Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

national character, and practically established the fact that in the two honest extremes, rather than in the dishonest via media, are to be recognised the true elements of England's greatness.

To our previous knowledge of the royal victim of the Catholic triumph under Mary, —"the Twelfth-day queen,” the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, Mr. Froude adds little beyond his sanction to the general meed of enthusiastic praise bestowed on her noble disposition and remarkable attainments in learning. But the shrinking reluctance which she displayed in accepting, and the thankful indifference with which she gave up her phantom title, might be quite as much indications of a mind unequal to the crisis, as of a high-minded superiority to selfish ambition. The manner, however, in which she succeeded in nerving her unstable though well-meaning father to undergo his fate with dignity, and without flinching from his religious convictions, is a clear indication, along with her own firm though gentle bearing, of something above the ordinary virtues of a devoted martyr. For her death the imperial ambassador seems to be primarily responsible; but who is to bear the fearful responsibility of the later persecutions which converted England into mere religious shambles it is not so casy to determine. Mr. Froude lays the burden on Cardinal Pole; but his reasons are at the best but plausible inferences, and all his references to the Cardinal savour a little too much of the rancour of the apologist of Henry against his most violent calumniator, not to make us pause before impli. citly receiving such an imputation. If we are not mistaken, there are writings of Pole in which a more moderate course is recommended; and, zealot as he was, this is not inconsistent with his character. He was an Englishman after all in many of his feelings; and England once brought into submission to Rome, he had less genius for destroying a prostrate enemy than for combating him on equal terms, or bearding him in the fullness of his power. IIas not Mr. Froude touched on the more probable authorship of these cruelties when he describes the increasing gloom, the feelings of wounded sensibility, the bitter disappointment of the queen herself? It is not necessary to picture her as a monster of wickedness if we accept this solution. She thought, doubtless, that in this, as in every thing that had gone before, she was strictly fulfilling her duty to God. But the future looked dark for the prospects of Catholicism in England. She felt that her own days were numbered. The longcherished hopes of a child to succeed her, and to be cradled in the faith of her ancestors, had faded away. She could not, she saw, prevent the succession of Elizabeth. Elizabeth, she knew, was bound over by the circumstances of her mother's

a

marriage to the cause of the Reformation. How could she save the Church from this great impending danger? By no longcontinued policy, by no gradual removal of the elements of evil could this now be effected. The medicine must be sharp and immediate in its action. She might so crush the hateful heresy, so maim it of all its leading members, that not even the goodwill of Elizabeth would be able to infuse new vitality into the shapeless body. At any rate it was her duty to try; and when she had resolved on this, there were many inferior agents to stimulate her zeal, and few in a superior position willing or able to stay her hand. She failed in her violence even more decidedly than her father had done with his ambiguous MiddleScheme. He had at least lowered the tone of the movement which he could not altogether guide in the path he had determined for it. She by a baptism of blood only gave it a new and nobler title to the affections of the English nation.

Under Elizabeth, the idea of a Middle Scheme between pure Protestantism and Catholicism was partially revived, though in a modified form. This is not the occasion to speak of the merits or demerits of that “Anglican” platform ; but the Puritan Revolution of the next century, and the Nonconformist disruption of the Protestant Church in England in the present day, do not say much for the wisdom, in a broader and far-sighted view, of the second via media of the Tudor princes.

a

ART. X.-THE NOVELS OF GEORGE ELIOT. Scenes from Clerical Life. By George Eliot. 2 vols. Blackwood.

1858. Adam Bede. By George Eliot. 3 vols. Blackwood. 1859. The Mill on the Floss. By George Eliot. 3 vols. Blackwood. 1860. The genius which has distinguished the most successful of recent English novelists has been the growth of a very light intellectual soil. It has been a social inspiration; the spirit of some special social atmosphere has entered into them, and all their individual creations have been possessed with it too. Miss Austen, Mr. Thackeray, Mr. Trollope, are all novelists of this class. Their characters all stand on one level, breathe the same social air, are delineated with great accuracy down to the same very inconsiderable depth, and no farther;—all, in short, are bas-reliefs cut out on the same surface. All of them are perfectly inexhaustible in resource on the special social ground they choose, and quite incapable of varying it. And all of them disappoint us in not giving more insight into those deeper roots of character which lie beneath the social surface. Probably the mobile sympathies which are so essential to artists of this class, and the faculty of readily realising, and of being easily satisfied with realising, the workings of other minds, are to some extent inconsistent with that imaginative intensity and tenacity which is needful for the deeper insight into human character. Certainly the accomplished artists we have named-carve out their marvellously life-like groups in a flimsy though sufficiently plastic material. How perfect and how infinitely various are the images left on the mind by the characters in Miss Austen's novels ! Lord Macaulay has expressed just admiration of the skill which could paint four young clergymen, “all belonging to the upper part of the middle class, all liberally educated, all under the restraints of the same sacred profession, all young, all in love, all free from any disposition to ride a special hobby, and all without a ruling passion," without making them insipid likenesses of each other. And no doubt this does show great power ; but it is equally remarkable that all of them are drawn just to the same depth, all delineated out of the same social elements. None of their minds are exhibited in any direct contact with the ultimate realities of life; none of them are seen grasping at the truth by which they seek to live, struggling with a single deadly temptation,-or, in short, with any of the deeper elements of human life open to the light. The same may be said of Mr. Thackeray's and Mr. Trollope's sketches. Both authors, indeed, affect to probe the motives of their leading characters from time to time, but both take pains to report that at a very small depth below the surface the analysis fails to detect any certain result. The whole graphic effect of their art is produced with scarcely any disturbance of the smooth surface of social

usage. The artist's graver just scratches off the wax in a few given directions till the personal bias of taste and bearing is sufficiently revealed while the pervading principle of the society in which the artist lives is strictly preserved.

This type of genius is more clearly understood if we contrast it with one of a very different school. Miss Brontë was no painter of society. Her imagination was not, and under the circumstances of her life could not have been, at home with the light play of social influences. There is an abruptness of outline, a total want of social cohesion among all her characters. They are sternly drawn, with much strong shading, and kept in isolated spheres. They break, or rather burst, in upon each other, when they exert mutual influences at all, with a rude effort, that is significant enough of the shyness of a solitary creative imagina

a

a

tion. Still, for this very reason, what characters Miss Brontë does conceive truly, she reveals much more deeply than the other novelists of whom we have been speaking. She has no familiarity with the delicate touches and shades by which they succeed in conveying a distinct impression without laying bare the deeper secrets of character. She has not, like them, any power of giving in her delineations traces of thought and feeling which lie beyond her actual grasp. She has a full and conscious hold of all the moods she paints; and though her paintings are in nine cases out of ten far less lifelike, yet when lifelike they are far more profoundly imagined than those of Mr. Thackeray, Mr.

Trollope, or Miss Austen. There is as little common life, diffused atmosphere of thought, and as few connecting social ideas, amongst the various figures in Miss Brontë's tales as is possible to conceive among fellow-men and fellow-countrymen. But what personal life there is, is of the deepest sort, though it is apt to be too exceptional and individual, and too little composed out of elements of universal experience.

There is another distinction between the two schools which it is to our present purpose to notice. The novelists of the former school, who delineate not only individual figures but a complete phase of society, had what we may call a medium ready to their hand in which to trace the characteristic features of the natures they delineate. They have a familiar world of manners to paint, in which a modulation, an omission, or an emphasis here and there, are quite sufficient to mark a character, or indicate a latent emotion. Not so an author who, like Miss Brontë, endeavours to fit all her characters with a new and appropriate outward manner of their own as distinct and special as the inward nature it expresses. With her there is necessarily a directness of delineation, a strong downrightness in the drawing which is in very marked contrast with the method that charms us so much in the pictures of Miss Austen and her modern successors. Much of the art of the drawing-room novelists consists in the indirectness, the allusiveness, the educated reticence of the artist. They portray a society; they indicate an individuality. They delight in fine strokes ; they will give a long conversation which scarcely advances the narrative at all for the sake of a few delicate touches of shade or colour on an individual character. In the power to paint this play of common social life, in which there are comparatively but few key-notes of distinct personality, the charm of this school of art consists; while Miss Brontë's lies in the Rembrandt-like distinctness with which the mind conceived is brought into the full blaze of light, and the direct vigour with which all its prominent features are marked out.

O

The genius of George Eliot-as the authoress of Adam Bede is still to be styled-has some points of connection with both of these schools of art, beside some characteristics peculiarly its own. There is the same flowing ease of manner, clearness of drawing, delicacy of finish, and absence of excitement, which characterise the modern satirical school of novelists. But there is less of play in the surface-painting,—more of depth in the deeper characters imagined, -a broader touch, a stronger, directer fashion of delineation,-less of manner-painting, and more of the bare naturalism of human life. On the other hand, there is nothing of the Rembrandt-like style of Miss Brontë: the light flows far more equally over her pictures; we find nothing of the irregular emphasis with which Currer Bell's characters are delineated, or of the strong subjective colouring which tinges all her scenes. George Eliot's imagination, like Miss Brontë's, loves to go to the roots of character, and portrays best by broad direct strokes; but there the likeness between them, so far as there is any, ends. The reasons for the deeper method and for the directer style are probably very different in the two cases. Miss Brontë can scarcely be said to have had any large instinctive knowledge of human nature:-her own life and thoughts were exceptional, -cast in a strongly-marked but not very wide mould; her imagination was solitary; her experience was very limited; and her own personality tinged all she wrote. She “made out” the outward life and manner of her dramatis persone by the sheer force of her own imagination; and as she always imagined the will and the affections as the substance and centre of her characters, those of her delineations which are successful at all are deep, and their manner broad.

George Eliot's genius is exceedingly different. There is but little of Miss Austen in her, because she has studied in a very different and much simpler social world; but there is in the springs of her genius at least more of Miss Austen than of Miss Brontë. Her genial, broad delineations of human life have more perhaps of the ease of Fielding than of Miss Austen, or of any of the manners-painters of the present day. For these imagine life only as it appears in a certain dress and manner, which are, as we said, a kind of artificial medium for their art, -life as affected by drawing-rooms. George Eliot has little, if any, of their capacity of catching the under-tones and allusive complexity of this sort of society. But though she has observed the phases of a more natural and straightforward sphere of life, she draws her external life from observation, instead of imagining it, like Miss Brontë, out of the heart of the characters she wishes to paint. The manners she has studied are manners of the simplest and most genuine kind of the rural farmers and labourers,—of the

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »