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The result is that each of her stories Miss Austen admires. Sir Thomas, is exactly like the last, and that much “his mind disengaged from the cares of her narrative is hopelessly uninter- which had pressed on him at first” esting.
(putting a stop to some private theatIt does not matter, for instance, ricals) and plunging into the petty goswhether Frank Churchill "was most sip. of his village; or Sir Thomas “the deedily occupied about Mrs. Bates's life of the party seated around the spectacles”; or that when “Mr. Wood- fire," and, with “the best right to be house had drank his tea he was ready the talker," becoming "communicative to go home”; or that Mr. Knightley's and chatty in a very unusual degree,” boys' "glowing faces showed all the is the man stripped of all that makes benefit of a country run, and seemed him interesting. But this is the Sir to ensure a quick despatch of the Thomas of Miss Austen. roast mutton and rice pudding they All honor to her for not writing were hastening home for.”
about what she did not understand. Nothing turns these incidents, All honor to her for not trying to deand they are not, in themselves, of scribe an imaginary mutiny at sea, an any importance at all. But (says the imaginary conspiracy of the colored devotee) look at the observation of folk, an imaginary tussle with life-the marvellous record of detail! fraudulent agent, or an imaginary enThere is, it is true, observation of life; counter with a French privateer. although it does not require excep- But do not let us be so far led astray tional powers of observation to have by our admiration for Miss Austen's grasped the fact that children often reticence and veracity that we must have roast mutton and rice pudding needs claim that her subjects are all for dinner, and that running makes interesting; because they are not. Inthem hungry. There is, it is true, cidentally, and as a touch of life and much detail recorded; but it is unim- manners, it is important to know that portant detail. It is not the mere ac- in the intensely respectable circle of cumulation of detail that marks the Mansfield Park cards and dancing artist; it is the selection of detail, were encouraged, whilst private theat
This, then, is the point at which we ricals were forbidden. But the actual may, after much pondering, pause and process of stopping the private theatcontemplate Miss Austen's work with ricals is not interesting or amusing or some sense that we approach it intel- important. ligently if perhaps clumsily.
It must have been a dull world, Knitting needles are more interest- after all. It appears to have been iming to her than bayonets, perhaps be- possible for a gentleman to address cause she can understand the manage- words of the commonest civility to a ment of the knitting needle and watch lady without the gentlemen exchangit in action; but she cannot say the ing significant glances, whilst the same of the bayonet. To a country ladies rallied their female friend on walk she will devote all her attention; the evident partiality of dear Bingle but more exciting incidents are of less for her society. The girls had the value to her and her story.
minds of odalisques. In childhood Sir Thomas Bertram going in person and youth they thought and talked all to look after his West Indian estates, day long of nothing but men, and in and risking capture by French cruis- maturer years of the men about whom ers, is a plucky and interesting figure; their juniors were talking and thinkbut he is not the Sir Thomas whom ing. At all ages they gossiped, generally with spiteful intent. If, however, tute of all the points that mark the we once relinquish all idea of being good cat; and one cannot help wonderinterested, and sedulously guide our- ing, was it worth while? Miss Austen selves with the bookmarker which a in the rage of her mental revolt from thoughtful publisher has provided for the ideal of the sentimental agonized each volume of the charming edition heroine has gone far. Her work has now before me, we shall find Miss been variously described as “the very Austen's novels full of information. smallest of small beer," and as “the But take this:
rather uninteresting doings and very
uninteresting sayings of totally uninThe progress of Catherine's unhappi.
teresting people"; she has been called ness from the events of the evening was as follows. It appeared first in a
“the prose Wordsworth." general dissatisfaction with everybody
There is much in these comments. about her, while she remained in the Her self-imposed limitations compel rooms, whichi speedily brought on con- her to chronicle small beer, and she sidera ble weariness and a violent de
chronicles it very industriously; but it sire to go home. This, on arriving in
remains small beer. As to the other Pulteney Street, took the direction of
comments which I have ventured to extraordinary hunger, and when that was appeased, changed into an earnest
cite, the root of the matter is this: longing to be in bed. Such was the
that the masculine element is alto extreme point of her distress: for gether lacking in Miss Austen's work. when there she immediately fell into It is, from begining to end, feminine a sound sleep, which lasted nine hours,
in tone. To say that "she wrote like a and from which she awoke perfectly lady" is intended for very high praise, revived, in excellent spirits, with fresh hopes and fresh schemes.
especially when we consider the scan
dalous rubbish that people professing This is dreadful stuff; but it was and calling themselves ladies have written in 1798, four years after the been contented to sign. But it unappearance of the Mysteries, and when doubtedly implies a restricted range of sleepless nights were considered ap- vision, which, though highly creditable, propriate to heroines. Miss Austen defines her artistically. was probably thinking of such pas- As one result, her portraits of girls sages as "all the busy scenes of the and women are more successful than past and the anticipated ones of the her portraits of men. Her best porfuture came to her anxious mind and traits of men are the portraits of those conspired with the sense of her new whose lives were passed in circumsituation to banish sleep”; or “thus stances completely under her observapassed the night in ineffectual strug. tion-stay-at-homes, invalids, and tame gles between affection and reason, cats. All these are admirable. The and she rose in the morning with a robuster types are mostly left in shadmind weakened and irresolute and a
owy outline. frame trembling with illness."
Her style suffers from restrictions Miss Austen will have none of this. similar to those which she imposed upHer heroines are ordinary healthy on herself in regard to incident. Her young women who live the most or- stories move in a little circle-a coundinary lives imaginable, and they are try village, a seaport town, Bath-that perfectly drawn. Even Gerard is all. Her style when she ruthlessly Dou's cats are perfectly painted, even condemns herself to be dull-can thus to the very iridescence of their whis- be dulness itself. But also it can be kers. They are very bad cats, desti- as dainty and charming as any style
in which English is written. These lines, for instance—the opening lines of Northanger Abbey:
the nder. sten from nized
bas very "the vert nin. Med
William to stay with him. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the patroness of Mr. Collins's living, an impertinent old lady, invited the entire household to dinner, on which Mr. Collins thus ex
I confess that I should not have been at all surprised by her ladyship’s asking us on Sunday to drink tea and spend the evening at Rosings. I rather expected, from my knowledge of her affability, that it would happen. But who could have foreseen such an attention as this? Who could have imagined that we should receive an invitation to dine there an invitation, moreover, including the whole party) so immediately after your arrival?
No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected or poor, and a very respectable man, though bis name was Richard and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence, besides two good livings, and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters.
) There are innumerable passages like this which are a pleasure to read, merely for the grace and skill with which the English is handled. It would be idle to attempt to sketch the plot of any one novel, for there is practically no plot in the ten volumes of her works. Some trilling event, a dance or a dinner party, brings her characters together in situations where they can speak and act; and accordingly they speak and act until they separate. The abiding interest of all this charming trifting is the contrast between then and now; the observation of what went to make correct behavior, correct manners, and correct speech one hundred years ago, in contrast with the speech and manners of to-day.
For example: Mr. Lucas, a tradesman of Meryton, rose to be mayor and became Sir William. The type is familiar; but the way in which Miss Austen speaks of him is remarkable. “For though elated by his rank it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he was all attention to everybody. By nature inoffensive, friendly, and obliging, his presentation at St. James's had made him courteous.” Mr. Collins, a subservient person, married Sir William's daughter, and invited Sir
“I am the less surprised at what has happened,” replied Sir William, "from that knowledge of what the manners of the great really are, which my situation in life has allowed me to acquire. About the Court, such instances of elegant breeding are not uncommon.”
The grovelling contentment of the man Collins, the imbecile gratification of Sir William, the massive impertinence of my lady, and the overpowering dulness of the party: which is the most remarkable?
They go to their dreary party, and this is what happens:
In spite of having been at St. James's Sir William was so completely awed by the grandeur surrounding him, that he had but just courage enough to make a very low bow, and take his seat without saying a word; and his daughter, frightened almost out of her senses, sat on the edge of her chair, not knowing which way to look.
The situation would be completely reversed to-day. It would be Lady Catherine who would be all civility in the hope of getting some sound finan. cial information from Sir William; while Sir William would be slightly
patronizing and chiefly occupied in we are much advanced: "How, for inwondering with how cheap a “tip” he stance, could people who had once could pay for his dinner. As for the known the simple verity, the refined young lady, it is impossible to imagine perfection of Miss Austen, enjoy anyany successful tradesman's daughter thing less refined and less perfect? "frightened out of her wits” by a With her example before them, why whole drawing-room full of Lady Cath- should not English novelists have gone erines.
on writing simply, honestly, artistiMiss Austen's novels are all equally cally ever after?” charming; and each is exactly like its To ask these questions is merely to predecessor and successor. The titles ask why, having once tasted sole, we have very little relation to the con- should eat any other fish. There are tents. Persuasion might equally well many reasons: the salmon is less rebe called Dissuasion, and the whole fined than the sole, but he is more series could be appropriately named sumptuous; the whiting is less perfect 1, 2, 3, . . . 10, without loss of cohe- than the sole, but he is more dainty. rence.
And then as to honesty, et cetera. Are Where, then, are we to place Miss all English novelists dishonest, conAusten as a novelist? Let us consider fused, inartistic? what that highly distinguished novel- In truth the author of Fiction and ist and critic, Mr. W. D. Howells, has Criticism would have us take him for decided, and consider how far his a critic; but he is a worshipper; and ideas coincide with our own. “The for the worshipper the thicker the art of fiction, as Jane Austen knew it, cloud of incense the greater the merit declined from her through Scott and of the act of devotion. We, who want Bulwer and Dickens and Charlotte to see the divinity face to face, would Brontë and Thackeray and even George fain wait until the incense has arisen Eliot." 2
past the altar and the air is clear. And There is no mistaking enthusiasm we are not to be deterred by being of this kind. The highest place is called : “poor islanders,” or by being claimed, without any reserve, for Jane told that we have : "false theories and Austen. But how about the art of fic- bad manners." Clearly we must give tion declining from her through Scott up all idea of being guided by Mr. and the others?
Howells and decide for ourselves. Surely these eminent men dwelt on It need not be very hard. Miss Ausdifferent planes. To say that the art ten's work is good, but it is monotoof fiction declined ... in the way that nous; it is dainty, but it is essentially Mr. Howells describes is not a sub- feminine. We need not go far to find stantial contribution to the inquiry, another artist with precisely these “Where are we to place Jane Austen?" limitations in another art. Of whom
It would be as sensible to say that can we say with truth that her work the art of painting as Raphael knew is graceful, correct, monotonous, and it declined through Michael Angelo feminine? Obviously the sister artist aud Holbein and Claude and Benjamin to Jane Austen is Angelica KauffWest and J. M. W. Turner and even mann. George Du Maurier.
In England a man who does not burn Nor, again, when we read a passage incense must expect to be called an like the following, can we admit that iconoclast; appreciations are not wel.
4 "Oriticism and fiction," p. 32.
9 "Criticism and Fiction," p. 74. 1 "Criticism and Fiction,"
comed. A's Miss Austen is now in the and 'allusions, which a woman who, forefront of fashion, "iconoclast” is
like me, knows only her mother probably the mildest epithet that will
tongue, and has read little in that,
would be totally without the power of be applied to me. I should not be sur
giving. A classical education or, at prised to find myself acclaimed as
any rate, a very extensive acquainthe Devil's Advocate. Let us consider,
tance with English literature, ancient then, what Miss Austen herself re- and modern, appears to me quite indiscorded of her own limitations. Noth- pensable for the person who would do ing can be more interesting, for she any justice to your clergyman; and I was the least conceited of mortals and
think I may boast myself to be with incapable of self-deception. She once
all possible vanity the most unlearned
and uninformed female who ever received an intimation from an exalted
dared to be an authoress. quarter that portraits of learned clergymen would be appreciated. It is This diffidence in reply to a very flatwhat might have been expected. From tering invitation is truly refreshing. the way in which the Church is spoken Nowadays an author, without receive of in her books it is clear that, as an ing any invitation at all, is prepared institution, it commanded the respect to "get up” a subject, a city, a lanand affection of the country, and yet guage, or an epoch, and to coin his inthe clergymen to whom we are intro- formation into shekels of silver (and duced are slight and ordinary creat- even of gold) at the shortest notice, ures. This is not consistent; and it is and very often does so with sufficient but natural that Miss Austen's admir
accuracy to deceive the unlearned to ers, perceiving how admirably she his, and their, mutual comfort. ASdrew trivial people, should urge her to suredly there is nothing dishonest in attempt greater work. She excuses the process; on the contrary, it is herself in the following terms:
sound business, and very good busi
ness; but then it is business and not I am quite honored by your thinking
art. Miss Austen would have none of me capable of drawing such a clergyman as you gave the sketch of in your
it, and her refusal to move out of the note. But I assure you I am not.
path where she trod so confidently and The comic part of the character I gracefully is not only refreshing in might be equal to, but not the good, itself, but particularly fortifying to the enthusiastic, the literary. Such a one who has ventured to indicate her man's conversation must at times be place in the world of art and who dison subjects of science and philosophy, of which I know nothing, or at least
covers it to be the place that she had be occasionally abundant in quotations chosen for herself.
Walter Freren Lord. The Nineteenth Century and Aftor.
RONDEAU OF REGRET.
Oh, heart of mine! bast thou forgot
The sands in moonlight stretching gray
About the silver bend of bay?