« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
JANUARY AND APRIL 1860.
CHAPMAN AND HALL, 193 PICCADILLY.
THE NATIONAL REVIEW.
Art. I.-MR. KINGSLEY'S LITERARY EXCESSES.
Miscellanies. By the Rev. Charles Kingsley. 2 vols. J. W. Parker.
THERE are two living English writers who, wide as the poles asunder in many points, have yet several marked characteristics in common, and whom we confess to regarding with very similar sentiments—Mr. Carlyle and Mr. Kingsley. Both are eminent; both are popular; both have exercised, and are still exercising, a very unquestionable influence over their contemporaries: unquestionable, that is, as to degree; questionable enough, unhappily, as to kind. Of both we have frequently had occasion to speak with respect and admiration. We read them much, and recur to them often; but seldom without mixed feelings, provocation, disappointment, and regret. We constantly lay them down outraged beyond endurance by their faults, and mentally forswearing them in future; we as constantly take them up again in spite of vow and protest, drawn back into the turbid vortex by the force of their resistless fascinations. In short, we feel and act towards them as men may do towards women whom they at once delight in, admire, and condemn; who perpetually offend their purer taste and grate against their finer sensibilities, but whose noble qualities and whose meretricious charms are so strangely vivid and so marvellously blended, that they can shake themselves free from neither. For Mr. Kingsley we have long ago expressed our hearty appreciation; but there is a time to appreciate, and a time to criticise. Standing as he now does at the zenith of
No. XIX. JANUARY 1860.
his popularity, it is the fit time to speak of his shortcomings with tħat frankness which is the truest respect.
The historian of Frederick the Great and the author of Hypatia have many points of resemblance, but always with a variation. They are cast in the same mould, but fashioned of different clays and animated by different spirits. Both are terribly in earnest; but Kingsley's is the earnestness of youthful vigour and a sanguine temper, Carlyle's is the profound cynicism of a bitter and a gloomy spirit. He is, if not the saddest, assuredly the most saddening of writers,—the very Apostle of Despair. Both seem penetrated to the very core of their nature with the sharpest sense of the wrongs and sufferings of humanity; but the one is thereby driven to preach a crusade of vengeance on their authors, the other a crusade of rescue and deliverance for their victims. Mr. Kingsley's earnestness as a social philosopher and reformer develops itself mainly in the direction of action and of sympathy; Mr. Carlyle's exhales itself, for the most part, in a fierce contempt against folly and weakness, which is always unmeasured and usually unchristian. The earnestness of Carlyle, though savagely sincere, never condescends enough to detail or to knowledge to make him a practical reformer; that of Kingsley is so restless as to allow him no repose, and sends him rushing, tête baissée, at every visible evil or abuse. The one has stirred thousands to bitterest discontent with life and with the world, but scarcely erected a finger-post or supplied a motive; the other has roused numbers to buckle on their armour in a holy cause, but has often directed them astray, and has not always been careful either as to banner or to watchword.
Both are fearfully pugnacious; indeed, they are beyond comparison the two most combative writers of their age. Nature sent them into the world full of aggressive propensities; and strong principles, warm hearts, and expansive sympathies, have enlisted these propensities on the side of benevolence and virtue. Happier than many, they have been able to enlist their passions in the cause of right. But their success or good fortune in doing this has led them into the delusion common in such cases. They fancy that the cause consecrates the passion. They feel
“We have come forth upon the field of life
To war with Evil ;" and once satisfied that it is evil agiinst which they are contending, they let themselves go, and give full swing to all the vehemence of their unregenerate natures. We comprehend the full charms of such a tilt. It must be delightful to array all the energies of the old Adam against the foes of the new. What unspeakable relief and joy for a Christian like Mr. Kingsley, whom God
has made boiling over with animal eagerness and fierce aggressive instincts, to feel that he is not called upon to control these instincts, but only to direct them; and that once having, or fancying that he has, in view a man or an institution that is God's enemy as well as his, he may hate it with a perfect hatred, and go at it en sabreur! Accordingly he reminds us of nothing so much as of a war-horse panting for the battle; his usual style is marvellously like a neigh-a "ha! ha! among the trumpets; the dust of the combat is to him the breath of life; and when once, in the plenitude of grace and faith, fairly let loose upon his prey-human, moral, or material--all the Red Indian within him comes to the surface, and he wields his tomahawk with an unregenerate heartiness, slightly heathenish no doubt, but withal unspeakably refreshing. It is amazing how hard one who is a gladiator by nature strikes when convinced that he is doing God service. Mr. Kingsley is a strange mixture of the spirit of the two covenants. He draws his sympathy with human wrongs mainly from the New Testament; but his mode of dealing with human wrong-doers altogether from the Old. Mr. Carlyle borrows little from either division of the Bible; his onslaughts are like those of one of the northern gols; he wields Thor's hammer righteously in the main, but with a grim and terrible ferocity, and often mangles his victims as though absolutely intoxicated by the taste of blood.
Both writers—and this is one of their most serious offences-are contemptuous and abusive towards their adversaries far beyond the limits of taste, decency, or gentlemanly usage. Both indulge in terms of scorn and vituperation such as no cause can justify and no correct or Christian feeling could inspire Their pages often read like the paragraphs in the Commination Service. Their holy wrath is poured out, as from teeming and exhaustless fountains, on every thing they disapprove, and on every one who ventures to differ from them or to argue with them. Since the days of Dean Swift and Johnson there have been no such offenders among the literary men of England. Still, even here there is a difference: Mr. Carlyle slangs like a blaspheming pagan; Mr. Kingsley like a denouncing prophet.
Mingled, too, with this unseemly fury, and piercing through all their unmeasured and lacerating language, there is discernible in both men a rich vein of beautiful and pathetic tenderness. This is inost marked in Mr. Carlyle, as might be expected from his far deeper nature; and if considered in connection with the irritations of an uncomfortable and nervous organisation, goes far to explain, if not to excuse, his outrageous ferocity of utterance. It is as though, like the prophet of old, “he was mad for the sight of his eyes which he saw.” Gloomy and phrenetic