« VorigeDoorgaan »
LITTELL'S LIVING AGE.-No. 303.-9 MARCH, 1850.
From Fraser's Magazine. SIR E. B. LYTTON AND MRS. GRUNDY.* EVEN as Englishmen feel about England, even as midshipmen about the navy, so we feel about Sir E. B. Lytton. We like no one to abuse him but ourselves. We have long disliked equally him and his enemies. We used, till the appearance of The Cartons, to hate his poetry, his philosophy, his history, his ethics, his indecency, and his decency. And yet we have long asserted, and do now more than ever assert him to be a first-rate novelist. Ernest Maltravers and The Caxtons are perhaps the two best novels in the English language, however great their faults may be. We have a right to grumble at both Sir E. B. Lytton and his enemies, for he can write novels and we can't, which gives us good ground for grumbling at him; and next, if we could, we should copy *just those peculiarities of his which Mrs. Grundy vilifies most, which gives us equally good ground for grumbling at her.
shoot." If you had taught your chicks to fly, they would not be so eager to swim. But it is so easy to say "No"-so easy to forbid the young to read new books, just to save the trouble of examining them first and making up your mind upon
Oh, Grundy, Grundy! wherefore art thou Grundy? What a noble English matron thou mightest have been, with children and grandchildren at thy knee, looking up to thee lovingly, trustfully, reverently, for advice, teaching, true education, the educing, bringing out, and developing of their latent faculties, nascent aspirations, instead of sneaking about as they do now to all manner of forbidden book-shops in fear of the perpetual " You must n't!"-conceiving of a parent's function as merely that of thwarting and stunting-like wretched snails, never putting out a feeler without expecting it to be rapped back into the shell again by Mrs. Grundy's maternal ferula.
Hence, madam, and hence alone it is that your ancient enemy Sir E. B. Lytton sells his novels, She, at least, should not abuse Sir E. B. Lytas you tearfully inform us, for more than a thouShe-the " Gamp" of the West end-old sand pounds apiece. You have created the gnat-straining, camel-swallowing, fetish-worship- demand. You can't amuse your children, and ping, prophet-murdering harridan of starch and he can. You may call him what names you will, buckram respectability, descended by the father's but you can't deny that he does have more influside from the Scribes, the Pharisees, and Balaam ence over the Miss Grundys than yourself, even the son of Bosor, and by the mother's from Mrs. though you have been trying for the last twenty Nickleby and Madame Blaise ! Absolutely we years to find out his secret, by snatching each will not let her speak, especially now that in her fresh novel as fast as it appeared out of the young dotage she is getting venomous as well as twad-ladies' hands, and carrying it up to your boudoir, dling, and strengthens her Billingsgate by a strong to lock yourself in and-devour it yourself. Ah, spice of lying and slandering. you sad hypocrite!
Why, Mrs. Grundy, it is all your own fault. What a thorn in your side that same Mr. BulSir E. B. Lytton would never have written as he wer, now Sir E. B. Lytton, has been! Don't you has done, and the young Grundys would never recollect the first appearance of Pelham? How have read them as they have done, if it had not you read the book, and cursed the book, not merely been for you. Who devoured the old Minerva- because he gave a painfully-correct picture of your press stuff, while she starved her children on Miss then triumphant fop species, though that was quite Edgeworth and the Elegant Extracts? Who?-sin enough for a young débutant—even a more but if we once begin on the No-education question," painful" feature in Pelham in your eyes was the we shall never stop. It is a “ Curtian gulf," as Sir E. B. Lytton would say.
Poor Mrs. Grundy! it is really all your own fault. If you will not give your children's minds proper food, it is no wonder if they go and find improper food for themselves. And now you stand aghast, like a hen who has hatched ducklings, cackling, twittering, screeching in vain as you behold them swimming forth one by one on the Bulwerean maëlstrom. One would pity a mother's feelings if they had only shown themselves a little sooner if they had been ever employed to do anything except "teach the young idea not to *The Caxtons: a Family Picture. By Sir E. B. Lyt; ton, Bart. 3 vols. Blackwood and Sons: Edinburgh and London. 1849. VOL. XXIV. 28
way in which that superfine specimen of artificial foppery was thrown into rude contact with all manner of thieves and blackguards, fighting his way through them, certainly, en preux chevalier. This was in our eyes by no means the shallowest moral of the book; but Mrs. Grundy's nerves could not stand it. As yet, no Boz had arisen to write a Pickwick and Oliver Twist, and show astonished respectability how
Welters the black fermenting heap of life,
It was to Mrs. Grundy, all of it, as flatly incredi-
scoundrel savagery, was a little startling-almost
His throat they cut from ear to ear;
It was horrible! and Mr. Bulwer's succeeding nov-
After all, was Mr. Bulwer utterly wrong? The horrible exists; and honor to it.
Still, we do sympathize with Mrs. G.'s horror. When Pelham was followed by all manner of objectionable seraphic villains, Paul Clifford and Eugene Aram-copies, as we said, of the French romantic school-yet, after all, infinitely less brutal and more manly, Mrs. Grundy became frantic. "Vice made attractive!" Villany excused by the highest virtues !" Pray, how do you know, madam, that they were virtues in any true sense of the word, these lofty aspirations of Eugene Aram and his fellow-rascals? The true answer to Bulwer would have been-" These fellows are vil
lains still, for all their dreams and their blague. Aspirations after intellect, learning, power, the beautiful-nay, after holiness itself, are just good for nothing as long as their object is only self. Self-glorification is the path to sham saintship, and to true rascality also; and that, too, in the very same individual, wherever the passions and daring are strong enough, the intellect large enough. If self be a man's end and aim, the greatness of his powers only increases his capability of devilish
Yes, honor to the horrible; and to the man who has courage to give us a glimpse of it now and then. It is good for us to read horrible stories, just as we look at monkeys, to see what we too might become-what we are potentially even now, if the higher power should desert us. A But Mrs. Grundy could not see that; in late writer in this Magazine gave it as his opinion fact, she was worshipping" intellect" just as much that horrors were good to keep alive the minds of as Mr. Bulwer did;-she, in the mouths of her the drudging classes; we consider them on the popular preachers-he, in his Eugene Arams. whole as equally good for the idle ones. Who And so she took Bulwer at his word, when hewould wish Oliver Twist unwritten, except Mrs. if indeed he did-set up the learned murderer as Grundy? Reigns of terror, Lyons glacières, Span- a fallen angel. Besides, "How," thought Mrs. ish autos-da-fé-there is a lesson in them all. Grundy, "could a man believe in heaven and They show us what stuff most of us are made of hell-have any spark of higher things in him at -when the paint is rubbed off. As the Yankee all, and yet be a bad man? The fact is that the apologist for drunkenness said, "There's a deal good lady believes so very little herself, that it is of human natur' in man." Honor to the man quite as saintly as miraculous in her eyes to have who will tell us so. Mr. Grundy himself-mon- any belief at all. A man to know that he has an ey-maker in ordinary to himself and family-immortal soul, and hope to get to heaven, and yet shall he "girn" at cannibals and Dyaks? Has not be good! Certainly not, madam. If you not Mr. Carlyle told him that he too is a "Chac- knew anything of history, which you do not, you taw" and buccaneer of industry?—that his grand would find that every age and country, since the wigwam in Belgravia, or the Manchester suburb, is hung with human scalps just as much as any red Indian one? Had he been only born in the right place, and handled tomahawk instead of ledger, he too had been a cannibal and physical eater of men; and Mrs. Grundy-delicious thought!-guiltless of crinoline and polka-had squatted over a wood fire, drying slain Dyaks' heads! There is devil enough in you both for it, my sleek friends. Are you not, too, now maneaters according to your articles of war? Not by wooden sword and hole full of hot stones, according to the sacred traditions of Dyaks; but by buying cheap and selling dear, Benthamism, Absenteeism, New Poor-laws, and exploitation de l'industrie, according to the sacred traditions of Mammon?
Come down from that tribune,
as the immortal Pleaceman X. has it, and girn no
times of the Pharisees, has seen the highest religiousness associated with the lowest villany. Do you think the Pharisees knew that they were hypocrites and scoundrels? Not they. They were righteous in their own eyes," just like Eugene Aram-or Mrs. Grundy. Your brigand, with a leaden St. Januarius in his hat, is he not most religious? Does he not go to confession and mass, and believe with his whole heart in such Christianity as is taught him, not without good hope of heaven? Rush, fresh from forgery and murder, prays fervently by his mistress' side.
The hypocrite!" cries Mrs. Grundy. Stuff! Men at such moments are not hypocrites, except to themselves and God. The man was sincere; he believed that he had a soul to be saved; and believed in the "scheme of redemption" just as firmly as the best; and so he prayed-to get his soul saved.
"What do you mean, sir? Are you laughing at Christianity?"
"No, madam; but at your notion that a man must be either an atheist or perfection--at the notion that a man is good and righteous, because, forsooth, he would be very glad to be in a happy
look not merely at the act, but at the heart which lies below it. The tone of all parties on such subjects has undergone a wonderful change during the last twenty years, and Sir E. B. Lytton has had something to do with bringing it about; and in the face of all the blague and sentimentalism, and cruel, cowardly indulgence, which is mixed up with it, who dare deny it to be a divine and blessed change?
place after death. Is not that just as absurd as feel that ethics, if they are to be Christian, must the doctrine which you impute to Bulwer-that he considered Eugene Aram good and righteous because he wished to be a very fine fellow before death? The truth is and we ought to thank Bulwer for having preached it, however coarsely, confusedly that there is an awful duality in every man, a capability at once of infinite good and evil, according as its aim is self or God; that the largeness and power of the nature may increase its wickedness just as easily as its goodness. The truth is, too, that no one is utterly diabolic; we are not talking "theology," as certain anthropological doctrines are now called, by a strange but most significant misnomer we are simply stating a fact. There is honor among thieves. Did Mrs. Grundy read that most affecting account of their conference with Lord Ashley the other day? There is womanhood, affection, self-sacrifice, even in the most fallen. Boz's Nancy in Oliver Twist is real, true; she finds her place on God's earth, and in God's mercies, too, though not in Mrs. Grundy's "Christian system." Bulwer has said that, and then asks, in a clumsy, passionate way enough, seeing that there was a lie and an injustice somewhere, but not seeing in what it consisted-" These people, bad as they are, are no more devils than you respectable ones; why will you treat them as such Why will you judge the act merely, never the moral sin, which must be decided by weighing the will, the motive, the temptation, the education? Why will you bring the letter of the law, and not the spirit of the gospel, to bear on these beings? Why will you tell them that they are hopeless fiends, and then curse them because they take you at your word? Why not appeal to the spark of light, the one vein of human feeling left in them? Why confirm them in their rebellion against society, embitter their already utter misery, by adding to it the sense of injustice?"
We were not aware, till we read Lucretia for the first time the other day, that the improvement in Sir E. B. Lytton's morality had been a gradual one. We had taken for granted too hastily, from the yells of Mrs. Grundy's father-confessors, the reviewers, that Lucretia was the culminating abomination of Sir E. B. Lytton's morbidity, and that he was, as they triumphantly intimated, given over henceforth irrecoverably to the dominion of sentimentalism, horrors, and nastiness. It is, indeed, very difficult to see what the man who could write Night and Morning wanted with such a subject as Lucretia. It may have been the lust of book-making, not confined to Sir E. B. Lytton; it may have been the desire of beating Mr. Harrison Ainsworth, as he has beaten others, on his own ground. But still the book ought not to have been written. It is a useless and unpleasing subject, to say the best; and, indeed, the worst too. As for the model-scene, whereat Mrs. Grundy's propriety was so scandalized, if it were not for the accidental additions of porter and gin, it is no more disgusting than what takes place in the studios of respectable artists. It was very disgusting, no doubt; but perhaps it may do Mrs. Grundy good now and then to know how the pictures which she admires at the Exhibition get painted, just as it may to know how the cheap clothes which she prides herself on buying get made, and the cheap "Society" Bibles which she distributes get bound, at the price-we assert it solemnly as a fact-of the starvation and prostitution of the work women. Oh, Mrs. Grundy! "What the eye seeth not, that the heart grieveth not!" As far as we have yet heard, truth never was very pleasant news.
This is what Sir E. B. Lytton, we do believe, has been trying to say all along-badly enough at first, and then, we think, more and more rationally and clearly, through Ernest Maltravers, Night and Morning, and Lucretia, up to The Caxtons. He has been insulted for it-and read. People felt that, abominable as his morality was at first But we were, in spite of all, surprised and sight, there was more in it than could be answered pleased with the healthy morality with which Luby an execration. He has been read, and we are cretia was drawn. She is a true woman, a sinful glad of it. If he had ended, like a Sue or Du- and accursed woman, but no monster; consistent mas, in the mood wherein he began, even then we throughout, redeemable, though unredeemed. should not have joined the cry against him; but Have we, too, never met a fallen angel, or besotted since he has worked himself, in this his last book, Titan, once at least in our lives? And the villain out into something of light and clearness, we have of The Caxtons betokens a still further improvea right to say that he has been all along fighting, ment. Vivian, alias Herbert Caxton, is a real son or, at least, trying to fight, in the good cause of Adam, such as we here assert ourselves to the cause of the lost and despised, the publican have personally seen and known more than once and the harlot-whom, after all, the "Son of or twice either. Of fierce passions, strong selfman came to seek and to save". -a fellow-worker will and self-conceit, defective in the gentler and with Elizabeth Fry and Lord Ashley; inferior, more imaginative faculties, (a want which is most as talk is always inferior to deeds, but still a fel- artistically denoted in the description of his physlow-worker. And we believe, from our own ex-iognomy and brain,) neglected, ill-educated, cast perience, that this very point whereon most outcry upon the worst of society to fight his way, he has been raised is just the one whereon, if on any, becomes a civilized savage and a blackguard. his writings have been beneficial, by making us "What!” cries Mrs. Grundy, "the old story
out-Heroded? A villain, not as of old, merely the breeze, straw on the river, their course is by the force of circumstance, but also by the de-shaped for them by the currents and eddies of the velopment of his bumps? Combeism superadded stream of life.
Nay, Grundy, who said that either circumstance or his bumps made him a villain? Sir E. B. Lytton, whatever he may have said in old times, has certainly said no such thing in The Caxtons. Come, let us argue a little. In the first place, even allowing bumpology to be true, (and it is not all false,) that does not prove that the bumps make the rogue. The rogue may just as well make the bumps, my dear madain, and a man's being "like ape, with forehead vallanous low," be more or less his own fault. Why should not a man's physiognomy, as you would expect spirit's body to be, (if you ever expected anything reasonable,) be "the sacrament of his soul," "the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace," or dis-grace of his character? You yourself confess as much. When you call So-and-so an ill-looking fellow," he looks a brute or a rogue, because he is one; and you know it-so just be quiet. Sir E. B. Lytton has said no more than that, only he has said it openly and boldly; while you, madam, are always afraid of facing your own convictions, however stubbornly you may act on them under the rose, just because they are not rational convictions, but only fancies and prejudices, which, right or wrong, will not stand the slightest shock of argument.
But only in proportion as they are things, not men and women. Man was meant to be, not the slave, but the master of circumstance; and in proportion as he recovers his humanity, in every sense of that great obsolete word-in proportion as he gets back the spirit of manliness, which is self-sacrifice, affection, loyalty to an idea beyond himself, so far will he rise above circumstances, and mould and wield them at his will. Thus, in Vivian's case, it is when he casts away the heart of stone and gets back the heart of flesh-of noble shame, confest weakness, human affection, an object beyond himself for which to live, that he rises, slowly but steadily-not to the highest point, indeed, but to something like a manhood and a vocation.
Read this extract, Mrs. Grundy, and say whether it is not, in addition to its other excellencies, the healthiest word of Sir E. B. Lytton's you have yet read, and better doctrine than many a socalled orthodox sermon ?
"And I need not ask," said I, trying in vain to conceal my indignation, "how Miss Trevanion received your monstrous proposition!”
Vivian's cheek grew paler, but he made no reply. "And if we had not arrived, what would you have done? Ah, dare you look into the gulf of infamy you have escaped ?"
"I cannot and will not bear this!" exclaimed Vivian, starting up. "I have laid my heart bare before you, and it is ungenerous and unmanly thus You can moralize, you to press upon its wounds. can speak coldly-but I-I loved!"
"And do you think," I burst forth-"do yon think that I did not love too?-love longer than you have done; better than you have done; gone through sharper struggles, darker days, more sleepless nights than you?—and yet
Vivian caught hold of me.
Neither is Vivian the victim of circumstance any more than any other man, for whom you, in those too rare softer moments of yours, 66 make allowances because he has been so ill-brought up." If any one calls George the Fourth hard names, you sigh soft extenuations. "Ah, but, you know he was a prince, and rank has such temptations! And so handsome, too! All the fine ladies in England at his feet-what could you expect? It "Hush!" he cried; "is this, indeed, true? I is only a wonder he was no worse, poor dear thought you might have had some faint and fleetman! And he had such a charming mannering fancy for Miss Trevanion, but that you curbed spoke to me so sweetly once at a ball! Ah, and conquered it at once. Oh, no! it was impossi good-nature was his bane,' " &c. &c. Mrs. Grun-ble to have loved really, and to have surrendered dy! Mrs. Grundy! to swallow such a camel as all chance as you did!-have left the house, have that, and to strain at such gnats as Bulwer's fled from her presence! No, no, that was not heroes, because they too, like their august prince, are "the victims of circumstance!"
Open your eyes, my dear madam, if you have any, which is sometimes doubtful, and walk anywhere you like-into Almack's, or Moses and Sons, into the alleys of St. Giles, or a fashionable church, or a Dorsetshire village, and then confess, in spite of all your theories and systems, that the many are everywhere the tools of circumstance, for good and evil-churchmen, fops, thieves, savages-because they have been born in that station of life and no other. If you had been born in Turkey, Mrs. Grundy, you would have been a Mahometan, with one fourth of a husband, instead of having Mr. Grundy all to yourself. It is a painful fact, but there is no denying it-the mass are the tools of circumstance; thistle-down on
"It was love! and I pray Heaven to grant that, one day, you may know how little your affection sprang from those feelings which make true love sublime as honor, and meek as is religion! Oh, cousin, cousin, with those rare gifts what you might have been! what, if you will pass through repentance and cling to atonement; what, I dare love; I talk not of mine! Love is a thing gone Talk not now of your hope, you may yet be! from the lives of both. Go back to earlier thoughts, to heavier wrongs-your father!-that noble heart which you have so wantonly lacerated, that muchenduring love which you have so little comprehended!"
Then, with all the warmth of emotion, I hurried on, showed him the true nature of honor and of
Roland (for the names are one); showed him the watch, the hope, the manly anguish I had witnessed, and wept-I, not his son-to see; showed
him the poverty and privation to which the father, | innumerable people just as puzzling; one cannot even at the last, had condemned himself, so that see what could be made out of them at this stage the son might have no excuse for the sins that Want of the business. After all, there were some hunwhispers to the weak. This, and much more, and dreds of thousands killed in the late war; perhaps I suppose with the pathos that belongs to all earnestness, I enforced, sentence after sentence, yieldsome of them, too, had other capabilities than that ing to no interruption, over-mastering all dissent; universal one of serving as food for powder. Vivdriving in the truth, nail after nail, as it were, into ian, even if Sir E. B. Lytton could have done the obdurate heart, that I constrained and grappled more with him, is but one fresh item on a very, to. And at last, the dark, bitter, cynical nature very long list of "might-have-beens." And theregave way, and the young man fell sobbing at my in, too, a faithful leaf out of the book of society. feet, and cried aloud, "Spare me, spare me! I see it all now! Wretch that I have been !"
There we have said our say about the "virtuous villain" question, and heartily glad we are that it is over. Now for The Caxtons as a whole.
Surely this is a noble step towards solving the problem with which Sir E. B. Lytton has been so To our astonishment, as well as that of Mrs. long tormenting himself and Mrs. Grundy. True, Grundy, it is, in one word, healthy. Healthy he has been a very long time getting so far, while from the first page to the last. There is still a his Bible and prayer-book would have brought him little of the old leaven, pedantry and philosophasthither years ago. But Mrs. Grundy is in no con- try. But it is a charming book, in spite of that; dition to throw stones at him for not understanding and Mrs. Grundy ought to rise up at the end of the his prayer-book. She has had it in her hands all third volume a wiser, if not a sadder woman. her life at least, the footman has carried it to Sadder, indeed, by the bye, she cannot be than she church behind her twice a Sunday; and yet is already; for what with "pernicious innovawhat with her old poor-law, new poor-law, con- tions,' decay of national bulwarks," "spread of dition-of-the-laboring-classes question, sanitary un- Popery,' Carlyleism,' Pantheism," Puseyreform, evangelical and Puseyite fisty-cuffings, the ism," "Chartism,” “ Commanism," and a host of •free-will versus necessity" question only set- other dreadful imps of "isms," who haunt her tling itself by the young generation escaping from dreams, the good lady has been in weeping hysterthe tumult into Pantheism, Pot-theism, and Athe-ics for the last dozen years, and expects the end of ism, leaving their parents to fight out the old squabbles of Orthodoxy-oh, Mrs. Grundy, what have you, too, been about, that the prayer-book could you no better?
the world-always the day after to-morrow. Courage, Mrs. Grundy! dry your eyes, and take a lesson from darling, delicious little Mrs. Caxton, one of the sweetest women we have seen-in print, that is, for this "month of Sundays." And, thank God! there are dozens like her in real flesh and blood, though Mrs. Grundy does think society is all going to the devil.
Not that Sir E. B. Lytton even now has triumphed altogether. He is not yet at the root of the matter. If he had been, he would have raised poor Vivian at last to something higher than the mere feeling of family honor and military ambition. Certainly, whatever Sir E. B. Lytton cannot do, He points, indeed, to a higher path for him, but he can draw women. Alice ("Wah!" shrieks cannot take his man along the road. Perhaps, Mrs. Grundy)—yes, madam, Alice in Ernest Malthough, he was right. As for the fact that men do travers is, as we were going to say, as exquisite a reform sometimes without religion, a fact it is, woman as any man has drawn since Shakspeare→→ however disagreeable to Mrs. Grundy; and, per-a ziua iç e in English fiction. Lucretia Claverhaps, Sir E. B. Lytton was as right in keeping ing, too, let Mrs. Grundy shriek again as she will, such a character as Vivian's clear of religion, as is true woman still-nature, just as the boa and the he was in bringing his far larger-minded and more volcano are nature, and possibly might be turned human-hearted father under its consoling and to some use-if one but knew how. Mrs. Caxstrengthening influence. What scope for even the ton's perfection, at least, Grundy herself will not higher capabilities of such a soul as Vivian's is dare to deny; will not be able to avoid, any more there in the present vulgar form, or rather deform- than we ourselves were, suspicious flourishes of a ity, of Christianity, according to Mrs. Grundy-dampish pocket handkerchief, alternating with uneffeminate-commercial, selfish as it is, holding in seemly explosions of cachinnation, several times horror and dread anything like daring self-sacri- during the first fifty pages. One does hope there fice, passionate enthusiasm, (except in pulpit-rant,) is a good cry and a good laugh left in her still, in anything, in short, which shames its own respect- spite of all her sins. Hear a little, my dear able, lukewarm use and wont? Vivian's passion- madam-though this passage, by the bye, is rather ate repentance-his harsh spirit, recoiling on itself didactic than comic. Pisistratus, the young hero, in self-punishment, might have made him a Pusey- has pushed his mother's favorite flower-pot out of the ite, perhaps a Romanist-a superstitious, ferocious window in mischief, and told the truth about it :ascetic;;-at best it might have made him a daring missionary. But where was the gentleness, the all-embracing sympathy, which the missionary should have? After all, could Sir E. B. Lytton have done better than to send him to India, and get him killed like a valiant soldier? One meets
From that time I first date the hour when I felt that I loved my father, and knew that he loved me; from that time, too, he began to converse with He would no longer, if he met me in the garden, pass by with a smile and nod; he would stop, put his book in his pocket, and though his