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vagaries. He has none of the noble, artistic, old Greek thirst for perfection. He “goes in” for quantity rather than quality. Content with, and revelling in, a prolific exuberance that is almost unrivalled; seeking to do much rather than to do well; trusting to inspiration, and fancying (perhaps too easily) that whatever comes must be inspired-he is for ever falling below himself, and at once disappointing and irritating his admirers. Now, a genius like Mr. Kingsley's not only deserves the most sedulous culture, but demands the most severe control. It is too rich and teeming to be left to “ wander at its own sweet will.” It needs to be employed, not to be indulged. A man has no more right to allow his powers to be less useful and profitable than they might be made, than he has to misuse or to neglect them altogether. If it be sinful to wrap your talent in a napkin and hide it in the earth, it is only one degree less sinful so to handle it as to make it yield twofold only where it might yield ten.
We have said that Mr. Kingsley is essentially an improvisatore. His novels especially bear the same relation to the best works of art, in their line, that the extempore versification of an abounding fancy bears to the conscientiously perfected and polished production of a consummate poet. It is difficult to be. lieve that, either in Hypatia or in Two Years ago, he had laid bis plot beforehand : in Yeast there does not pretend to be any plot at all. Hypatia especially might have been so grand, and is so disappointing. There is consummate mastery of the costume and character of the epoch; there are magnificent materials of character and fancy brought together to the workshop; there are gorgeous descriptions of external beauty; there are individual scenes of thrilling interest; there are wonderful glimpses both of thought and passion. Raphael Aben Ezra’s meditations when he gets to the “ bottom of the abyss” of scepticism, and poor Pelagia's piercing remonstrances against the prospect of being consigned to the flames of hell for ever, are among the most powerful passages we have read in any language. But the inconsiderate confusion in which the incidents of the story jostle and stumble over one another, and the indistinctness with which many of them are told, compel us to reserve our admiration for particular scenes and portions, and render it impossible to praise the work as a whole. Mingled with our pleasure and our interest in reading it, and spoiling both, come the ever.recurring reflections, "How much more might have been made of this ! how much better this might have been done! what a splendid conception, but what an unworthy and slovenly maltreatment of it!" Still, with all its faults, it is unquestionably a work of genius; but of genius in a hurry—of genius, as it were, shut up without
fire or candle, like an inharmonious jury, and compelled to complete its task before it can regain its liberty. The general picture of those times is imperfect and confused enough, not from want of knowledge, but from want of care and patience; the view of the great struggle between Christianity and Paganism, when the latter was an effete and dying unreality, and the former was insolent with rough young life and rampant with incipient victory,—which offered so magnificent a subject for a pen competent to deal with it,-is in our opinion most inadequately and mistily worked out; but, on the other hand, the extravagant follies and the brutal vices of the Alexandrian Christians, as well as the narrow bigotry, questionable motives, and unscrupulous violence of their leaders, are drawn with a powerful and unsparing hand. Philammon, the young monk who goes forth to see the world, is interesting and natural; so is the wily and cultivated Jew, first a cynical philosopher, and then a convert to the new religion; so also is Pelagia, the Athenian dancing-girl and courtesan-frivolous, pleasure-loving, and childish, undeveloped and soulless because untaught, unconsciously sinful because brought up to sin, but still endowed with some original elements of good, and therefore redeemable, and in the end redeemed. Hypatia, the beautiful teacher of a poetic philosophy and a poetic creed; the beautiful dweller in a beautiful cloud-land; the enthusiastic votary of the old gods of Greece; spotless, ethereal, noble, but a dreamer; vainly and wildly striving to save and fan the flickering embers of a fading past, and to brighten and animate with her own vivid life the chill and pallid moonlight of the pagan faith,—is grandly conceived and finely depicted. The other characters in the book seem to us either blotches or mere indicated outlines. The only extract we shall allow ourselves is the soliloquy of Pelagia, after she has been awakened by the denunciations and the pity of Philammon and Arsenius to the sinfulness of her life, and its reputed future issue:
“"I cannot bear it! Any thing but shame! To have fancied all my life—vain fool that I was !--that every one loved and admired me; and to find that they were despising me, hating me, all along! .. And yet women as bad as I have been honoured—when they were dead. What was that song I used to sing about Epicharis, who hung herself in the litter, and Leaina, who bit out her tongue, lest torture should drive them to betray their lovers? There used to be a statue of Leaina, they say, at Athens-a lioness without a tongue. And whenever I sang the song, the theatre used to rise and shout, and call them noble and blessed.
I never could tell why then ; but I know now ! Perhaps they may call me noble, after all. At least they may say, 6. She was a
- ; but she dared to die for the man she loved !" . . Ay, but God despises me too, and hates me. He will send me to eternal fire. Philammon said so,—though he was my brother. The
old monk said so, though he wept as he said it. ... The flames of hell for ever! Oh, not for ever. Great, dreadful God! not for ever! Indeed, I did not know! No one ever taught me about right and wrong; and I never knew I had been baptised, -indeed I never knew ! -And it was so pleasant-so pleasant to be loved and praised and happy, and to see happy faces round me. How could I help it? The birds who are singing in the darling beloved court—they do what they like ; and Thou art not angry with them for being happy. And Thou wilt not be more cruel to me than to them, great God, for what did I know more than they? Thou hast made the beautiful sunshine, and the pleasant, pleasant world, and the flowers and the birds. Thou wilt not send me to burn for ever and ever ? will not a hundred years be punishment enough ?-or a thousand? O God, is not this punishment
? enough already,-to have to leave him just as-just as I am beginning to long to be good and to be worthy of him? .... Oh! have mercy
-mercy-mercy-and let me go after I have been punished enough! Why may I not turn into a bird, or even into a worm, and come back again out of that horrible place, to see the sun shine and the flowers grow once more? Oh! am not I punishing myself already? Will not this help to atone? .... Yes, I will die !--and perhaps so God will pity me.' And with trembling hands she drew the sword from its sheath, and covered the blade with kisses. “Yes, on this swordwith which he won his battles. That is right--his to the last. Will it be very painful ?—After all, it is his sword; it will not have the heart to torture me much.''
Many of the same remarks we have made on Hypatia will apply to Two Years ago. To us this appears the cleverest and the pleasantest of Mr. Kingsley’s novels; but it, like the rest, shows a singular absence of the artistic spirit. The plot is clumsy, and the winding-up and conversion of Tom Thurnall slovenly in the extreme. No man with an eye to the perfection of his work would have interwoven the irrelevant episode of Stangrave and Cordifiamma. It is entirely out of place, and is very interrupting. But Mr. Kingsley wanted to say his say about slavery and America; he had a fine conception in his head, and some striking thoughts ready at his pen; so he thrust them in where they had no business, and spoiled one story by what would have afforded excellent materials for another. But the book is full of interest: : Grace is charming, though unnatural; Valencia charming, because natural. Thomas Thurnall is a capital character, though here and there degenerating into harsh caricature: a better picture was never drawn of the unregenerate, good, natural man, - wild, reckless, worthy, and affectionate, doing his duty, and doing well, not from any conscientiousness or religious faith, but from a simple, ungodly, innate love of whatever is true, honest, fitting, right, and kindly; self-confiding, bubbling over with animal vigour and animal spirits, very rough but very lovable. The poet too,-vain, selfish, shallow, and unregulated, but honourable and aspiring,—is well conceived, and is a real and complete conception. As with Hypatia, we say of this book, " What a pity that what is so good should not have been better still !"
Before closing this paper, we have another of Mr. Kingsley's deficiencies to notice (their name is Legion, our readers will begin to think); and it is one somewhat difficult to handle, both froin its nature and from its close connection with one of his most signal merits. Without intending it,-or it would be more correct to say, without being conscious of it,-he is not unfrequently coarse. We are aware that he would not admit the imputation, and that he really believes himself to be innocent; but on questions of this sort the common taste of cultivated men and women must decide. In his treatment of love and the relation between the sexes, while sometimes excellent, he is sometimes also needlessly venturesome and grating. The plain truth is (and we may as well speak out), that his theory on this and cognate subjects, though we incline to think it sound, is one which can only be acted upon safely by writers whose courage and whose feelings are under the guidance of the most sensitively correct taste. He likes to call things by their plain names; a fancy with which, in moderation, we sympathise. He thinks, further, that in treating of the various questions arising out of the relations between the sexes, we lose much and risk much by a mischievous reticence and a false and excessive delicacy; and in this opinion also we agree with him. But in reference to both these peculiarities, his rampancy and daring make him a dangerous ally. He rides so near the bound
you are in perpetual uneasiness lest he should pass it. His view of love is, we think, true, chaste, and noble; and much needs to be asserted and upheld. Macaulay somewhere says ef Southey, that he had no conception of genuine human love, " that all his heroes made love like seraphim or like cattle.” Mr. Kingsley's heroes avoid both extremes; he proclaims—with a courage which, in a clergyman especially, is above all praise —the rights of nature, and the intrinsic purity of natural instincts; he blends, more than any writer we know, the warmth with the nobility of passion, and is resolutely bent on showing that the most passionate love may also be the purest, if only it be legitimate in its circumstances and worthy in its object. He seems to have almost grasped the grand cardinal truth, that the real guilt lies, not in mingling the gratification of passion with the sentiment of love, but in ever for one moment permitting the former save under the guidance and sanction of the latter. But here again that predominant appreciation of the physical,
which we have already commented upon, is unpleasantly manifest; the Saint's Tragedy contains passages which the more sensitive taste of Mr. Kingsley's friend and Mentor* would have omitted ; and in other of his stories, what we may call the “animal magnetism” of love, in distinction to its finer sentiment, is made too much of, and brought too prominently forward. The heroines are too sensitive to the influence of look and touch; the heroes win them rather by mesmerism than by courtship. There is an undoubted element of fact in all this; but whether it be wise to paint it so strongly, or to dwell on it so much, may well be questioned.
For the fierce denunciation with which Mr. Kingsley assails the brutal ascetics of former times and their puny imitators in our own days, we tender him our most cordial gratitude and admiration. He hates them with a truly holy hatred. Asceticism is the form which religion takes in sensual minds, and in those weaker spirits over whom sensualists sometimes exercise so fatal and degrading a supremacy. When we think of the holy joys that have been poisoned, of the healthy souls that have been diseased, of the fine natures that have been made coarse, of happy lives embittered and bright lives darkened, of noble minds overset and pure minds soiled, by the foul fancies and the false doctrines which these men have invented to trample upon nature and to outrage all its sweet humanities, we feel that no terms of wrath or condemnation can be too unmeasured to apply to them. The strength and justice of Mr. Kingsley's sentiments on this subject would incline us perhaps too readily to pardon the coarseness observable in the Saint's Tragedy and in Hypatia, were they really necessary for the pose he has in view, which we do not think they are.
We have spoken freely and without stint of Mr. Kingsley's errors and offences, because he is strong and can bear it well; because he is somewhat pachydermatous, and will not feel it much; because it is well for a man who habitually speaks of others in such outrageous terms, to have his own measure occasionally meted out to him in return; because, also, one who sins against so much light and knowledge deserves to be beaten with many stripes; and because, finally, on a previous occasion we did such ample justice to his merits. But we should grieve to have it believed that we are insensible to his remarkable and varied excellences, or to part from him otherwise than in a spirit of thorough and cordial appreciation. In spite of much that is rant, and of much that would be twaddle if it were not so energetic, there is such wonderful “go” in him, such exulting and abounding vigour, and he carries you along with a careering and
See the Preface, by Mr. Maurice.