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take easy grasp of it and all that it contains; a thing given into your hand thenceforth to have and to hold. Comprehensible, not a mass that both your arms cannot get round; tenable, not a confused pebble heap of which you can only lift one pebble at a time.
• Lipped softly'-full of kindness and comfort: the Keats line indeed the perpetual message of it—For ever shalt thou love, and she be fair. All beautiful fiction is of the Madonna, whether the Virgin of Athens or of Judah-Pan-Athenaic always.
And all foul fiction is leze majesté to the Madonna and to womanhood. For indeed the great fiction of every human life is the shaping of its Love, with due prudence, due imagination, due persistence and perfection from the beginning of its story to the end ; for every human soul, its Palladium. And it follows that all right imaginative work is beautiful, which is a practical and brief law concerning it. All frightful things are either foolish, or sick, visits of frenzy, or pollutions of plague.
Taking thus the Greek vase at its best time, for the symbol of fair fiction : of foul, you may find in the great entrance-room of the Louvre, filled with the luxurious orfèvrerie of the sixteenth century, types perfect and innumerable : Satyrs carved in serpentine, Gorgons platted in gold, Furies with eyes of ruby, Scyllas with scales of pearl ; infinitely worthless toil, infinitely witless wickedness ; pleasure satiated into idiocy, passion provoked into madness, no object of thought, or sight, or fancy, but horror, mutilation, distortion, corruption, agony of war, insolence of disgrace, and misery of Death.
It is true that the ease with which a serpent, or something that will be understood for one, can be cbased or wrought in metal ; and the small workmanly skill required to image a satyr's hoof and horns, as compared to that needed for a human foot or forehead, have greatly influenced the choice of subject by incompetent smiths ; and in like manner, the prevalence of such vicious or ugly story in the mass of modern literature is not so much a sign of the lasciviousness of the age, as of its stupidity, though each react on the other, and the vapour of the sulphurous pool becomes at last so diffused in the atmosphere of our cities, that whom it cannot corrupt, it will at least stultify.
Yesterday, the last of August, came to me from the Fine Art Society, a series of twenty black and white scrabbles of which I am informed in an eloquent preface that the author was a Michael Angelo of the glebe, and that his shepherds and his herdswomen are akin in dignity and grandeur to the prophets and Sibyls of the Sistine.
Glancing through the series of these stupendous productions, I find one peculiarly characteristic and expressive of modern picture making and novel-writing, called "Hauling' or more definitely Paysan rentrant du Fumier,' which represents a man's back, or at least the back of his waistcoat and trowsers, and hat, in full light, and a small blot where his face should be, with a small scratch where its nose should be, elongated into one representing a chink of timber in the background.
1 Jean François Millet. Twenty Etchings and Woodcuts reproduced in Facsimile, and Biographical Notice by William Ernest Henley. London, 1881.
Examining the volume farther, in the hope of discovering some trace of reasonable motive for the publication of these works by the Society, I perceive that this Michael Angelo of the glebe had indeed natural faculty of no mean order in him, and that the woful history of his life contains very curious lessons respecting the modern conditions of Imagination and Art.
I find in the first place, that he was a Breton peasant; his grandmother's godson, baptized in good hope, and
christened Jean, after his father, and François after the Saint of Assisi, his godmother's patron. It was under her care and guidance and those of his uncle, the Abbé Charles, that he was reared; and the dignified and laborious earnestness of these governors of his was a chief influence in his life, and a distinguishing feature in his character. The Millet family led an existence almost patriarchal in its unalterable simplicity and diligence; and the boy grew up in an environment of toil, sincerity and devoutness. He was fostered upon the Bible, and the great book of nature. . . . When he woke, it was to the lowing of cattle and the song of birds; he was at play all day, among the sights and sounds of the open landscape'; and he slept with the murmur of the spinning-wheel in his ears, and the memory of the evening prayer in his heart. . . . He learned Latin from the parish priest, and from his uncle Charles; and he soon came to be a student of Virgil, and while yet young in his teens began to follow his father out into the fields, and thenceforward, as became the eldest boy in a large family, worked hard at grafting and ploughing, sowing and reaping, scything and shearing and planting, and all the many duties of husbandmen. Meanwhile, he had taken to drawing, . . . copied everything he saw, and produced not only studies but compositions also; until at last his father was moved to take him away from farming, and have him taught painting.
Now all this is related concerning the lad's early life by the prefatory and commenting author, as if expecting the general reader to admit that there had been some advantage for him in this manner of education :-that simplicity and devoutness are wholesome states of mind; that parish cures and uncle Abbés are not betrayers or devourers of youthful innocence—that there is profitable reading in the Bible—and something agreeably soothing-if no otherwise useful, in the sound of evening prayer. I may observe also in passing, that his education, thus far, is precisely what for the last ten years, I have been describing as the most desirable for all persons intending to lead an honest and Christian life: (my recommendation that peasants should learn Latin having been, some four or five years ago, the subject of much merriment in the pages of Judy and other such nurses
of divine wisdom in the public mind.) It however having been determined by the boy's father that he should be a painter, and that art being unknown to the Abbé Charles and the village Curé (in which manner of ignorance, if the infallible Pope did but know it, he and his now artless shepherds stand at a fatal disadvantage in the world, as compared with monks who could illuminate with colour as well as word)—the simple young soul is sent for the exalting and finishing of its artistic faculties to Paris.
"Wherein,' observes my prefatory author,' the romantic movement was in the full tide of prosperity.'
Hugo had written Notre Dame,' and Musset had published Rolla' and the Nuits ; ' Balzac the Lys dans la Vallée;' Gautier the Comédie de la Mort;' Georges Sand Léone Léonie;' and a score of wild and eloquent novels more; and under the instruction of these romantic authors, his landlady, to whom he had entrusted the few francs he possessed, to dole out to him as he needed, fell in love with him, and finding he could not, or would not, respond to her advances, confiscated the whole deposit, and left him penniless. The preface goes on to tell us how, not feeling himself in harmony with these forms of Romanticism, he takes to the study of the Infinite, and Michael Angelo; how he learned to paint the Heroic Nude; how he mixed up for imitation the manners of Rubens, Ribera, Mantegna, and Correggio; how he struggled all his life with neglect, and endured with his family every agony of poverty; owed his butcher and his grocer, was exposed to endless worry and annoyance from writs and executions; and when first his grandmother died, and then his mother, for neither deathbed was able to raise the money that would have carried him from Barbizon to Gruchy.
The work now laid before the public by the Fine Art Society is to be considered, therefore-whatever its merits or defects may be—as an expression of the influence of the Infinite and Michael Angelo on a mind innocently prepared for their reception. And in another place I may take occasion to point out the peculiar adaptability of modern etching to the expression of the Infinite, by the multitude of scratches it can put on a surface without representing anything in particular; and to illustration of the majesty of Michael Angelo by preference of the backs and legs of people to their faces.
But I refer to the book in this paper, partly indeed because my mind is full of its sorrow, and I may not be able to find another opportunity of saying so; but chiefly, because the author of the preface has summed the principal authors of depraved Fiction in a single sentence; and I want the reader to ask himself why, among all the forms of the picturesque which were suggested by this body of literary leaders, none were acceptable by, none helpful to, the mind of a youth trained in purity and faith.
He will find, if he reflect, that it is not in romantic, or any
other healthy aim, that the school detaches itself from those called sometimes by recent writers classical'; but first by Infidelity, and an absence of the religious element so total that at last it passes into the hatred of priesthood which bas become characteristic of Republicanism; and secondly, by the taint and leprosy of animal passion idealised as a governing power of humanity, or at least used as the chief element of interest in the conduct of its histories. It is with the Sin of Master Anthony that Georges Sand (who is the best of them) overshadows the entire course of a novel meant to recommend simplicity of life--and by the weakness of Consuelo that the same authoress thinks it natural to set off the splendour of the most exalted musical genius.
I am not able to judge of the degree of moral purpose, or conviction, with which any of the novelists wrote. But I am able to say with certainty that, whatever their purpose, their method is mistaken, and that no good is ever done to society by the pictorial representation of its diseases.
All healthy and helpful literature sets simple bars between right and wrong; assumes the possibility, in men and women, of having healthy minds in healthy bodies, and loses no time in the diagnosis of fever or dyspepsia in either ; least of all in the particular kind of fever which signifies the ungoverned excess of any appetite or passion. The dulness' which many modern readers inevitably feel, and some modern blockheads think it creditable to allege, in Scott, consists not a little in his absolute purity from every loathsome element or excitement of the lower passions ; so that people who live habitually in Satyric or hircine conditions of thought find him as insipid as they would a picture of Angelico's. The accurate and trenchant separation between him and the common railroad-station novelist is that, in his total method of conception, only lofty character is worth describing at all; and it becomes interesting, not by its faults, but by the difficulties and accidents of the fortune through which it passes, while in the railway novel, interest is obtained with the vulgar reader for the vilest character, because the author describes carefully to his recognition the blotches, burrs and pimples in which the paltry nature resembles his own. The Mill on the Floss 'is perhaps the most striking instance extant of this study of cutaneous disease. There is not a single person in the book of the smallest importance to anybody in the world but themselves, or whose qualities deserved so much as a line of printer's type in their description. There is no girl alive, fairly clever, half educated, and unluckily related, whose life has not at least as much in it as Maggie's, to be described and to be pitied. Tom is a clumsy and cruel lout, with the making of better things in him and the same may be said of nearly every Englishman at present smoking and elbowing his way through the ugly world his blunders have contributed to the making of); while the rest of the characters are simply the sweepings-out of a Pentonville omnibus.?
And it is very necessary that we should distinguish this essentially Cockney literature, developed only in the London suburbs, and feeding the demand of the rows of similar brick houses, which branch in devouring cancer round every manufacturing town,--from the really romantic literature of France. Georges Sand is often immoral; but she is always beautiful, and in the characteristic novel I have named, 'Le Péché de Mons. Antoine,' the five principal characters, the old Cavalier Marquis,-the Carpenter,--M. de Chateaubrun,-Gilberte,—and the really passionate and generous lover, are all as heroic and radiantly ideal as Scott's Colonel Mannering, Catherine Seyton, and Roland Graeme; while the landscape is rich and true with the emotion of years of life passed in glens of Norman granite and beside bays of Italian sea. But in the English Cockney school, which consummates itself in George Eliot, the personages are picked up from behind the counter and out of the gutter; and the landscape, by excursion train to Gravesend, with return ticket for the City-road.
But the second reason for the dulness of Scott to the uneducated or miseducated reader lies far deeper; and its analysis is related to the most subtle questions in the Arts of Design.
The mixed gaiety and gloom in the plan of any modern novel fairly clever in the make of it, may be likened, almost with precision, to the patchwork of a Harlequin's dress, well spangled ; a pretty thing enough, if the human form beneath it be graceful and active. Few personages on the stage are more delightful to me than a good Harlequin; also, if I chance to have nothing better to do, I can still read my Georges Sand or Alfred de Musset with much contentment, if only the story end well.
But we must not dress Cordelia or Rosalind in robes of triangular patches, covered with spangles, by way of making the coup d'ail of them less dull; and so the story-telling of Scott is like the robe of the Sistine Zipporah-embroidered only on the edges with gold and blue, and the embroidery involving a legend written in mystic letters.
And the interest and joy which he intends his reader to find in his tale, are in taking up the golden thread here and there in its intended recurrence-and following, as it rises again and again, his melody through the disciplined and unaccented march of the fugue.
Thus the entire charm and meaning of the story of the Monastery depend on the degree of sympathy with which we compare the first and last incidents of the appearance of a character, whom perhaps not
2 I am sorry to find that my former allusion to the boating expedition in this rovel has been misconstrued by a young authoress of promise into disparagement of her own work; not supposing it possible that I could only have been forced to look at George Eliot's by a friend's imperfect account of it. Vol. X.-No. 56.
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