing water drenches
     Their dirty brats and wenches;
     And they crawl from bales and benches,
     In a hundred thousand stenches.
     This was the White Squall famous,
     Which latterly o'ercame us.

_Peg of Limavaddy_ has always been very popular, and the public have
not, I think, been generally aware that the young lady in question lived
in truth at Newton Limavady (with one d). But with the correct name
Thackeray would hardly have been so successful with his rhymes.

     Citizen or Squire
       Tory, Whig, or Radi-
     Cal would all desire
       Peg of Limavaddy.
     Had I Homer's fire
       Or that of Sergeant Taddy
     Meetly I'd admire
       Peg of Limavaddy.
     And till I expire
       Or till I go mad I
     Will sing unto my lyre
       Peg of Limavaddy.

_The Cane-bottomed Chair_ is another, better, I think, than _Peg of
Limavaddy_, as containing that mixture of burlesque with the pathetic
which belonged so peculiarly to Thackeray, and which was indeed the very
essence of his genius.

     But of all the cheap treasures that garnish my nest,
       There's one that I love and I cherish the best.
     For the finest of couches that's padded with hair
       I never would change thee, my cane-bottomed chair.

     'Tis a bandy-legged, high-bottomed, worm-eaten seat,
       With a creaking old back and twisted old feet;
     But since the fair morning when Fanny sat there,
       I bless thee and love thee, old cane-bottomed chair.

            *       *       *       *       *

     She comes from the past and revisits my room,
       She looks as she then did all beauty and bloom;
     So smiling and tender, so fresh and so fair,
       And yonder she sits in my cane-bottomed chair.

This, in the volume which I have now before me, is followed by a picture
of Fanny in the chair, to which I cannot but take exception. I am quite
sure that when Fanny graced the room and seated herself in the chair of
her old bachelor friend, she had not on a low dress and loosely-flowing
drawing-room shawl, nor was there a footstool ready for her feet. I
doubt also the headgear. Fanny on that occasion was dressed in her
morning apparel, and had walked through the streets, carried no fan,
and wore no brooch but one that might be necessary for pinning her

_The Great Cossack Epic_ is the longest of the ballads. It is a legend
of St. Sophia of Kioff, telling how Father Hyacinth, by the aid of St.
Sophia, whose wooden statue he carried with him, escaped across the
Borysthenes with all the Cossacks at his tail. It is very good fun; but
not equal to many of the others. Nor is the _Carmen Lilliense_ quite to
my taste. I should not have declared at once that it had come from
Thackeray's hand, had I not known it.

But who could doubt the _Bouillabaisse_? Who else could have written
that? Who at the same moment could have been so merry and so
melancholy,--could have gone so deep into the regrets of life, with
words so appropriate to its jollities? I do not know how far my readers
will agree with me that to read it always must be a fresh pleasure; but
in order that they may agree with me, if they can, I will give it to
them entire. If there be one whom it does not please, he will like
nothing that Thackeray ever wrote in verse.


     A street there is in Paris famous,
       For which no rhyme our language yields,
     Rue Neuve des Petits Champs its name is--
       The New Street of the Little Fields;
     And here's an inn, not rich and splendid,
       But still in comfortable case;
     The which in youth I oft attended,
       To eat a bowl of Bouillabaisse.

     This Bouillabaisse a noble dish is,--
       A sort of soup, or broth, or brew
     Or hotch-potch of all sorts of fishes,
       That Greenwich never could outdo;
     Green herbs, red peppers, mussels, saffron,
       Soles, onions, garlic, roach, and dace:
     All these you eat at Terré's tavern,
       In that one dish of Bouillabaisse.

     Indeed, a rich and savoury stew 'tis;
       And true philosophers, methinks,
     Who love all sorts of natural beauties,
       Should love good victuals and good drinks.
     And Cordelier or Benedictine
       Might gladly sure his lot embrace,
     Nor find a fast-day too afflicting
       Which served him up a Bouillabaisse.

     I wonder if the house still there is?
       Yes, here the lamp is, as before;
     The smiling red-cheeked écaillère is
       Still opening oysters at the door.
     Is Terré still alive and able?
       I recollect his droll grimace;
     He'd come and smile before your table,
       And hope you liked your Bouillabaisse.

     We enter,--nothing's changed or older.
       "How's Monsieur Terré, waiter, pray?"
     The waiter stares and shrugs his shoulder,--
       "Monsieur is dead this many a day."
     "It is the lot of saint and sinner;
       So honest Terré's run his race."
     "What will Monsieur require for dinner?"
       "Say, do you still cook Bouillabaisse?"

     "Oh, oui, Monsieur," 's the waiter's answer,
       "Quel vin Monsieur desire-t-il?"
     "Tell me a good one." "That I can, sir:
       The chambertin with yellow seal."
     "So Terré's gone," I say, and sink in
       My old accustom'd corner-place;
     "He's done with feasting and with drinking,
       With Burgundy and Bouillabaisse."

     My old accustomed corner here is,
       The table still is in the nook;
     Ah! vanish'd many a busy year is
       This well-known chair since last I took.
     When first I saw ye, cari luoghi,
       I'd scarce a beard upon my face,
     And now a grizzled, grim old fogy,
       I sit and wait for Bouillabaisse.

     Where are you, old companions trusty,
       Of early days here met to dine?
     Come, waiter! quick, a flagon crusty;
       I'll pledge them in the good old wine.
     The kind old voices and old faces
       My memory can quick retrace;
     Around the board they take their places,
       And share the wine and Bouillabaisse.

     There's Jack has made a wondrous marriage;
       There's laughing Tom is laughing yet;
     There's brave Augustus drives his carriage;
       There's poor old Fred in the _Gazette_;
     O'er James's head the grass is growing.
       Good Lord! the world has wagged apace
     Since here we set the claret flowing,
       And drank, and ate the Bouillabaisse.

     Ah me! how quick the days are flitting!
       I mind me of a time that's gone,
     When here I'd sit, as now I'm sitting,
       In this same place,--but not alone.
     A fair young face was nestled near me,
       A dear, dear face looked fondly up,
     And sweetly spoke and smiled to cheer me!
       There's no one now to share my cup.

            *       *       *       *       *

     I drink it as the Fates ordain it.
       Come fill it, and have done with rhymes;
     Fill up the lonely glass, and drain it
       In memory of dear old times.
     Welcome the wine, whate'er the seal is;
       And sit you down and say your grace
     With thankful heart, whate'er the meal is.
       Here comes the smoking Bouillabaisse.

I am not disposed to say that Thackeray will hold a high place among
English poets. He would have been the first to ridicule such an
assumption made on his behalf. But I think that his verses will be more
popular than those of many highly reputed poets, and that as years roll
on they will gain rather than lose in public estimation.


[7] Chair--_i.e._ Chairman.

[8] _I.e._ The P. and O. Company.



A novel in style should be easy, lucid, and of course grammatical. The
same may be said of any book; but that which is intended to recreate
should be easily understood,--for which purpose lucid narration is an
essential. In matter it should be moral and amusing. In manner it may be
realistic, or sublime, or ludicrous;--or it may be all these if the
author can combine them. As to Thackeray's performance in style and
matter I will say something further on. His manner was mainly realistic,
and I will therefore speak first of that mode of expression which was
peculiarly his own.

Realism in style has not all the ease which seems to belong to it. It is
the object of the author who affects it so to communicate with his
reader that all his words shall seem to be natural to the occasion. We
do not think the language of Dogberry natural, when he tells neighbour
Seacole that "to write and read comes by nature." That is ludicrous. Nor
is the language of Hamlet natural when he shows to his mother the
portrait of his father;

     See what a grace was seated on this brow;
     Hyperion's curls; the front of Jove himself;
     An eye like Mars, to threaten and command.

That is sublime. Constance is natural when she turns away from the
Cardinal, declaring that

     He talks to me that never had a son.

In one respect both the sublime and ludicrous are easier than the
realistic. They are not required to be true. A man with an imagination
and culture may feign either of them without knowing the ways of men. To
be realistic you must know accurately that which you describe. How often
do we find in novels that the author makes an attempt at realism and
falls into a bathos of absurdity, because he cannot use appropriate
language? "No human being ever spoke like that," we say to
ourselves,--while we should not question the naturalness of the
production, either in the grand or the ridiculous.

And yet in very truth the realistic must not be true,--but just so far
removed from truth as to suit the erroneous idea of truth which the
reader may be supposed to entertain. For were a novelist to narrate a
conversation between two persons of fair but not high education, and to
use the ill-arranged words and fragments of speech which are really
common in such conversations, he would seem to have sunk to the
ludicrous, and to be attributing to the interlocutors a mode of language
much beneath them. Though in fact true, it would seem to be far from
natural. But on the other hand, were he to put words grammatically
correct into the mouths of his personages, and to round off and to
complete the spoken sentences, the ordinary reader would instantly feel
such a style to be stilted and unreal. This reader would not analyse it,
but would in some dim but sufficiently critical manner be aware that his
author was not providing him with a naturally spoken dialogue. To
produce the desired effect the narrator must go between the two. He must
mount somewhat above the ordinary conversational powers of such persons
as are to be represented,--lest he disgust. But he must by no means soar
into correct phraseology,--lest he offend. The realistic,--by which we
mean that which shall seem to be real,--lies between the two, and in
reaching it the writer has not only to keep his proper distance on both
sides, but has to maintain varying distances in accordance with the
position, mode of life, and education of the speakers. Lady Castlewood
in _Esmond_ would not have been properly made to speak with absolute
precision; but she goes nearer to the mark than her more ignorant lord,
the viscount; less near, however, than her better-educated kinsman,
Henry Esmond. He, however, is not made to speak altogether by the card,
or he would be unnatural. Nor would each of them speak always in the
same strain, but they would alter their language according to their
companion,--according even to the hour of the day. All this the reader
unconsciously perceives, and will not think the language to be natural
unless the proper variations be there.

In simple narrative the rule is the same as in dialogue, though it does
not admit of the same palpable deviation from correct construction. The
story of any incident, to be realistic, will admit neither of
sesquipedalian grandeur nor of grotesque images. The one gives an idea
of romance and the other of burlesque, to neither of which is truth
supposed to appertain. We desire to soar frequently, and then we try
romance. We desire to recreate ourselves with the easy and droll. Dulce
est desipere in loco. Then we have recourse to burlesque. But in neither
do we expect human nature.

I cannot but think that in the hands of the novelist the middle course
is the most powerful. Much as we may delight in burlesque, we cannot
claim for it the power of achieving great results. So much I think will
be granted. For the sublime we look rather to poetry than to prose, and
though I will give one or two instances just now in which it has been
used with great effect in prose fiction, it does not come home to the
heart, teaching a lesson, as does the realistic. The girl who reads is
touched by Lucy Ashton, but she feels herself to be convinced of the
facts as to Jeanie Deans, and asks herself whether she might not emulate

Now as to the realism of Thackeray, I must rather appeal to my readers
than attempt to prove it by quotation. Whoever it is that speaks in his
pages, does it not seem that such a person would certainly have used
such words on such an occasion? If there be need of examination to learn
whether it be so or not, let the reader study all that falls from the
mouth of Lady Castlewood through the novel called _Esmond_, or all that
falls from the mouth of Beatrix. They are persons peculiarly
situated,--noble women, but who have still lived much out of the world.
The former is always conscious of a sorrow; the latter is always
striving after an effect;--and both on this account are difficult of
management. A period for the story has been chosen which is strange and
unknown to us, and which has required a peculiar language. One would
have said beforehand that whatever might be the charms of the book, it
would not be natural. And yet the ear is never wounded by a tone that is
false. It is not always the case that in novel reading the ear should be
wounded because the words spoken are unnatural. Bulwer does not wound,
though he never puts into the mouth of any of his persons words such as
would have been spoken. They are not expected from him. It is something
else that he provides. From Thackeray they are expected,--and from many
others. But Thackeray never disappoints. Whether it be a great duke,
such as he who was to have married Beatrix, or a mean chaplain, such as
Tusher, or Captain Steele the humorist, they talk,--not as they would
have talked probably, of which I am no judge,--but as we feel that they
might have talked. We find ourselves willing to take it as proved
because it is there, which is the strongest possible evidence of the
realistic capacity of the writer.

As to the sublime in novels, it is not to be supposed that any very high
rank of sublimity is required to put such works within the pale of that
definition. I allude to those in which an attempt is made to soar above
the ordinary actions and ordinary language of life. We may take as an
instance _The Mysteries of Udolpho_. That is intended to be sublime
throughout. Even the writer never for a moment thought of descending to
real life. She must have been untrue to her own idea of her own business
had she done so. It is all stilted,--all of a certain altitude among the
clouds. It has been in its time a popular book, and has had its world of
readers. Those readers no doubt preferred the diluted romance of Mrs.
Radcliff to the condensed realism of Fielding. At any rate they did not
look for realism. _Pelham_ may be taken as another instance of the
sublime, though there is so much in it that is of the world worldly,
though an intentional fall to the ludicrous is often made in it. The
personages talk in glittering dialogues, throwing about philosophy,
science, and the classics, in a manner which is always suggestive and
often amusing. The book is brilliant with intellect. But no word is
ever spoken as it would have been spoken;--no detail is ever narrated as
it would have occurred. Bulwer no doubt regarded novels as romantic, and
would have looked with contempt on any junction of realism and romance,
though, in varying his work, he did not think it beneath him to vary his
sublimity with the ludicrous. The sublime in novels is no doubt most
effective when it breaks out, as though by some burst of nature, in the
midst of a story true to life. "If," said Evan Maccombich, "the Saxon
gentlemen are laughing because a poor man such as me thinks my life, or
the life of six of my degree, is worth that of Vich Ian Vohr, it's like
enough they may be very right; but if they laugh because they think I
would not keep my word and come back to redeem him, I can tell them they
ken neither the heart of a Hielandman nor the honour of a gentleman."
That is sublime. And, again, when Balfour of Burley slaughters Bothwell,
the death scene is sublime. "Die, bloodthirsty dog!" said Burley. "Die
as thou hast lived! Die like the beasts that perish--hoping nothing,
believing nothing!"----"And fearing nothing," said Bothwell. Horrible as
is the picture, it is sublime. As is also that speech of Meg Merrilies,
as she addresses Mr. Bertram, standing on the bank. "Ride your ways,"
said the gipsy; "ride your ways, Laird of Ellangowan; ride your ways,
Godfrey Bertram. This day have ye quenched seven smoking hearths; see if
the fire in your ain parlour burn the blyther for that. Ye have riven
the thack off seven cottar houses; look if your ain rooftree stand the
faster. Ye may stable your stirks in the shealings at Derncleugh; see
that the hare does not couch on the hearthstane at Ellangowan." That is
romance, and reaches the very height of the sublime. That does not
offend, impossible though it be that any old woman should have spoken
such words, because it does in truth lift the reader up among the bright
stars. It is thus that the sublime may be mingled with the realistic, if
the writer has the power. Thackeray also rises in that way to a high
pitch, though not in many instances. Romance does not often justify to
him an absence of truth. The scene between Lady Castlewood and the Duke
of Hamilton is one, when she explains to her child's suitor who Henry
Esmond is. "My daughter may receive presents from the head of our
house," says the lady, speaking up for her kinsman. "My daughter may
thankfully take kindness from her father's, her mother's, her brother's
dearest friend." The whole scene is of the same nature, and is evidence
of Thackeray's capacity for the sublime. And again, when the same lady
welcomes the same kinsman on his return from the wars, she rises as
high. But as I have already quoted a part of the passage in the chapter
on this novel, I will not repeat it here.

It may perhaps be said of the sublime in novels,--which I have
endeavoured to describe as not being generally of a high order,--that it
is apt to become cold, stilted, and unsatisfactory. What may be done by
impossible castles among impossible mountains, peopled by impossible
heroes and heroines, and fraught with impossible horrors, _The Mysteries
of Udolpho_ have shown us. But they require a patient reader, and one
who can content himself with a long protracted and most unemotional
excitement. The sublimity which is effected by sparkling speeches is
better, if the speeches really have something in them beneath the
sparkles. Those of Bulwer generally have. Those of his imitators are
often without anything, the sparkles even hardly sparkling. At the best
they fatigue; and a novel, if it fatigues, is unpardonable. Its only
excuse is to be found in the amusement it affords. It should instruct
also, no doubt, but it never will do so unless it hides its instruction
and amuses. Scott understood all this, when he allowed himself only such
sudden bursts as I have described. Even in _The Bride of Lammermoor_,
which I do not regard as among the best of his performances, as he soars
high into the sublime, so does he descend low into the ludicrous.

In this latter division of pure fiction,--the burlesque, as it is
commonly called, or the ludicrous,--Thackeray is quite as much at home
as in the realistic, though, the vehicle being less powerful, he has
achieved smaller results by it. Manifest as are the objects in his view
when he wrote _The Hoggarty Diamond_ or _The Legend of the Rhine_, they
were less important and less evidently effected than those attempted by
_Vanity Fair_ and _Pendennis_. Captain Shindy, the Snob, does not tell
us so plainly what is not a gentleman as does Colonel Newcome what is.
Nevertheless the ludicrous has, with Thackeray, been very powerful, and
very delightful.

In trying to describe what is done by literature of this class, it is
especially necessary to remember that different readers are affected in
a different way. That which is one man's meat is another man's poison.
In the sublime, when the really grand has been reached, it is the
reader's own fault if he be not touched. We know that many are
indifferent to the soliloquies of Hamlet, but we do not hesitate to
declare to ourselves that they are so because they lack the power of
appreciating grand language. We do not scruple to attribute to those who
are indifferent some inferiority of intelligence. And in regard to the
realistic, when the truth of a well-told story or life-like character
does not come home, we think that then, too, there is deficiency in the
critical ability. But there is nothing necessarily lacking to a man
because he does not enjoy _The Heathen Chinee_ or _The Biglow Papers_;
and the man to whom these delights of American humour are leather and
prunello may be of all the most enraptured by the wit of Sam Weller or
the mock piety of Pecksniff. It is a matter of taste and not of
intellect, as one man likes caviare after his dinner, while another
prefers apple-pie; and the man himself cannot, or, as far as we can see,
does not direct his own taste in the one matter more than in the other.

Therefore I cannot ask others to share with me the delight which I have
in the various and peculiar expressions of the ludicrous which are
common to Thackeray. Some considerable portion of it consists in bad
spelling. We may say that Charles James Harrington Fitzroy Yellowplush,
or C. FitzJeames De La Pluche, as he is afterwards called, would be
nothing but for his "orthogwaphy so carefully inaccuwate." As I have
before said, Mrs. Malaprop had seemed to have reached the height of this
humour, and in having done so to have made any repetition unpalatable.
But Thackeray's studied blundering is altogether different from that of
Sheridan. Mrs. Malaprop uses her words in a delightfully wrong sense.
Yellowplush would be a very intelligible, if not quite an accurate
writer, had he not made for himself special forms of English words
altogether new to the eye.

"My ma wrapped up my buth in a mistry. I may be illygitmit; I may have
been changed at nus; but I've always had gen'l'm'nly tastes through
life, and have no doubt that I come of a gen'l'm'nly origum." We cannot
admit that there is wit, or even humour, in bad spelling alone. Were it
not that Yellowplush, with his bad spelling, had so much to say for
himself, there would be nothing in it; but there is always a sting of
satire directed against some real vice, or some growing vulgarity, which
is made sharper by the absurdity of the language. In _The Diary of
George IV._ there are the following reflections on a certain
correspondence; "Wooden you phansy, now, that the author of such a
letter, instead of writun about pipple of tip-top quality, was
describin' Vinegar Yard? Would you beleave that the lady he was a-ritin'
to was a chased modist lady of honour and mother of a family? _O
trumpery! o morris!_ as Homer says. This is a higeous pictur of manners,
such as I weap to think of, as every morl man must weap." We do not
wonder that when he makes his "ajew" he should have been called
up to be congratulated on the score of his literary performances by
his master, before the Duke, and Lord Bagwig, and Dr. Larner, and
"Sawedwadgeorgeearllittnbulwig." All that Yellowplush says or writes are
among the pearls which Thackeray was continually scattering abroad.

But this of the distinguished footman was only one of the forms of the
ludicrous which he was accustomed to use in the furtherance of some
purpose which he had at heart. It was his practice to clothe things most
revolting with an assumed grace and dignity, and to add to the weight of
his condemnation by the astounding mendacity of the parody thus drawn.
There was a grim humour in this which has been displeasing to some, as
seeming to hold out to vice a hand which has appeared for too long a
time to be friendly. As we are disposed to be not altogether sympathetic
with a detective policeman who shall have spent a jolly night with a
delinquent, for the sake of tracing home the suspected guilt to his
late comrade, so are some disposed to be almost angry with our author,
who seems to be too much at home with his rascals, and to live with them
on familiar terms till we doubt whether he does not forget their
rascality. _Barry Lyndon_ is the strongest example we have of this style
of the ludicrous, and the critics of whom I speak have thought that our
friendly relations with Barry have been too genial, too apparently
genuine, so that it might almost be doubtful whether during the
narrative we might not, at this or the other crisis, be rather with him
than against him. "After all," the reader might say, on coming to that
passage in which Barry defends his trade as a gambler,--a passage which
I have quoted in speaking of the novel,--"after all, this man is more
hero than scoundrel;" so well is the burlesque humour maintained, so
well does the scoundrel hide his own villany. I can easily understand
that to some it should seem too long drawn out. To me it seems to be the
perfection of humour,--and of philosophy. If such a one as Barry Lyndon,
a man full of intellect, can be made thus to love and cherish his vice,
and to believe in its beauty, how much more necessary is it to avoid the
footsteps which lead to it? But, as I have said above, there is no
standard by which to judge of the excellence of the ludicrous as there
is of the sublime, and even the realistic.

No writer ever had a stronger proclivity towards parody than Thackeray;
and we may, I think, confess that there is no form of literary drollery
more dangerous. The parody will often mar the gem of which it coarsely
reproduces the outward semblance. The word "damaged," used instead of
"damask," has destroyed to my ear for ever the music of one of the
sweetest passages in Shakespeare. But it must be acknowledged of
Thackeray that, fond as he is of this branch of humour, he has done
little or no injury by his parodies. They run over with fun, but are so
contrived that they do not lessen the flavour of the original. I have
given in one of the preceding chapters a little set of verses of his
own, called _The Willow Tree_, and his own parody on his own work. There
the reader may see how effective a parody may be in destroying the
sentiment of the piece parodied. But in dealing with other authors he
has been grotesque without being severely critical, and has been very
like, without making ugly or distasteful that which he has imitated. No
one who has admired _Coningsby_ will admire it the less because of
_Codlingsby_. Nor will the undoubted romance of _Eugene Aram_ be
lessened in the estimation of any reader of novels by the well-told
career of _George de Barnwell_. One may say that to laugh _Ivanhoe_ out
of face, or to lessen the glory of that immortal story, would be beyond
the power of any farcical effect. Thackeray in his _Rowena and Rebecca_
certainly had no such purpose. Nothing of _Ivanhoe_ is injured, nothing
made less valuable than it was before, yet, of all prose parodies in the
language, it is perhaps the most perfect. Every character is maintained,
every incident has a taste of Scott. It has the twang of _Ivanhoe_ from
beginning to end, and yet there is not a word in it by which the author
of _Ivanhoe_ could have been offended. But then there is the purpose
beyond that of the mere parody. Prudish women have to be laughed at, and
despotic kings, and parasite lords and bishops. The ludicrous alone is
but poor fun; but when the ludicrous has a meaning, it can be very
effective in the hands of such a master as this.

     "He to die!" resumed the bishop. "He a mortal like to us!
     Death was not for him intended, though _communis omnibus_.
     Keeper, you are irreligious, for to talk and cavil thus!"

So much I have said of the manner in which Thackeray did his work,
endeavouring to represent human nature as he saw it, so that his readers
should learn to love what is good, and to hate what is evil. As to the
merits of his style, it will be necessary to insist on them the less,
because it has been generally admitted to be easy, lucid, and
grammatical. I call that style easy by which the writer has succeeded in
conveying to the reader that which the reader is intended to receive
with the least possible amount of trouble to him. I call that style
lucid which conveys to the reader most accurately all that the writer
wishes to convey on any subject. The two virtues will, I think, be seen
to be very different. An author may wish to give an idea that a certain
flavour is bitter. He shall leave a conviction that it is simply
disagreeable. Then he is not lucid. But he shall convey so much as that,
in such a manner as to give the reader no trouble in arriving at the
conclusion. Therefore he is easy. The subject here suggested is as
little complicated as possible; but in the intercourse which is going on
continually between writers and readers, affairs of all degrees of
complication are continually being discussed, of a nature so complicated
that the inexperienced writer is puzzled at every turn to express
himself, and the altogether inartistic writer fails to do so. Who among
writers has not to acknowledge that he is often unable to tell all that
he has to tell? Words refuse to do it for him. He struggles and stumbles
and alters and adds, but finds at last that he has gone either too far
or not quite far enough. Then there comes upon him the necessity of
choosing between two evils. He must either give up the fulness of his
thought, and content himself with presenting some fragment of it in that
lucid arrangement of words which he affects; or he must bring out his
thought with ambages; he must mass his sentences inconsequentially; he
must struggle up hill almost hopelessly with his phrases,--so that at
the end the reader will have to labour as he himself has laboured, or
else to leave behind much of the fruit which it has been intended that
he should garner. It is the ill-fortune of some to be neither easy or
lucid; and there is nothing more wonderful in the history of letters
than the patience of readers when called upon to suffer under the double
calamity. It is as though a man were reading a dialogue of Plato,
understanding neither the subject nor the language. But it is often the
case that one has to be sacrificed to the other. The pregnant writer
will sometimes solace himself by declaring that it is not his business
to supply intelligence to the reader; and then, in throwing out the
entirety of his thought, will not stop to remember that he cannot hope
to scatter his ideas far and wide unless he can make them easily
intelligible. Then the writer who is determined that his book shall not
be put down because it is troublesome, is too apt to avoid the knotty
bits and shirk the rocky turns, because he cannot with ease to himself
make them easy to others. If this be acknowledged, I shall be held to be
right in saying not only that ease and lucidity in style are different
virtues, but that they are often opposed to each other. They may,
however, be combined, and then the writer will have really learned the
art of writing. Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci. It is to be
done, I believe, in all languages. A man by art and practice shall at
least obtain such a masterhood over words as to express all that he
thinks, in phrases that shall be easily understood.

In such a small space as can here be allowed, I cannot give instances to
prove that this has been achieved by Thackeray. Nor would instances
prove the existence of the virtue, though instances might the absence.
The proof lies in the work of the man's life, and can only become plain
to those who have read his writings. I must refer readers to their own
experiences, and ask them whether they have found themselves compelled
to study passages in Thackeray in order that they might find a recondite
meaning, or whether they have not been sure that they and the author
have together understood all that there was to understand in the matter.
Have they run backward over the passages, and then gone on, not quite
sure what the author has meant? If not, then he has been easy and lucid.
We have not had it so easy with all modern writers, nor with all that
are old. I may best perhaps explain my meaning by taking something
written long ago; something very valuable, in order that I may not
damage my argument by comparing the easiness of Thackeray with the
harshness of some author who has in other respects failed of obtaining
approbation. If you take the play of _Cymbeline_ you will, I think, find
it to be anything but easy reading. Nor is Shakespeare always lucid. For
purposes of his own he will sometimes force his readers to doubt his
meaning, even after prolonged study. It has ever been so with _Hamlet_.
My readers will not, I think, be so crossgrained with me as to suppose
that I am putting Thackeray as a master of style above Shakespeare. I am
only endeavouring to explain by reference to the great master the
condition of literary production which he attained. Whatever Thackeray
says, the reader cannot fail to understand; and whatever Thackeray
attempts to communicate, he succeeds in conveying.

That he is grammatical I must leave to my readers' judgment, with a
simple assertion in his favour. There are some who say that grammar,--by
which I mean accuracy of composition, in accordance with certain
acknowledged rules,--is only a means to an end; and that, if a writer
can absolutely achieve the end by some other mode of his own, he need
not regard the prescribed means. If a man can so write as to be easily
understood, and to convey lucidly that which he has to convey without
accuracy of grammar, why should he subject himself to unnecessary
trammels? Why not make a path for himself, if the path so made will
certainly lead him whither he wishes to go? The answer is, that no other
path will lead others whither he wishes to carry them but that which is
common to him and to those others. It is necessary that there should be
a ground equally familiar to the writer and to his readers. If there be
no such common ground, they will certainly not come into full accord.
There have been recusants who, by a certain acuteness of their own, have
partly done so,--wilful recusants; but they have been recusants, not to
the extent of discarding grammar,--which no writer could do and not be
altogether in the dark,--but so far as to have created for themselves a
phraseology which has been picturesque by reason of its illicit
vagaries; as a woman will sometimes please ill-instructed eyes and ears
by little departures from feminine propriety. They have probably
laboured in their vocation as sedulously as though they had striven to
be correct, and have achieved at the best but a short-lived
success;--as is the case also with the unconventional female. The charm
of the disorderly soon loses itself in the ugliness of disorder. And
there are others rebellious from grammar, who are, however, hardly to be
called rebels, because the laws which they break have never been
altogether known to them. Among those very dear to me in English
literature, one or two might be named of either sort, whose works,
though they have that in them which will insure to them a long life,
will become from year to year less valuable and less venerable, because
their authors have either scorned or have not known that common ground
of language on which the author and his readers should stand together.
My purport here is only with Thackeray, and I say that he stands always
on that common ground. He quarrels with none of the laws. As the lady
who is most attentive to conventional propriety may still have her own
fashion of dress and her own mode of speech, so had Thackeray very
manifestly his own style; but it is one the correctness of which has
never been impugned.

I hold that gentleman to be the best dressed whose dress no one
observes. I am not sure but that the same may be said of an author's
written language. Only, where shall we find an example of such
perfection? Always easy, always lucid, always correct, we may find them;
but who is the writer, easy, lucid, and correct, who has not impregnated
his writing with something of that personal flavour which we call
mannerism? To speak of authors well known to all readers--Does not _The
Rambler_ taste of Johnson; _The Decline and Fall_, of Gibbon; _The
Middle Ages_, of Hallam; _The History of England_, of Macaulay; and _The
Invasion of the Crimea_, of Kinglake? Do we not know the elephantine
tread of _The Saturday_, and the precise toe of _The Spectator_? I have
sometimes thought that Swift has been nearest to the mark of
any,--writing English and not writing Swift. But I doubt whether an
accurate observer would not trace even here the "mark of the beast."
Thackeray, too, has a strong flavour of Thackeray. I am inclined to
think that his most besetting sin in style,--the little earmark by which
he is most conspicuous,--is a certain affected familiarity. He indulges
too frequently in little confidences with individual readers, in which
pretended allusions to himself are frequent. "What would you do? what
would you say now, if you were in such a position?" he asks. He
describes this practice of his in the preface to _Pendennis_. "It is a
sort of confidential talk between writer and reader.... In the course of
his volubility the perpetual speaker must of necessity lay bare his own
weaknesses, vanities, peculiarities." In the short contributions to
periodicals on which he tried his 'prentice hand, such addresses and
conversations were natural and efficacious; but in a larger work of
fiction they cause an absence of that dignity to which even a novel may
aspire. You feel that each morsel as you read it is a detached bit, and
that it has all been written in detachments. The book is robbed of its
integrity by a certain good-humoured geniality of language, which causes
the reader to be almost too much at home with his author. There is a
saying that familiarity breeds contempt, and I have been sometimes
inclined to think that our author has sometimes failed to stand up for
himself with sufficiency of "personal deportment."

In other respects Thackeray's style is excellent. As I have said before,
the reader always understands his words without an effort, and receives
all that the author has to give.

There now remains to be discussed the matter of our author's work. The
manner and the style are but the natural wrappings in which the goods
have been prepared for the market. Of these goods it is no doubt true
that unless the wrappings be in some degree meritorious the article will
not be accepted at all; but it is the kernel which we seek, which, if it
be not of itself sweet and digestible, cannot be made serviceable by any
shell however pretty or easy to be cracked. I have said previously that
it is the business of a novel to instruct in morals and to amuse. I will
go further, and will add, having been for many years a most prolific
writer of novels myself, that I regard him who can put himself into
close communication with young people year after year without making
some attempt to do them good, as a very sorry fellow indeed. However
poor your matter may be, however near you may come to that "foolishest
of existing mortals," as Carlyle presumes some unfortunate novelist to
be, still, if there be those who read your works, they will undoubtedly
be more or less influenced by what they find there. And it is because
the novelist amuses that he is thus influential. The sermon too often
has no such effect, because it is applied with the declared intention of
having it. The palpable and overt dose the child rejects; but that which
is cunningly insinuated by the aid of jam or honey is accepted
unconsciously, and goes on upon its curative mission. So it is with the
novel. It is taken because of its jam and honey. But, unlike the honest
simple jam and honey of the household cupboard, it is never unmixed with
physic. There will be the dose within it, either curative or poisonous.
The girl will be taught modesty or immodesty, truth or falsehood; the
lad will be taught honour or dishonour, simplicity or affectation.
Without the lesson the amusement will not be there. There are novels
which certainly can teach nothing; but then neither can they amuse any

I should be said to insist absurdly on the power of my own confraternity
if I were to declare that the bulk of the young people in the upper and
middle classes receive their moral teaching chiefly from the novels they
read. Mothers would no doubt think of their own sweet teaching; fathers
of the examples which they set; and schoolmasters of the excellence of
their instructions. Happy is the country that has such mothers, fathers,
and schoolmasters! But the novelist creeps in closer than the
schoolmaster, closer than the father, closer almost than the mother. He
is the chosen guide, the tutor whom the young pupil chooses for herself.
She retires with him, suspecting no lesson, safe against rebuke,
throwing herself head and heart into the narration as she can hardly do
into her task-work; and there she is taught,--how she shall learn to
love; how she shall receive the lover when he comes; how far she should
advance to meet the joy; why she should be reticent, and not throw
herself at once into this new delight. It is the same with the young
man, though he would be more prone even than she to reject the suspicion
of such tutorship. But he too will there learn either to speak the
truth, or to lie; and will receive from his novel lessons either of real
manliness, or of that affected apishness and tailor-begotten demeanour
which too many professors of the craft give out as their dearest

At any rate the close intercourse is admitted. Where is the house now
from which novels are tabooed? Is it not common to allow them almost
indiscriminately, so that young and old each chooses his own novel?
Shall he, then, to whom this close fellowship is allowed,--this inner
confidence,--shall he not be careful what words he uses, and what
thoughts he expresses, when he sits in council with his young friend?
This, which it will certainly be his duty to consider with so much care,
will be the matter of his work. We know what was thought of such matter,
when Lydia in the play was driven to the necessity of flinging
"_Peregrine Pickle_ under the toilet," and thrusting "_Lord Aimwell_
under the sofa." We have got beyond that now, and are tolerably sure
that our girls do not hide their novels. The more freely they are
allowed, the more necessary is it that he who supplies shall take care
that they are worthy of the trust that is given to them.

Now let the reader ask himself what are the lessons which Thackeray has
taught. Let him send his memory running back over all those characters
of whom we have just been speaking, and ask himself whether any girl has
been taught to be immodest, or any man unmanly, by what Thackeray has
written. A novelist has two modes of teaching,--by good example or bad.
It is not to be supposed that because the person treated of be evil,
therefore the precept will be evil. If so, some personages with whom we
have been made well acquainted from our youth upwards, would have been
omitted in our early lessons. It may be a question whether the teaching
is not more efficacious which comes from the evil example. What story
was ever more powerful in showing the beauty of feminine reticence, and
the horrors of feminine evil-doing, than the fate of Effie Deans? The
Templar would have betrayed a woman to his lust, but has not encouraged
others by the freedom of his life. Varney was utterly bad,--but though a
gay courtier, he has enticed no others to go the way that he went. So
it has been with Thackeray. His examples have been generally of that
kind,--but they have all been efficacious in their teaching on the side
of modesty and manliness, truth and simplicity. When some girl shall
have traced from first to last the character of Beatrix, what, let us
ask, will be the result on her mind? Beatrix was born noble, clever,
beautiful, with certain material advantages, which it was within her
compass to improve by her nobility, wit, and beauty. She was quite alive
to that fact, and thought of those material advantages, to the utter
exclusion, in our mind, of any idea of moral goodness. She realised it
all, and told herself that that was the game she would play.
"Twenty-five!" says she; "and in eight years no man has ever touched my
heart!" That is her boast when she is about to be married,--her only
boast of herself. "A most detestable young woman!" some will say. "An
awful example!" others will add. Not a doubt of it. She proves the
misery of her own career so fully that no one will follow it. The
example is so awful that it will surely deter. The girl will declare to
herself that not in that way will she look for the happiness which she
hopes to enjoy; and the young man will say as he reads it, that no
Beatrix shall touch his heart.

You may go through all his characters with the same effect. Pendennis
will be scorned because he is light; Warrington loved because he is
strong and merciful; Dobbin will be honoured because he is unselfish;
and the old colonel, though he be foolish, vain, and weak, almost
worshipped because he is so true a gentleman. It is in the handling of
questions such as these that we have to look for the matter of the
novelist,--those moral lessons which he mixes up with his jam and his
honey. I say that with Thackeray the physic is always curative and
never poisonous. He may he admitted safely into that close fellowship,
and be allowed to accompany the dear ones to their retreats. The girl
will never become bold under his preaching, or taught to throw herself
at men's heads. Nor will the lad receive a false flashy idea of what
becomes a youth, when he is first about to take his place among men.

As to that other question, whether Thackeray be amusing as well as
salutary, I must leave it to public opinion. There is now being brought
out of his works a more splendid edition than has ever been produced in
any age or any country of the writings of such an author. A certain
fixed number of copies only is being issued, and each copy will cost £33
12s. when completed. It is understood that a very large proportion of
the edition has been already bought or ordered. Cost, it will be said,
is a bad test of excellence. It will not prove the merit of a book any
more than it will of a horse. But it is proof of the popularity of the
book. Print and illustrate and bind up some novels how you will, no one
will buy them. Previous to these costly volumes, there have been two
entire editions of his works since the author's death, one comparatively
cheap and the other dear. Before his death his stories had been
scattered in all imaginable forms. I may therefore assert that their
charm has been proved by their popularity.

There remains for us only this question,--whether the nature of
Thackeray's works entitle him to be called a cynic. The word is one
which is always used in a bad sense. "Of a dog; currish," is the
definition which we get from Johnson,--quite correctly, and in
accordance with its etymology. And he gives us examples. "How vilely
does this cynic rhyme," he takes from Shakespeare; and Addison speaks of
a man degenerating into a cynic. That Thackeray's nature was soft and
kindly,--gentle almost to a fault,--has been shown elsewhere. But they
who have called him a cynic have spoken of him merely as a writer,--and
as writer he has certainly taken upon himself the special task of
barking at the vices and follies of the world around him. Any satirist
might in the same way be called a cynic in so far as his satire goes.
Swift was a cynic certainly. Pope was cynical when he was a satirist.
Juvenal was all cynical, because he was all satirist. If that be what is
meant, Thackeray was certainly a cynic. But that is not all that the
word implies. It intends to go back beyond the work of the man, and to
describe his heart. It says of any satirist so described that he has
given himself up to satire, not because things have been evil, but
because he himself has been evil. Hamlet is a satirist, whereas
Thersites is a cynic. If Thackeray be judged after this fashion, the
word is as inappropriate to the writer as to the man.

But it has to be confessed that Thackeray did allow his intellect to be
too thoroughly saturated with the aspect of the ill side of things. We
can trace the operation of his mind from his earliest days, when he
commenced his parodies at school; when he brought out _The Snob_ at
Cambridge, when he sent _Yellowplush_ out upon the world as a satirist
on the doings of gentlemen generally; when he wrote his _Catherine_, to
show the vileness of the taste for what he would have called Newgate
literature; and _The Hoggarty Diamond_, to attack bubble companies; and
_Barry Lyndon_, to expose the pride which a rascal may take in his
rascality. Becky Sharp, Major Pendennis, Beatrix, both as a young and
as an old woman, were written with the same purpose. There is a touch of
satire in every drawing that he made. A jeer is needed for something
that is ridiculous, scorn has to be thrown on something that is vile.
The same feeling is to be found in every line of every ballad.


     Methinks the text is never stale,
       And life is every day renewing
     Fresh comments on the old old tale,
       Of Folly, Fortune, Glory, Ruin.

     Hark to the preacher, preaching still!
       He lifts his voice and cries his sermon,
     Here at St. Peter's of Cornhill,
       As yonder on the Mount of Hermon--

     For you and me to heart to take
       (O dear beloved brother readers),
     To-day,--as when the good king spake
       Beneath the solemn Syrian cedars.

It was just so with him always. He was "crying his sermon," hoping, if
it might be so, to do something towards lessening the evils he saw
around him. We all preach our sermon, but not always with the same
earnestness. He had become so urgent in the cause, so loud in his
denunciations, that he did not stop often to speak of the good things
around him. Now and again he paused and blessed amid the torrent of his
anathemas. There are Dobbin, and Esmond, and Colonel Newcome. But his
anathemas are the loudest. It has been so I think nearly always with the
eloquent preachers.

I will insert here,--especially here at the end of this chapter, in
which I have spoken of Thackeray's matter and manner of writing, because
of the justice of the criticism conveyed,--the lines which Lord Houghton
wrote on his death, and which are to be found in the February number of
_The Cornhill_ of 1864. It was the first number printed after his death.
I would add that, though no Dean applied for permission to bury
Thackeray in Westminster Abbey, his bust was placed there without delay.
What is needed by the nation in such a case is simply a lasting memorial
there, where such memorials are most often seen and most highly
honoured. But we can all of us sympathise with the feeling of the poet,
writing immediately on the loss of such a friend:

     When one, whose nervous English verse
       Public and party hates defied,
     Who bore and bandied many a curse
       Of angry times,--when Dryden died,

     Our royal abbey's Bishop-Dean
       Waited for no suggestive prayer,
     But, ere one day closed o'er the scene,
       Craved, as a boon, to lay him there.

     The wayward faith, the faulty life,
       Vanished before a nation's pain.
     Panther and Hind forgot their strife,
       And rival statesmen thronged the fane.

     O gentle censor of our age!
       Prime master of our ampler tongue!
     Whose word of wit and generous page
       Were never wrath, except with wrong,--

     Fielding--without the manner's dross,
       Scott--with a spirit's larger room,
     What Prelate deems thy grave his loss?
       What Halifax erects thy tomb?

     But, may be, he,--who so could draw
       The hidden great,--the humble wise,
     Yielding with them to God's good law,
       Makes the Pantheon where he lies.


            *       *       *       *       *




These Short Books are addressed to the general public with a view both
to stirring and satisfying an interest in literature and its great
topics in the minds of those who have to run as they read. An immense
class is growing up, and must every year increase, whose education will
have made them alive to the importance of the masters of our literature,
and capable of intelligent curiosity as to their performances. The
Series is intended to give the means of nourishing this curiosity, to an
extent that shall be copious enough to be profitable for knowledge and
life, and yet be brief enough to serve those whose leisure is scanty.

The following are arranged for:

SPENSER         The Dean of St. Paul's.   [In the Press.

HUME            Professor Huxley.         [Ready.

BUNYAN          James Anthony Froude.

JOHNSON         Leslie Stephen.           [Ready.

GOLDSMITH       William Black.            [Ready.

MILTON          Mark Pattison.

COWPER          Goldwin Smith.

SWIFT           John Morley.

BURNS           Principal Shairp.         [Ready.

SCOTT           Richard H. Hutton.        [Ready.

SHELLEY         J. A. Symonds.            [Ready.

GIBBON          J. C. Morison.            [Ready.

BYRON           Professor Nichol.

DEFOE           W. Minto.                 [Ready.

BURKE           John Morley.

HAWTHORNE       Henry James, Jnr.

CHAUCER         A. W. Ward.

THACKERAY       Anthony Trollope.         [Ready.

ADAM SMITH      Leonard H. Courtney, M.P.

BENTLEY         Professor R. C. Jebb.

LANDOR          Professor Sidney Colvin.

POPE            Leslie Stephen.

WORDSWORTH      F. W. H. Myers.

SOUTHEY         Professor E. Dowden.



"The new series opens well with Mr. Leslie Stephen's sketch of Dr.
Johnson. It could hardly have been done better; and it will convey to
the readers for whom it is intended a juster estimate of Johnson than
either of the two essays of Lord Macaulay."--_Pall Mall Gazette._

"We have come across few writers who have had a clearer insight into
Johnson's character, or who have brought to the study of it a better
knowledge of the time in which Johnson lived and the men whom he
knew."--_Saturday Review._

"We could not wish for a more suggestive introduction to Scott and his
poems and novels."--_Examiner._

"The tone of the volume is excellent throughout."--_Athenæum_ Review of

"As a clear, thoughtful, and attractive record of the life and works of
the greatest among the world's historians, it deserves the highest
praise."--_Examiner_ Review of "Gibbon."

"The lovers of this great poet (Shelley) are to be congratulated at
having at their command so fresh, clear, and intelligent a presentment
of the subject, written by a man of adequate and wide

"It may fairly be said that no one now living could have expounded Hume
with more sympathy or with equal perspicuity."--_Athenæum._

"The story of Defoe's adventurous life may be followed with keen
interest in Mr. Minto's attractive book."--_Academy._

            *       *       *       *       *


   The poems WILLOW TREE No. I and WILLOW TREE No. II were side by
   side in the original.

   There are variant spellings of the following name:

        Jeames Yellowplush
        Mr. C. James Yellowplush

        Spellings were left as in the original.

   The following changes were made to the text:

        page 5--Thackeray's version was 'Cabbages, bright green
        cabbages,'{added missing ending quotation mark} and we
        thought it very witty.

        page 78--Then there are "Jeames on Time Bargings," "Jeames on
        the Gauge{original had Guage} Question," "Mr. Jeames again."

        page 131--"I knew you would come back," she said; "and to-day,
        Harry{original has Henry}, in the anthem when they sang

        page 143--The wife won't{original has wo'n't} come.

        page 143--On his way he{original has be} shoots a raven

        page 158--As Thackeray explains clearly what he means by a
        humorist, I may as well here repeat the passage:{punctuation
        missing in original} "If humour only meant laughter

        page 166--I will then let my reader go to the volume and study
        the lectures for himself.{no punctuation in original} "The
        poor fellow was never

        page 212--[Ready.{original is missing period--this occurred in
        the line referencing DEFOE and the line referencing THACKERAY}

   The following words used an "oe" ligature in the original:


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