lous, inimitable, as that portrait is, will neutralize all her cleverness in attempting to awaken so warm an interest as Rose Maylie, Nancy, or Esther Summerson. Facts of perfect notoriety bear out this view. Thackeray owes his popularity in great measure to reviewers. The men who were not in the way of experiencing emotion recognized his power. The clever young fellows of a satirical cast, laboring under the misfortune, painfully conscious to themselves, of being before their age, were all on his side. Currer Bell, with woman's vehemence and woman's cordi. ality, made up her mind that he was a great teacher, come with some profound and important message for his generation; and, having made up her mind, she emphatically announced it. Of truth, whether intellectual or ethical, the works of Thackeray contain, demonstrably and indubitably, but a superficial film. But the voice of Currer Bell was heard, and the trumpetings of reviewers, the applause of knowing young men, and other causes, gradually brought him into notice. Thackeray became the fashion. Dickens owed as little of his popularity to reviewers as the Great Unknown or the Oxford Graduate. It must not be, from this, inferred that Mr. Dickens is to be set before Mr. Thackeray. The reverse might, indeed, be argued, although we do not intend to argue either. Mr. Thackeray succeeded, without any aid, in obtaining an audience, select it is true, but so cultivated and influential, that, somewhat as in the case of Wordsworth, the nation at large was forced to acknowledge him. Those who could find satisfaction in the uncompromising recital of nature's facts thronged around him.

If it were asked what one aspect of life Mr. Thackeray has distinctively exhibited, the answer could be given in one word, — the trivial aspect. The characters he draws

are neither the best of men nor the worst. But the atmosphere of triviality which envelopes them all was never before so plainly perceivable. He paints the world as a great Vanity Fair, and none has done that so well.

The realism of Thackeray can hardly fail to have a good effect in fictitious literature. It represents the extreme point of reaction against the false idealism of the Minerva Press. It is a pre-Raphaelite school of novel writing. And as pre-Raphaelitism is not to be valued in itself, so much as in being the passage to a new and nobler ideal, the stern realism of Thackeray may lead the way to something better than itself.

We found that the novel occupies a distinct and legitimate place among the forms of human exertion, and we cannot but deem it a crude and shallow error to pronounce upon it a sentence of indiscriminating condemnation. The man who looks resolutely for truth, and bids away from him any feeble desire to be merely amused, may derive important information as to his time, and valuable knowledge of human nature, by a heedful and limited study of modern novels. But, on the whole, our decision would be that the more limited this study is the better. Converse with rugged fact, whether of history or science, is what, beyond question, most effectually braces and nourishes the mind. If the tendency of the time were to strike its roots into the rock, and not to seek the soft sunshine above, one might freely advise indulgence in light reading. But since the tendency on this side is by no means likely to run to excess, and since the studious facilitation of mental exercise, and the habitual use of intellectual stimulants, are exceedingly apt to enervate and destroy the mind, our final counsel is to lay, as much as may be, the novel on the shelf.



EVEN while the heart of the British nation is filled to overflowing by one great anguish and one great hope, we cannot doubt that a thrill of real sorrow will pass to every corner of the land with the tidings that Mrs. Nicholls, formerly Charlotte Bronte, and known to all the world as Currer Bell, is no more. But a few months ago, we heard of her marriage. It became known, with a smile of happy surprise, that the merciless derider of weak and insipid suitors had found a lord and master, that the hand which drew the three worshipful ecclesiastics, Malone, Donne, and Sweeting, had been locked at the altar in that of a curate. And already the smile fades away in the sound of her funeral knell, leaving us to reflect, that all of fruit and flower which time might have matured in the garden of her genius has been nipped by the frost of death. There is something which strikes us as peculiarly touching in the death of Currer Bell. She seemed so full of animation, of vigor; life danced like wine in her veins: all she said was so fresh and stirring; the child-look, taking this for a grand world, worth living in, no place for whining, was still on her face. The brave little woman! — in whose works you could not point to a slovenly line, to an obscure or tarrying idea. One thought of her as combining the iron will of her little Jane, with the peerless nature of her Shirley, the beautiful pantheress, the forest-born. She could have stood out under the lightning, to trace, with firm pencil, its zigzags of crackling fire. And now she too is but a few handfuls of white dust! Her step will never more be upon the loved wolds of Yorkshire and the broad moors which she made classic by her genius.

“ Her part in all the pomp that fills
The circuit of the summer hills

Is that her grave is green.”

It is a trite, yet ever a suggestive remark, that the variety of nature is infinite. You have been watching the sun, when, as if in love's changefulness, he smiled from behind April clouds on the awakening earth. Those evanescent lights on lawn and lea, those bright gleams on the distant river, that fantastic sport of the sunlight, kindling its broad and silvery illumination, burst after burst, amid the mountain mist, will never be seen again. Every effect of nature is solitary. Each star has its own twinkle, every lily of the field its peculiar and unshared beauty. The Hand whose touch is perfection repeats not its strokes. But, without inquiring what specifically is that mystic thing called genius, it is universally conceded, that it is of its essential nature to be, in a peculiar sense, unexampled and alone. Whether it be a positive addition to the ordinary complement of human faculty, or whether it be some new and cunning harmony, some delicate balancing, some exquisite sharpening, of the ordinary mental powers, it is at least agreed that, from the eye in which men discern genius, there falls over the world a light whose very novelty urges to the term. It has been said by Coleridge, that the effect of genius on its possessor is to perpetuate, in mature age, the wakeful curiosity, the fresh enjoyment, the loving surprise, with which healthful childhood gazes on the new world; to enable a man to see, in the clear, strong light of intellectual noontide, the same fairness and freshness over the earth as when it lay under the dewy dawn. Be this as it may, the fact is beyond question, that there is a difference between the perceptions of such an one and those of the throng. Into recesses of the human heart, whither, erewhile, we could not penetrate, this new light guides our steps. Secret and ravishing glimpses of beauty, to which we never before thrilled, are now revealed to us. Passions which lay dormant in our breasts have been awakened ere we were aware, to overflow in tears or flash in fire. Truths which were altogether unknown, or, through custom, faded and powerless, have beamed forth with startling or alluring clearness. And when here, too, death asserts his iron rule, it is no figure of speech, but a simple statement of fact, that tones have died away which we can never hear again from the universal harp of nature, that “a light has passed from the revolving year,” and that Providence has again worked out, in all it involves of responsibility and monition, those high intents for which there was sent among us an original mind. The mind of Currer Bell was assuredly original; and when we add, that the genius by which it was characterized was accompanied by an earnestness which might be called religious, and turned, by a strong human sympathy, upon the general aspects and salient points of the age, it becomes a matter of serious moment to sum up the work she has done, and estimate the lesson she has taught us The office of criticism is twofold; it has one duty to perform for behoof of the author and another to the reader. From that point of view which every honest and individual, though nowise remarkably powerful, mind occupies, lights

« VorigeDoorgaan »