« VorigeDoorgaan »
the vision cut, and all the relations of life distorted, we very well know. That Carlyle would never have given them to the world, as they have been given, is just as sure. Of this indeed we now have express and authentic confirmation. He never looked at the unhappy record of his passion after it was written ; “ did not know to what I was alluding,” when Mr. Froude spoke to him, two years later, of the Irving sketch. “Let any one who is offended by these Reminiscences think of this,” says Mrs. Oliphant. “There is no excuse to offer for sharp words, often so petty, always so painful, in many cases entirely unfounded or mistaken; but what can be a more evident proof that they were never meant for the public eye than Mr. Froude's ‘did not know to what I alluded'?"
Consider for a moment the conditions under which these hurried sketches were produced. Carlyle was a man of the most singular sensitiveness, subjected to irritation, as almost no one in recent literary life has been, by everything in his physical and mental constitution ; and he was plunged into the wildest grief by the shocking death of his wife, upon the very morrow of his Edinburgh triumph, to which they both attributed so exaggerated an importance as an authentic public seal to the virtue of their common struggle. “He was taken to Mentone, of all places in the world,” says Mrs. Oliphant, in her just and delicate narrative, “to the deadly-liveliness and quiet, the soft air and invalid surroundings of that shelter of the suffering. .... He had no air to breathe, no space to move in. He told me how he had roamed under the greenness of the unnatural trees, 'perhaps the saddest,' he said with the lingering vowels of his native speech, of all the sons of Adam.' And, at first alone in his desolate house, and then stranded there upon that alien shore, where everything was so soft and unlike him in his gaunt and self-devouring misery, he seized upon the familiar pen, the instrument of his power, which he had laid aside after the prolonged effort of Frederick, with more or less idea that it was done with, and rest to be his henceforth, and poured forth his troubled agony of soul, his restless, quickened life, the heart which had no longer a natural outlet close at hand. .... He was not prostrated as some are; he was roused to that feverish energy of pain which is the result in some natures of a shock which makes the whole being reel. . ... In a period momentary as compared with the time he took to his other works, wild with grief, distraught and full of sombre excitement, he poured forth, scarcely knowing what he did, the entire bulk of these two volumes, seeking in that way a relief to his corroding thoughts.”
What did he write? Of his wife, “ things” — still in the words of Mrs. Oliphant — " which one loves him the better for having poured forth in sacred grief and solitude, like heaped-up baskets of flowers, never too many or too sweet, over her grave, “REMINISCENCES."
but which never should have been produced to the common eye." He who, in knowledge of the history and nature of these Reminiscences can laugh at the old Carlyle for his idolatrous praises of his “ Jeannie,” even his exaltation of her above all the George Eliots and George Sands, or who does not read with sympathy the record of his reverence for his Scotch-granite father, must either be so happy as to have had no sorrows in life or so miserable as to be incapable of deep experience altogether. And in all these adulations, as you call them, of the Carlyles and the Welshes, in pages where it goes so hard with “ quality people" and men of mark, cannot eyes see something other than family narrowness and complacency — even the recognition of the sacred deeps of common humanity, in that section of it with which he came into closest contact ? It was not in Cromwell and great Germans and Norse gods alone that he found things admirable. Wherever he found an honest man and good faith he found a hero and was at home. It was little to him that a man was known in Pall Mall, spoke in Parliament, or wrote for the Westminster Review; these dignities did not check his satire or loud laugh for a moment. “The pith o' sense and pride o' worth ” were “higher ranks than a' that ” to him, and before these his " egotism” always bowed. It is a characteristic story, told by Mr. James, how he was in the habit of going to the home of some simple friends of his
for a Sunday dinner, “protesting that, though his friends had no acquaintance with books or literary people, he never paid them a Sunday visit without feeling himself renovated against all the soil of the week.” “It was," said Mrs. Carlyle, “as though that lovely family inoculated him with the blessed life.”
But literary London? In quite proper and due deference to literary London, Reminiscences ought not to have been printed for a dozen years. If Mr. Froude's editorial duties were discharged in a slipshod, altogether uncritical manner, his haste in publishing these disjointed jottings was quite indecent. No need of hurry to do anything or say anything about Carlyle, for he will not be forgotten to-morrow. These bristling personal allusions could not help angering and grieving a thousand people; a dozen years hence they would not have seemed so personal. The careful student of Carlyle, to whom the personal considerations do not mean very much, finds little to affect his estimate of the man's thought and character. He may regret the iterated and reiterated scoutings at modern methods of reform and the democratic dispensation, but these he was already quite familiar with. He will not accept these careless estimates of a score of men and women, but he will get new and helpful insights from every one of them, and especially he will see this — that the criterion of judgment is never any sort of cleverness, but always
simple manhood and reality. Opinions of every sort may be disposed of by Lynch-law — but range these men and women in order of the quality of approval or of condemnation, and you will have a remarkably reliable answer to the question, What of genuineness and of the form of eternity there and there? It has not been and will not be the reformers, friends of Mill or of Mazzini, who raise the hue and cry against this book, — they know how to dispose of it; it is chiefly the class of literary triflers and worshipers of small gods. “He hates a literary trifler," wrote Emerson of Carlyle, thirty years ago ; and whatever other men inay like or dislike in these reminiscences, it is into the thin atmosphere of dainty literary epicureanism and dilettanteism that they break as a slice of Judgment-day. Roughly enough, brutally, almost, sometimes, – but he who, fifty years from now, would get at the realities of the London literary life of today and yesterday will not skip this book. No envy or hatred or malice prompted any line – all attempts to make out these by those who may complain with justice enough of its uncharitableness will fail. No falsehood and no simulation here, whatever of blindness and obstinacy. This man did not live to seem, he did not live — whatever may be said — to laugh, but he lived to suffer, and lived in genuine consciousness of the infinities and the immensities which he talked about, and which reached below the attic and its books even as far