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we should lose much if Congreve and Wycherly were thrown on the fire. It is fortunate that few females read Mrs. Behn; filth on a woman's lips shocks us infinitely more than filth on the lips of a man. No woman can utter a "gaudriole” and keep her soul feminine : she becomes a raving and sexless Atys. When we come to Swift we find a heap of coarse stuff, both in prose and verse; but is it immoral ? As the bitter outpouring of a strangely little spirit, it is disagreeable, but it is real-if we except some of the worthless pieces and the worst portions of Gulliver. The descriptions in the latter part of Gulliver are immoral, because they are obviously insincere, and are therefore loathsome and injurious.
For critics should insist upon the fact that literature is meant to minister to our finer mental needs through the medium of pleasurable sensation. I do not think it possible to over-rate the moral benefit to be gained by the frequent contemplation of beautiful and ennobling literature. But La Fontaine, as has been suggested, can awaken the sentiment of beauty—in his own way, in his own degree. On the other hand, the moral injury we receive, from the contemplation of things degrading and not beautiful, is also inestimable. In reading books it is easy to notice broad unrealities and indecencies, but very difficult indeed to recognise the poison coated with clean white diction. Mr. Tennyson might write a poem to-morrow which would be essentially immoral, and yet very hard to detect. In point of fact, being a man of genius, he would not do so, but if the thing were done, not many would be awake to it. It requires an occult judgment nowadays to find out immoral books.
If an Englishman of to-day were to write like Catullus or Herrick, or to tell such tales as “La Berceau ” of La Fontaine, or the Carpenter's Wife of Chaucer, we should hound him from our libraries ; and justly ; because no Englishman, in the presence of our civilisation, with the advantage of our decisive finalities as to the decencies of language, could say to his conscience, “I have a right to say these things; I believe in them with all my faculties of belief; my heart is in them, and I am sure that I understand them clearly.” Our danger just now does not lie in that direction. There is no danger of our writers indulging in indecencies. Whatever our private life may be, our literature is singularly alive to the proprieties. As our culture has grown, as our ideas of decorum have narrowed, the immorality of books has been more and more disguised,—indeed, 80 well is it disguised at this time, that the writers themselves often fancy they are mixing up aperients, not doses of wormwood. It is difficult to distinguish between harmless ether and Scheele's preparation. A shower of immoral books pours out yearly; many of them are read by religious societies and praised by Bishops, and by far the larger number of them find favour with Mr. Mudie.
A new public has arisen, created by new schools of writers; and nowadays one must be careful how he throws out a hard truth, lest he hit the fretful head of the British matron. The immorality is of a different kind, but it works quite as perniciously in its own sphere as the immorality of modern French writers of the avowedly immoral school.
The immorality I complain of in modern books is their untruth in matters affecting private conduct, their false estimates of character, the false impressions they convey concerning modern life in general, and especially with regard to the relations between the sexes. This immorality, of course, shows itself mainly in our fiction; though from our fiction it has spread into our religious writing and our philosophy. The main purpose of fiction is to please; and so widely is this felt, that a novel with an avowedly didactic purpose is very wisely avoided by the subscribers to the circulating libraries. Scott, the greatest novelist that ever lived, never stooped to so-called didactic writing at all, directly or indirectly; for he knew that to do so would have been to deny the value of fiction altogether, because true pictures need no dry tag to make them impress and teach. Thackeray was not quite so wise, being a so much smaller writer and inferior artist; he worked in his own peculiar fashion; yet he never pretended to be a didactic teacher. Didactic writing in novels, at the best, is like a moral printed underneath a picture, describing the things which, it is supposed, the reader ought to infer from the picture; or, like the commentaries bound in with some of the French translations of Goethe's “Faust”. and Dante's “Inferno." When, therefore, we see the announcement
A Novel with a purpose,” we may pretty safely infer that it will serve no wise man's purpose to read that novel.
Setting purely didactic writers aside, we come to a class of writers who are directly under French influence, yet manage dexterously enough to deceive many of our Catos. A notable example is Miss Braddon. This lady has undoubted ability-ability destined for better things, we trust, in the future; she has seen a good deal of “life," and she has a readable style-as grammatical, perhaps, as that of Thackeray! It would not be difficult to show in what respects “Aurora Floyd” and “Lady Audley's Secret” are immoral; but, in point of fact, it is not necessary to examine that subject, because it is settled by simple literary criticism. Yet Miss Braddon, partly because she is not sufficiently sincere, and partly for other reasons, has not done any harm. The other reasons are simple. When Miss Braddon published the public was surfeited with watery works of fiction of the most decorously abominable kind. It gasped for a breath from Bohemia. Anything, anything but the eternal inhalation of platitudes, but the pitiless phlebotomising of literary doctors. The “moral” school of writing was a little indigestible.
It looked very crisp and enticing at first, but it turned out that it was made with lard instead of pure well-churned butter. Whereas real Morality is wholesome.
Life is very hard and difficult, our personal relations with each other are complicated enough without the intrusion of puzzles and untruths from the circulating library. If novelists would only paint what they are convinced they thoroughly understand, and critics would only convict offenders more severely, we should soon be more comfortable. Does it ever strike some writers that the immoral effect of a false picture on a half-formed mind may be fatal to a body and a soul? Yet that is by no means too strong a way to put the
Erroneous notions of men, drawn from books, ruin many women yearly, paralyse the understanding, numb the faculty of insight just as it is going to accumulate its own wisdom, confuse the whole prospect of life at the very outset. Vulgar Virtue turns ont a brute daily, and chills the etherial temper of Sentimental Suffering, who, in an hour of adoration, has allied herself to him. Silent Endurance bears so much that we are suspicious; so we run a pin into his heart, and the heart bleeds—vinegar. As men and women advance in life they ascertain that happiness and beauty are not to be produced by a single faculty, but by the happy harmonious blending of all the faculties ; that the hero in battle may make an atrocious husband, that vulgar virtue becomes tiresome when separated from spirituality, and that there are some things which fine natures cannot endure silently. This is not saying that a single faculty may not be remarkable and pleasing, that a hero is not a hero, that virtue is contemptible, that control over the emotions is not desirable, and even enviable. It means merely that the writers in question describe faculties and not characters; abstractions, not realities; not men and women, but peculiarities of men and women. The whole is lost in the part, and the effect is immoral in a high degree.
A well-known instance in poin may be given, and then illustrations may cease. Some years ago it was the custom for
novelist to make his hero and heroine personally handsome. The appearance of “Jane Eyre” was welcomed as a salutary protest, and a revolution was the consequence. For a considerable time afterwards ugly heroes and heroines were the rage; and the bookshop poured forth immoral books-immoral because they lied against a natural truth, that mere beauty is finer than mere ugliness, did not prove that nobility of nature is finer than mere beauty, did not tell that nobility of nature with beauty of form and feature is finer than nobility of nature without such beauty. At present the plan of many novelists
very funny. They adopt a medium. Ugly heroes and heroines, as well as handsome ones, have gone out of fashion. A hero now is “ not what would strictly be termed beautiful ; his features were faulty;
but there was—"any novel-reader will complete the sentence. In the same manner, a heroine, " although at ordinary times she attracted little attention, became, under the influence of emotion, so lovely that all the faults of feature were forgotten.” I fear I hardly do the
' I novel-writers justice in these matters of description, but their own lively paintings are so well-known that my inability can cause them no injury.
Against immoral books of all kinds there is but one remedy-severe and competent criticism. If, as I have endeavoured to point out, morality in literature is dependent on sincerity of vision, and if all immoral writing betrays itself by its insincerity, feebleness, and want of verisimilitude, the work of criticism is pretty simple. To prove a work immoral in any way but one, it would be necessary to have endless discussions as to what is, and what is not morality. The one way is to apply the purely literary test, and convince the public that the question of immorality need not be discussed at all, since it is settled by the decision that the work under review is not literature.
“ DART,” says Master Tristram Risdon, author of a “Survey of Devon," in the reign of James I., “fleeteth through the Moors with a long solitarie course, till he watereth Buckfast.” The distant cousin of the Douro and the Durance of the Kentish Darent and the Yorkshire Derwent,-(the Celtic root dwr, water, is common to all these names), has its own histories and recollections, flowing onward from the day when Brutus of Troy, with his giant companion, “li Duk Syre Corinée,” father of all Cornishmen, first landed on its bank. But our main business is not now with the river. It lies rather among those rocky hills and wastes forming the royal “forest of Dartmoor,” where the Dart itself rises, and through which it “ fleeteth” in its first “solitarie course. Few corners of England have remained more entirely unchanged; and few have a more distinct and remarkable character.
The tors of Dartmoor form part of a granitic chain which (although broken at intervals) extends from Cawsand hill, the most northernly spur of the forest, to the Land's End, and reappears in the Scilly Islands. This chain attains its greatest height on Dartmoor,Yestor, adjoining Cawsand, rises to 2,050 feet, and is the highest point in England south of Ingleborough,—and sinks gradually as it passes westward. It is not, in all probability, unconnected with the granite which forms what Chaucer calls “the grisly, fiendy
rockis blake” of the Breton Coast, or with that of Galicia, and the piled masses of Cape Finisterre—the land's end of Northern Spain. But not one of these granite districts, if we except, perhaps, some part of Galicia, is more picturesque than Dartmoor, or abounds more with those relics of former ages (although those of Brittany are on a grander scale) which the very barrenness of a granite country, unfavourable to the plough, always does so much to protect. There is something singularly exciting to the imagination in this Devonshire highland, with its line of heights and hollows reflecting every change of cloud or of sunshine, and everywhere closing in the distant landscape like the bastions of some great hill-fortress. The country below has changed, -woods have disappeared, and heaths have become corn-land,—but the hills not at all. They are still the same as in the days of Arthur or Geraint; and many a trace of British warrior and of heathen Saxon yet lingers among their recesses. Giant Dart himself appears as lord of the hill-streams and the heather, with all the hosts of pixies and of mine spirits for his subjects, in certain histories of the “valiant Cornishman” Jack; though until the literature relating to that worthy shall have been examined by competent critics, we must not venture to claim his friend — for Giant Dart belonged to the better class of monsters—as the representative of Thor or of Woden. But the master of the Wish-hounds, a swart figure with a hunting-pole, who follows his unearthly pack along the moor paths at night, is no doubt as truly a form of the old Northern deity as the Wild Huntsman of the Hartz or the Odenwald. The river itself has not entirely lost the half supernatural character which Celt and Teuton were alike ready to bestow on it. Its “cry,” as the louder sound which rises from it toward nightfall is called on Dartmoor, is a warning of ill, if heard beyond a certain distance; and once a year at least it insists on having a victim
“River of Dart, oh river of Dart,
Every year thou claim'st a heart.” A district so retentive of old beliefs is pretty sure to be conservative in most other matters. It is still the portion of Devonshire in which the true old west-country dialect lingers in the greatest perfection. “Wa-asp!” said an old Dartmoor farmer to his daughter, who had leant an ear to the refinements of Exeter or Plymouth, "why can't-'ee zay waps like any Christen? I can't abear sich methodisticals ways.” Railways and other “ methodistical ways” are indeed threatening the seclusion of Dartmoor; but until very recently it was perplexed by little fear of change. Persons are still living in many of the parishes round about the moor who remember the appearance of the first cart,-all the work having been formerly done (as much of it still is) by pack-horses, or by the not unpicturesque