« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
In the hands of Scott the novel assumed a new character, but lost much of this ethical and reformatory aim.
Himself deeply imbued with the picturesqueness of the past, sympathizing in its "healthy animalism," enjoying its sports and pageants and costume, almost losing, in his relish for feudalism, his sense of its systematic cruelties and injustice, Scott carried all England with him from the contemplation of the present to revel in a brilliant but unreal world, from which no lesson was to be derived but that of a kindly and genial sympathy with man and nature. He worked with no higher pur pose than to amuse, and he succeeded to admiration. As the nature of the man was healthy, manly, and truthful, the amusement he afforded was in the main wholesome, and the world owes him a debt of gratitude. But the world will not long rest satisfied with amusement. No school of writing can be permanent unless it have an aim beyond amusing. The school that has not such an aim will never attract to its ranks the noblest rising minds. This has been shown in the history of that branch of novel writing which had its root in Scott. It can boast of no really great name but his. It is already effete; and the writer who sets himself to paint the past now, if he wish to attract any attention beyond the poor circle of subscribers to the circulating library, or the hungry members of the country book-club, must read the lesson of his period while he paints its manners.
Since the time of Scott, two men rise eminent above the novel-writing crowd-Dickens and Thackeray.* It is superfluous to say that they both work with a grave and earnest purpose. Their study has lain in different chapters of the book of our life, but it has, in both, been guided by a conviction, avowed or implicit, that every page of that book has its moral, and that the writer's business is, if not to educe it formally, at least to leave his readers impressed by it. The name of Kingsley deserves a place by that of Dickens and Thackeray, for recognition of this duty in the novelist. It is the sense of this which harmonizes the works of the three, different as are the fields in which they have been led to labour. Dickens, setting out with the rough education of adverse circumstance, trained in the newspaper-office, the reporters' gallery, and the thousand and one scenes from which the feeder of our omnipresent and allrecording daily press draws the material for his rapid paragraphs, has taken possession of the life of our streets and
It is from no want of respect for the merits of Sir Edw. L. Bulwer Lytton, that we omit mention of him here. He too has exhibited a recognition, more marked in each successive novel, of the law, that the writer of fiction now-a-days must be the teacher and preacher, as well as the amuser.
taverns, our law-courts, and prisons and hospitals, our railways and markets. He is at home in the London thoroughfares, the Cockney watering-place, and the Yorkshire school, the sidescenes of the country theatre, the thieves' ken of Jacob's island, the condemned cell, and the Court of Chancery. The streets are his book, and on their mud and misery, their humble joys and squalid sorrows, their broad farce, their tragedies of suffering and of sin, he sheds the strong light of a genial sympathy, and moves ever guided by a high and hallowing purpose. That his humour is apt to run into burlesque, his men and women to grow into bundles of oddities, or abstractions of class peculiarities that his sentiment is often puling, his pathos maudlin, and his emotion melo-dramatic, we are not concerned to deny. But of the nobleness of his aims and the sincerity of his convictions there can be no doubt, and it is by virtue of these that he has taken and will keep his place in the popular heart.
Thackeray has gathered his experiences of life and character under very different conditions. Born to ample means, educated in the regular course of school and university, thrown naturally among the well-to-do on his entrance into life, he has not lacked the schooling of adversity, and has known the necessity of earning his bread by his pen. We have to thank that painful discipline for the most searching, and yet most benevolent, anatomy of what is called "good society," that English literature can boast of. His work has lain among our professional, aristocratic and would-be aristocratic world, in Temple Chambers, West-end Clubs and drawing-rooms, wellappointed country-houses, and free-and-easy barrack-quarters. If he descends to the footman's pot-house or the servants'-hall, it is to get a new view of "master and missus" from "Jeames's' point of observation. But never have the conventional moralities of the "upper classes" been brought to such a standardnever has the pitiless daylight been so let in on the rouge and tinsel and distemper-daubing of the booths in "Vanity Fair," as by this calm, cool, sadly-smiling, sternly-frowning observer. Not a weakness, meanness, or affectation, but has received its lighter or deeper brand-mark from his hand-not a social lie, or tolerated wickedness, but has had to wince under the whip of this executor "des hautes œuvres" of social judgment. In his case, again, as in that of Dickens, the critics are ready with their cut-and-dry catalogue of offences. The men are too mean, and the women too silly, or too vile-the skeleton in every house is too eagerly sought for, too complacently paraded and moralized on-the grain of selfishness is sown too broadcast in human motives-mothers are needlessly warned that their sons will be profligate-tuft-hunting and toadyism are too
widely predicated. It may be so. Our business at present is not to defend Thackeray from such charges. What we now wish to insist on is the earnestness of his aim, the inculcation, in and through all his sadly-humorous delineations, of the deep responsibilities of man, and his underlying sense of the awful realities of right and wrong.
Mr. Kingsley, in some respects, holds common ground with both Dickens and Thackeray. Like the former, he is in his place among the poor, the sinful, and the suffering of the humbler class. Like the latter, he is at home in college-rooms and Belgravian boudoirs. But he has one element in which both Dickens and Thackeray are wanting-a naturalist's and artist's familiarity with the fields and woods and rivers. He is a great landscape-painter. Dickens can paint town-pictures, such as no Dutch painter has surpassed for minute truth. Wherever man has set his stamp on the face of earth, Dickens can describe the scene. But his power and sympathy as a painter, end with man's working upon nature. Take him into the heart of the woods, plant him by the lush banks of a Devonshire river, or in the purple heather-flush of a Westland moor, and the Cockney stands revealed. It needs no conjuror to tell the reader that he never held in a hot horse by a cover-side, or threw a fly, or knocked over a grouse on the hill-side or a partridge in the stubbles. Nor has Thackeray ever indicated the power of the landscape-painter, or the sympathies of the sportsman or naturalist. With Kingsley, on the other hand, the love of out-door nature, wild nature, sportsman's nature, reveals itself in almost every page. It is no small distinction to know England as Kingsley knows her. In fact, his knowledge of the parts of our island most distant from each other, and most dissimilar in character, is such that one is puzzled to account for it. The Devonshire readers of "Westward-Ho" will certainly claim him for a Devonian. Wiltshire would put in her title on the strength of his unrivalled descriptions of the chalk country in "Yeast ;" while the reader of "Alton Locke" will hesitate whether to set him down for a rank Cockney, or an amphibious fen-man. In another respect, also, Kingsley presents a distinctive characteristic. He is a clergyman, a working parish-priest, of the Church of England. It may be a sad truth, but it is one enforced on us by experience of clerical fictions, that his profession would seem, at first sight, more likely to mar than to mend his success as a novelist. Few of his cloth seem able to get rid of the surplice and the Church Catechism when they take up the pen of the novel-writer. If of the Low Church, their novel is apt to be a tract in disguise; if of the Oxford school, a polemic under false pretences, or a Guide to Rome in three volumes.
The habit of shutting the eyes to men and things as they are, and seeing only the unreal beings and imaginary world hebdomadally referred to from the pulpit, is all but inveterate with the class. Either they lack the courage to face facts, or have lost the habit of doing so. Their books read as if addressed exclusively to the congregation which has the happiness of "sitting under" the author.
But Mr. Kingsley belongs to that section of the Anglican clergy, as yet unhappily a small one, which ranks itself neither under the banners of High nor Low Church. If any section of his brethren can claim him, and his master and friend, Mr. Maurice, it is probably that one which, for want of a better name, has been styled "The Broad Church," of which Dr. Arnold is usually considered the prophetes. It is not necessary for the purpose of this article to enter into any detail of the doctrines of this School; but its teaching is inspired by one fundamental and comprehensive belief, that the "Kingdom of God" is not to be looked for in a future state, but lies round about us here, and is visible in all that beautifies, ennobles, and sanctifies life. To what follows on this belief, which is, as it were, the key-note of Mr. Kingsley's fictions, we must ask the attention of our readers. We do so with the more confidence, as we shall borrow for the purpose from the work of an abler hand than ours.
The writer of a remarkable article in the "Westminster Review speaks as follows of a contradiction, which is the puzzle of the religiously-minded and the triumph of the irreligious :
"Expressions abound in the literature of modern Christendom. implying an antithesis between temporal and spiritual things, between morality and religion, between the world and God. No one can fail to observe that this antithesis, whether founded in reality or not, has become a social fact. There are two
standards of judgment extant for the estimate of character and life: one set up in the pulpit, the other recognized in the forum and the street. The former gives the order in which we pretend, and perhaps ineffectually try, to admire men and things; the latter, that in which we do admire them. Under the influence of the one, the merchant or the country gentleman is professedly in love with the innocent improvidence of the ravens and the lilies; relapsing into the other, he sells all his cotton in expectation of a fall, or drains his farms for a rise of rent. On the Sunday he applauds it as a saintly thing to present the patient cheek to the smiter; on the Monday, he listens with rapture to Kossuth's curse upon the House of Hapsburgh, and the Magyar vow of resistance to the death. He assents when the Apostle John is held up to his veneration, as the beloved disciple, but, if the truth were known, the Duke * The Ethics of Christendom, No. CXI., Jannary 1852.
of Wellington is rather more to his mind. Supposing it all true that is said about the vanity of earthly pleasures and ostentations, he nevertheless lets his daughters send out next day invitations to a grand ball, and makes his house busy with dress-makers and cooks. He is accustomed to confess that in him there is no good thing, and that all his thoughts and works are only evil continually; yet he is pleased with himself that he has provided for the family of his gardener who was killed on the railway last week. In these and a thousand other forms may be noticed the competition between two co-existing and unreconciled standards, the relations between which are altogether confused and uneasy."
Which of us has not felt this distracting antagonism? How many has it not driven to rejection of all real belief in the Christian revelation ? How many more has despair of explaining it deadened into an apathetic acceptance of Christian doctrines as fatal as their rejection-nay, shall we not say more fatal, because more final? In the article from which we have quoted, the origin of this mischief is traced, as it seems to us, truly to the Apostolic notion that the end of this world was at hand when he wrote,-that Christ had but left his disciples to return, in all the majesty of his second advent, and inaugurate the reign of the saints on earth. Hence the renunciation by the Apostles of worldly ambitions and interests, the indifference they inculcated to human needs, culture, and affections. But this preaching of bare faith as the condition of citizenship in Christ's kingdom assumes a different significance when adopted as a sufficient theory of human nature now. And the consequences, as deduced by the reviewer, are so important, and his statement of them appears to us so felicitous, that we must again quote his own words :
It is the peculiarity of modern Christianity that these two codes coexist within the same social body, and even rule over different parts of each individual. The Pauline antithesis between the world and the church was not less sharp than ours: but it was a distinction of persons and classes, and nobody could occupy both the opposite ends of it. Once within a society of disciples, he was out of the world, and belonged to "the assembly of the saints;" and the whole realm of heathendom beyond constituted the contrasted term. He did not stand and move with one leg on holy ground and the other on the common earth; whatever were the principles of the community he had joined, they served him all through, and did no violence to the unity of his nature. Praying or dining, weeping or laughing, in the workshop or the prison, he was the same man in the same sphere. As the circle of the church enlarged, we should therefore expect the world to be driven to a distance, till it was absent from whole countries and continents. But a new "world" has been discovered, not only within the church, but within the person of every disciple; his body and limbs, his