« VorigeDoorgaan »
From The London Quarterly Review. to the bad customs, slaves to the “free HALF A CENTURY OF LITERARY LIFE.* | living” of the day.
But manners and customs have changed Is the pursuit of literature as a profes- since those days; and though the literary sion conducive to the enjoyment of long man is, on the average, not more longe. lise? It is a question of much interest, vous than formerly, the shortness of his and in answer a good deal may be said
career is due rather to hard work than to on both sides. In the books at the head fast living. In many cases, in the full of this article we have a strong argument bloom of youthful enthusiasm he realizes on the affirmative side. In them a vet.
an honorable ambition by getting on to the eran of the press, who saw the light in the staff of a daily paper; then has to work first year of this nineteenth century, draws
by night, and every night, under pressure forth from a well-stored memory, and with of the waiting monster that must“ go to a hand that has not lost its cunning, recol
press”in the small hours of the morning, lections of the days gone by, and of the and, just when his brain should be regain. brilliant host of writers whom he has met, ing its spent vigor by repose, has to tax.it missed, and mourned. But while Mr.
to the uttermost in order to write bril. Hall himself is a fine example of literary liantly, or at all events freshly and inter: longevity, a considerable portion of his festingly, on topics which he has treated contemporaries passed away in early or
again and again till he is tired to death of middle life. And such, we fear, is the
them. It must be indeed a tough texture fate of a large proportion of the brain that will stand the strain; and of late workers, the genuine “press men," of the
years a host of promising young writers present day.
have been sacrificed on the altar of this In the case of some who flourished fifty Moloch of journalism. or sixty years ago, the fault of their few's
Then, as to the struggle for existence; ness of days was entirely their own. Fast
was it greater amongst the literary men of living was then rather the rule than the fifty years ago than it is now?
It could exception among literary men, as well as not be greater, and we incline to think it among the higher classes of society, and
was inuch less. For, though there was numerous were the admirers and victims then, as always, much hardship for the of the Anacreontic style. Maginn
bulk of rising authors, there was a less man of vast learning and manifold powers, crowded market - if not higher prices, a valued contributor to Blackwood and
better chances - a more certain income, Fraser in their palmiest days, who with for the vigorous ones who could fight their unprincipled versatility wrote at the same
way to the front.
Then, as now, the time slashing articles in the Tory Age and
young author had to get a commission on the Radical True Sun – died, a miserable lihe staff of a magazine or review, to ain a wreck, at the age of forty-eight. Theodore Hook - the marvellous improvizer himself and his little knot of dependents,
name amongst inen, and to find food for of verses in any number upon any topic, wbilst he was preparing the magnum opus the ready wit and daring practical joker
which was to wake up the deaf and cal. was an old man when he should have been lous world and shake it out of its heartless in his prime, and died at fifty-three,“ done insouciance. Battling against want and up," as he himself phrased it, “ in purse, cold and debt and disease, sometimes he in mind, and in body too." And these would win the victory, and command such were but samples of many minor martyrs work and such pay as he had scarcely
ventured to dreain of before. More often 1. Retrospect of a Long Life: from 1815 to 1883. he has sunk, after a weary fight of ten or Ey S. C. Hall, F.S.A., Barrister-at-Law, a Man of Letters by Profession. In Two Volumes. London: fifteen years, exhausted just as his last Richard Bentley and Son. 1883.
charge had carried the day; and the 2. A Book of Memories of Great Men and Women world has showered freely on his obse. of the Age, from Personal Acquaintance. By S. C. Harl F.S.A., etc. Second Edition. London: Virtue quies the applause and sympathy which it and Co. 1877
had dealt out to him, when alive, with such
a niggardly hand. Butler and Chatterton, | Lamb's faithful warning to Bernard Barin their antitypes, like “the poor," we ton holds good now as when it first was have “always with " us, at our very written : doors. We will not dwell on the pecuniary rational plan of support but what the chance
Throw yourself on the world without any phase of an author's life. But it must not employ of booksellers would afford you!!! be ignored, since it is the big burden of Throw yourself rather from the steep Tarpeian daily care which gets between him and rock —slap, dash, headlong upon iron spikes. heaven, and shuts into eclipse all shine of Come not within their grasp. I have sun and star; dwarfing his high aspira- known many authors want for bread, some re. tions, stunting the noble growths of his pining, others enjoying the blest security of a intellect, and chilling his genial warmth of counting.house, all agreeing they had rather heart. For when the author by profes have been tailors, weavers what not ? than sion, we mean, not amateur or occasional the things they were. I have known some
finds his home threatened with disas. starved, some go mad, one dear friend “dying ter, the very existence of wife and chil. in a workhouse." O, you know not
the miseries of subsisting dren, or mother and sisters, trembling in you never know !
by authorship. the scale, he can no longer keep to the fond illusion that he is a prophet commis. Still, the profession of letters always sioned to propound his own particular will have supreme attraction for the young views to an eager and astonished world. and talented. And the perusal of these Perforce he has to learn from the indis. interesting volumes of Mr. S. C. Hall will pensable middleman what the public is certainly not detract from the charm. supposed to want or wish for what will What a crowd of illustrious names moves "take" and what will "pay.” And so, in his pages! Orators, statesmen, poets, without hinting even to himself that he is philanthropists - he has conversed or fiagging in his high purposes, or putting corresponded with, or at least rubbed off the fulfilment of his noble plans, he against, two generations of the most fasubmits, and cannot but submit, to be mous of them, and can tell us much that ground down to the ideas and arrange. we wanted to know about the appearance, ments of those whom he knows to be his manners, disposition, and character of inferiors in the inner and higher life, but these remarkable personages. His recolwho have the upper hand of him in that lections carry him back to the earliest important outer life which swallows up so days of the century, and he notes down much thought and energy. Too often, many a feature of London life that has drudgery and care combined wear out the long disappeared from view. The ancient tissues of the brain, and the author sinks tinder.box, the oil street-lamps, the old under sudden paralysis, or slowly dwin. watchmen or “Charlies,” the mail-coaches, dles into numbness and imbecility. The the footpads, the pillions, the patiens, the latter is seldoin the fate of the ladies : many-caped hackney coachmen, the seauthoresses, as a rule, keep bright and dan-chairs, the turnpikes, the pillory, the nimble to the last, and live pretty long stocks – each of these departed glories lives. Still there are notable instances of has a few words of mention, in connection early decay; and while on the one hand or contrast with the inventions and inwe have the longevity of Hannah More, provements that have superseded them. Amelia Opie, Barbara Hofland, Mary His retrospect has strongly impressed him Somerville, Lady Morgan, Mary Russell with the opinion that the present age is in Mitford, Harriet Martineau, Mrs. Bray most respects better off than the preceding (92), and others, these are counterbal- ones – those terrible “hanging " times, anced by the comparatively short lives of when in the space of but seven years, from Felicia Hemans, Grace Aguilar, Emma 1819 to 1825, there were five hundred and Tatham, " Ruth Elliott,” Mary Robinson, seventy-nine executions, most of them
being for such offences as cattle, horse, For man and woman alike Charles I and sheep stealing, arson, forgery, bur
glary, uttering false notes, sacrilege ; , was still on the staff of the Morning those wine-bibbing times, when Pitt and Chronicle, schooling himself for future Dundas are said to have entered the Dutch painting by the minute observation House of Commons in such an after- of detail required in a press reporter. dinner condition that the one could not Bulwer Lytton had just issued his “Eusee the speaker at all, while the other was gene Aram,” and was succeeding – with so far privileged as to see two speakers little success Campbell in the editor. in the chair; those profane times, when ship of the New Monthly. Macaulay had oaths of the coarsest kind garnished the made his mark as an essayist and Parliaconversation of men of all ranks, and mentary orator, and was about to go over were not repressed even by the presence to India for a time, to brood over and of ladies.
evolve a grand scheme of law for our Yet there were some things in those Eastern empire. Thackeray was travelold days which the veteran now misses ling and constantly exercising that ready with regret: notably the courtesy which pencil which was not to gain him riches or caused a man to shrink from taking the renown, while his pen lay almost untried, wall of a lady, or keeping his hat on in his power unguessed even by himself. her presence, or offering her his arm Carlyle was trying to find a London bib. while a cigar fumed in his mouth. Vaux- liopole who would venture on the publicahall Gardens, too, he considers to be badly tion of the first of his works in his later replaced by the detestable music-halls, and or grotesque style — the famous “ Sartor he holds the cruelty of cock.fighting to be Resartus.” Tennyson, the coming poet far surpassed by the wholesale heartless of the cycle, was just making his second ness of pigeon-shooting.
an author, and beginning to It is not with the change of manners, win a small but ever-widening circle of for better or worse, that we purpose now readers. to deal, but rather to take the opportunity The early part of these fifty years was of glancing rapidly over the popular lit- especially notable for its wealth of tale. erature of the last fifty years, availing writers. In 1837 Dickens made his apourselves occasionally of the help of Mr. pearance with the • Pickwick Papers,” Hall's valuable “ Retrospect” and of his which at once gave him a reputation and beautiful “ Book of Memories.”
attained a success which has scarcely been Fifty years ago, most of those who had paralleled by any subsequent fiction, with made great names as authors in the bril. the exception of Mrs. Stowe's “Uncle liant period of letters which succeeded | Tom's Cabin.” Though vastly inferior to the close of the long war with the first his later writings, “ Pickwick ” developed Napoleon, were either dying off, or sink- his talent for minute description and buing into that torpid state which has been morous characterization, extending a vi. the fate and the dread of many a man of tality even to inanimate things; and its genius. Lord Byron, the unscrupulous telling effect was aided not a little by the poet of passion, who had burst the icy ingenious illustrations by Seymour and bounds within which the English Muse " Phiz,” which clothed in tangible embod. had for long years been frozen up, had iment comicalities which might have died of fever at Missolonghi. Sir Walter seemed vague and vapid by themselves. Scott had just breathed his last sigh at A host of readers looked out for the Abbotsford, and left the domain of his monthly parts of this boneless tale, with torical romance free for any master who an intensity of eagerness unknown to the could conquer and rule it as he had done. present generation, and Sam Weller, with Thomas Campbell was eking out his pen- his racy cockneyisms and startling anec. sion by editing magazines - a task for dotes and comparisons, was welcomed to which he was specially unfitted — and many a table as “a fellow of infinite jest otherwise putting bis Pegasus to the and humor," an English Sancho Panza drudgery of a bookseller's hack.
equal in originality to Cervantes' re. of the coming men, Charles Dickens | nowned creation. But there was little in
" Pickwick" to warn the world of the their eldest son, Who would decline such an tragic power which lay in the grasp of invitation ? Who did not know how the inthe young author; and when Oliver imitable story-teller made happiness for young Twist" burst into life, it came as a sur- and old ?- his voice ringing out welcomes like prise to the public, disappointing those joybells in sweet social tune, his conjuring, bis who cared for nothing but amusement, scraps of recitations, his hearty sympathetic but convincing the reading world that a each other, while his wife - in those happy
receptions pleasantly mingling and following writer of intense earnestness had devel. days the “ Kate” of his affections — illumined oped from the chrysalis of the comic like sweet sunshine her husband's efforts to penny-a-liner. Then followed in due time promote enjoyment all around. It was underihe mixed humor and pathos of " Nicho- stood that after an early supper there was to las Nickleby" and " Martin Chuzzlewit,” | be “no end, of dancing. This was no pver. leading up to the most perfect of his dressed juvenile party, but a hilarious gatherworks, the quasi-autobiographic "David ing of young boys and girls; not overlaid, as Copperfield.” We will not attempt to as in our present days they too often are, with sign to these and his subsequent books finery and affectation, but bounding in their their relative place in the classics of the young fresh life to enjoy a full tide of happiland; but any one who is doubtful of the advance made by Dickens beyond pre- We pass on to another style of fiction, vious writers of the domestic novel, has in which another master of the art was but to compare “David Copperfield” or making his early essays. Mr. Lytton Bul" Bleak House" with the tales of that wer – afterwards Sir Edward Lytton Bulclass which had previously held sway in wer Lytion, and finally Lord Lytton – had the circulating library. In the one there attracted much notice by his novels of pas. is life - life in all its details, etched with sion and fashion combined. His earlier the hand of a master, and worked up into works are not always of the most healthy a dramatic ensemble, that is permanently tendency; but he rose to higher ground photographed on the sensitive plate of in bis historical romances, and the domesmemory; in the other there is but a faint tic tales of his later years “ The Caxand wasliy copy of insipid scenes, or a tons," " My Novel," and "What will He patchy presentment of impossible catas- do with It?" -show a large advance in trophes. The former are the perfection moral power and in exquisite delineation of realism tempered with romance; but in of character. His women especially are enduing these and the other children of wonderfully fine and agreeable when comhis 'soul with such intensity of life, their pared with the bulk of the females whom author parted with a large portion of his Dickens portrayed. own vital energy, and his brain, taxed too In Thackeray we come to one who will heavily with the conception and realiza: probably live in his works as long as any tion of human affairs in all their mixed imaginative writer of this half-century. humor and tragedy, and with the “read. Comparatively late in producing his really ings” which drained his very heart, sank good work, this great master of satire suddenly beneath the pressure of engage spent year after year in sketches and ments to which his nobler and better self, studies, trials and essays, which were but untempted by greed of money or applause, prevenient shadows of the perfect forms should have given a resolute no.
which were to take their place. It would And here, reverting to Mr. Hall's vol- | be absurd here to compare the two great umes, we note that, although that gentle, novelists of these times, Dickens and man knew the great novelist as a boy, Thackeray, and to dispute about their who, with bright, intelligent face, brought respective merits. They were totally dif"pennya-line" matter to the office where ferent in matter and form, in spirit and the elder Dickens was employed as a Par-body., Dickens could no more have conliamentary reporter, he, prefers to leave ceived the symmetric beauty of Esthe subject almost untouched, as he mond," or have added the nice touches of write of Dickens nothing new, nothing honor and delicacy which abound in that important, nothing valuable." But he masterpiece, than Thackeray could have gives, under another head, Mrs. Hall's irradiated with a flood of light and love pleasant picture of the author's home in and pathos the poor homes and ragged the earlier, happier days of his married children and world-despised men and life.
women whom Dickens's pencil set forth In what is now “the long-ago time” Mr. with a magic born of the highest genius. and Mrs. Charles Dickens invited their friends A noble pair of brothers ! The one, la. to a juvenile party in honor of the birthday of boring, with touch upon touch, line upon