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created, perhaps, for the sake of an effect which no art can consistently bring into notice when the figures are naturally arranged. Hence the temptation is great, (how often does Dickens, for example, yield to it!) for an author to make his figures suddenly wheel about and execute all kinds of eccentric and inappropriate manæuvres, that he may display details of character wholly unadapted to the scene and the company into which he may have accidentally dragged a favourite actor. In truth, the minute study of individual parts is a bad preparation for the creation of a whole, unless with a mind of extraordinary self-control, and vivid enough imagination to infer what parts and qualities of the single object will fall into the shade, and what will be drawn out into new light and new modifications by the fresh influences to which it is subjected. As the private biography of a statesman is a very misleading preparation for the historical part played by the subject of it ;-as few things are more startling than to see one whom you have learnt to know intimately and in detail, in a critical position, where half his nature is in shadow, and the other half dilated beyond its natural proportions ;—so is the minute observation of the strictexperience school of fiction, a totally inadequate and often misleading preparation for the vivid portraiture of a complex story.
We doubt if any really great writer of fiction ever thought up from his individual characters, to his scenes and events. The action is conceived first as an organic whole, and then the elements which constitute it are successively elaborated. Not, indeed, that the characters are subordinated to the evolution of the mere events,—the reverse is the case with all the greatest artists; but that the characters cannot be fairly and fully elaborated in their mutual relations, unless the conceptions of the principal relations germinate in the author's mind simultaneously with the conception of the characters themselves. Shakspere certainly never conceived Lady Macbeth in vacuo, to develope her subsequently into the tempteress and the murderess. Neither did Scott execute his Rebecca in one studio, and Brian de Bois Gilbert in another; and then deliberately bring them into the same group. The relations of the Jewess and the Templar, of the Norman Barons and the Saxon Thanes, must have been born in his mind along with the characters themselves, and given as much shape and colour to the individual figures as they took from them.
But it is not only for the sake of the truth of delineation, that the movement of the plot should be conceived along with the characters; for many novelists do not incur this danger, but conceive simultaneously the whole group of their principal actors, so as to place them in their due relations from the
beginning. Only these writers to whom we now allude, conceive them in a state of equilibrium-like statical forces, or like tableaux vivans,--and then, when they have once sketched them faithfully, they have much ado to stir them into any active and interesting mancuvring. In this case they are excellently conceived and excellently grouped; but this is not all that is needful to delineate human beings. The great interest of human life, after all, is the becoming, not the being. Slightly as we ever modify ourselves,-comparatively slightly as we change each other,-yet all our interest is centred on the changes, the moves in the human game, the hasty marches, the eager contests, the doubtful results. What men are, we know. What we breathlessly strive to behold is, what men shall be. Nor can we even delineate what they are, except by delineating them in a state of change, without delineating the mutual invasions and surrenders of human individualities. Half the qualities of men are visible only in glowing action and in continuous action. No careful sculpture of momentary attitudes,-though they be petrified in the very instant of vivid and vehement purpose,-can delineate men truly. Hence a plot of some rapid movement is of the very essence of art; and hence the unsuitability of ordinary listless hours, and of monotonous life, for revealing what men are. The latent heat cannot so be indicated, yet it is an essential part of the real life: you must choose a moment when the latent heat is given out. The statical school of fiction, of which Miss Austen may be said to be by far the most distinguished representative,-the writers, we mean, who throw all their characters into easy attitudes for undisturbed chat, or, when obliged to set them in motion, only lead them gently by the side of a stream of events which wanders along "soft and slow," with scarcely a ripple or a rock,-produce much elegant literature, describing man as he is on the surface of quiet society, but give you little glimpse of the latent force and complex emotions which sleep beneath the cultivated self-possession of social life.
It may be said, with great truth, that the quiet, chatty school of novelists represent not only the surface of human life, but the whole of much ordinary life,—that deep feelings and rapid movements of human interest are the exception in the comfortable classes,—and that, even if you could sound the depths of secret emotion with the omniscience assumed by the writer of fiction, in nine cases out of ten the floating bubbles of gossip would give you a very good notion of the strata of life beneath. And this may be nearly true. But in all men there is the capacity for a deeper and higher range of feeling ; and it is this capacity which makes man so high a subject of art. As Dutch paintings of
the highest imitative perfection soon weary because the mind cannot rest long on a mere lesson in accurate details, but looks to be taught some deeper insight into beauty and expression, through the finer perception of the artist-so the chatty school of novelists soon weary us,
cause what we naturally seek after is wanting. One who can see all that we see with so much more discriminating a glance, ought to teach us also to see what we do not see-namely, the points where the small wants and cares of bounded, narrow minds might open out—if we could but catch the hidden and tortuous path -into wide sympathy with the genial beauty and the stormy greatness of human nature.
It is the misery of ordinary natures to be able to bring only the punctum cæcum of the mind's eye to bear on those minute spots in other ordinary natures, where the passage into a world of more genial liberty—the escape into immortal attributesis really to be found. All men can see clearly the shallow bottom of the minds of others; but the darker points, where the springs go deeper, are apt to strike the paralyzed portion of the retina, and we perceive them not. If the literary artist cannot help us here, it is small amends that he paints with inimitable skill the details to which we are negligently awake.
And, to come back to the main drift of these remarks, there is a special necessity for the modern novelist to throw his art into the plot as well as into the characters, so as to give it a free and rapid movement. The more faithfully he delineates the ordinary tone and manners of cultivated society, the less likely will he be to help us to sound these deeper portions of human nature. Nor will the admitted privilege of mentally diving into the recesses of his actors' hearts effectually extricate him from this difficulty, without the help of an artful and spirited conspiracy of events. For there is a limit to the use of this privilege. It is very right and very pleasing to be told of the strong feelings working beneath your hero's unruffled brow, and your heroine's liquid laughter. But it will never do to separate half so completely, in a work of fiction, the outward life and the inward, as they often are separated in reality. It is too trying to faith. Art will not bear the strain. Much liberty of this kind, no doubt, there is in the novel, which the dramatist is forbidden. But, even in the novel, the object must be, to harmonize these statements “on authority," with the delineations of manner and life. Already a sceptical generation is springing up, which will question the author's omniscience, and take leave to doubt, here of a fact, and there of a feeling. It has been stoutly denied by a warm admirer of Miss Bremer, that she was correct in stating that Bruno shot
his horse. An unbelieving generation will probably some day question whether, in fact, Ivanhoe had the unfortunate taste to prefer Rowena, or Rebecca the still more unfortunate taste to prefer Ivanhoe. Where art ceases to be art, faith will not be persuaded to go its way, nothing doubting. There must be enough, in the outward delineation at least, to shadow forth what the artist states to be going on within. You cannot have a history of deep emotion, running parallel with a delineation of the placid colloquialism of polished life. And yet no picture of modern society would be faithful, or free from the charge of romantic unreality, which should allow the deeper emotions to appear on the surface, unless there be also a considerable element of exciting events to fuse the cold upper strata of character into a glow. The greater the culture of men, the less easy and direct becomes the expression of their deeper natures. It requires the crisis of opposition—the suspense of uncertaintythe struggle with perplexity, to justify any visible picture of deep and powerful passion. Man's deeper nature, unless roused, and crossed, and chafed, in a way in which the school of Miss Austen and the quietist school in general seldom provide for,) does not gleam through its sheath at all, and it requires great skill and subtlety to provide fair opportunity for this, without running into the absurdities of the passionate, stage-effect sort of novelists, who make men and women rant out their emotions on the most trivial occasions, and go into quite alarming convulsions of character with less reserve and less shame than the simplest child. On the other hand, the morbid and mystical school put aside this danger, only to fall into the other equally painful fault, of merging a delineation of character into an analysis of feeling, which, if it be art at all, is only the art of disease,—the miniature painting of spiritual dungeons. The true medium (one of especial difficulty for our modern culture) is, to give so much agitating movement to the story as will justify a higher than ordinary tint of colouring in the delineations of external life ; so that this again, in its turn, may justify subsidiary description of inward emotion,-a description which is out of harmony, and apt to seem sentimental and tedious, if not borne out by a considerable visible tossing of the upper waves of fate as well. We listen in awe to the sound of booming thunder heard beneath the earth, if we see the visible earthquake before our eyes; but soon tire of it as a mere natural phenomenon, if no adequate and suitable terrors ensue.
T'he time was when novels were estimated and criticized almost entirely with a view to the ingenuity and exciting situations of the plot. Mr. James has subsisted as a literary man, not so much on plots, as on conspiracies. Ambuscades on
the trail of the Iroquois must have been life-insurance to Mr. Cooper ; and out of piratical audacities he has gleaned a modest fame. Through innumerable trap-doors, Mr. Ains
, worth has emerged into literary notoriety; secret passages have been his best benefactors, and decaying tapestry his truest friend. Mrs. Radcliffe was under obligations of that nature to banditti, that a grateful heart would have suggested the duty of giving herself up to pillage in the Apen. nines with at least a moderate treasure. Sorcery has been of material service to Bulwer, and ghosts to Scott. Now, however, all is changed, and the danger is rather of a reaction from this helpless dependence on machinery, into the use of no machinery whatever for the development of character. We have offered reasons why the energy of the tale is of real importance, even to the artist, and from the artistic point of view; and we have dwelt on the subject, because we ascribe a good deal of the faultiness in several of the stories before us to the languid current of events, or to their straggling confusion and want of harmony with the characters they are intended to unfold.
The absence of all invention of situations adapted to unfold his main characters is the great fault in Mr. Hannay's amusing, frequently brilliant, and sometimes skilful volumes. Eustace Conyers has scarce any thread of unity in it at all, except that it starts with the birth of Eustace, and ends with his embarkation for the Baltic. There is a little slack sea-adventure now and then; but even these incidents are not adapted or intended to develope the characters of the tale, but are mere sugarplums for the reader, to draw him on through the book. The real characters, so far as they are developed at all, are developed intellectually, through the colloquial medium, and chiefly by the Thackerayish practice of a frequent comparison of notes between the young men of the story as to their theory of life. And very skilfully this is often done. Though Mr. Hannay probably would not at all bear comparison with either Thackeray or Carlyle in power, his humour and intellectual insight will often remind the reader of both. There is something more than fine observation and considerable talent in his writing. There is genius, but more of the discriminative than of the imaginative kind. He seems to have passive more than active imagination; insight and humour, but not much creative power. We should guess that most of his characters are studies from life. He has no women worth noting in his tale, which indicates that his delineations are intellectual more than poetic. For a man to draw women successfully requires some. thing more than observation, a real inborn poetic faculty which