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history is certain, and it would surprise no one if work of fiction avowedly founded on fact is one
diation of Josephine and the marriage to Marie Let a man tell what story he will, he is sure Louise, he would have told the story by fixing to add "lees till’t,” though unconsciously. Lord on occasions and scenes unimportant in themMacaulay did it in his historical and biographical selves, and filling up till he interested us; at the writings, and no man has done it more than Mr. same time telling the story in the most complete Carlyle. The involuntary false touches come out manner conceivable. You would have been inof a writer's idiosyncrasy. But it is not here that troduced, perhaps, to the lady and the Little Corwe arrive at the essential difference between the poral taking coffee together—the most insignifigenius of the novelist and that of the historian. cant and domestic scene in the world—and then Even when the writer is fond of taking an his- you would have been told all the conversation : torical basis for his work—like Sir Walter Scott, how Napoleon knit his brow at a particular mofor example—his manner is obviously different. ment; how Josephine panted with suppressed Nor does mere excess of detail or picturesque- anger and suppressed affection, but put her hand ness make all the difference. It lies largely in to her left side and kept the tears down; how the filling up and in the pervading air of per. the coffee got cold; how the bread-and-butter sonal intimacy which belongs to the
was left untasted; or how one little slice was distinguished from the history. You are sup- eaten as a feint. You would have had as much posed to know how the historian came by his of the humor and the pathos as the novelist's knowledge, and when he makes a fancy picture imagination of what passed (all in the most mihe tells you so, directly or indirectly. Not so the nute detail) could help you to; and by the time novelist. The novelist tells you with impossible you got to the end of the chapter you would find minuteness the most secret soliloquy of a man's you had passed a crisis of the story. Anybody mind; has unrestrained access to a lady's bou- who has never done such a thing before, but will doir, and will tell you all she did there at a given upon this hint examine the structure of a modern time, though the door was locked, and the cur- novel, will be struck, above all things, with the tains drawn. From end to end of his story he manner in which the main story is left to be does not give you his authority, and you are not gathered from details in themselves commonexpected to ask for it. On the contrary, that place. “ Jane was giddy and Alfred was irriwould destroy the illusion. The whole of his table; they had a quarrel and parted last June.” work consists of digested and transformed ex- That would be in the manner of the historian, perience presented to you under arrangements and it would be sufficient for his purpose; but, new to himself. It is all true, except as to "the of course, the novelist would fill up that outline, way it is put," and you feel that it is true—that while the historian was off and away to someis, if the work be good of the kind; but you can thing else with which the quarrel between Jane not “condescend upon particulars” as to when and Alfred stood, we will suppose, in some large and where it all happened. Of course, we are relation. It is a pleasant exercise to analyze a now taking only a general view of the matter— good novel in this way—to take the chapters one there are plenty of books coming under the cate- by one, and note what they are made of; how gory of the novel which are more or less histori- little “incident" and how much story. We uncal; but it is admitted that the task of writing a dertake to affirm that the result of such an anal
ysis will invariably be a surprise to the reader tinuity of narration has strained the genius of -it should, of course, be made after he has read the author of “The Shaving of Shagpat"—that the novel, and, if it is a familiar one, so much the very delightful book. But it would not be easy better.
to find a modern writer of fiction better entitled But let us listen to a few sentences from the than he is to express opinions like those we have prelude to Mr. George Meredith's last novel, quoted. At all events, that curious passage con“ The Egoist":
cerning the Book of Earth, which is “ full of the
world's wisdom," and the dictum that “the reThe world is possessed of a certain big book, the alistic method ... is mainly accountable for our biggest book on earth ; that might indeed be called present branfulness” and “the modern malady the Book of Earth ; whose title is the Book of Ego- of sameness,” should be considered, though the ism, and it is a book full of the world's wisdom. So full of it, and of such dimensions is this book, in present paper may be too small in compass to
take them in. Deferring that, however, we will which the generations have written ever since they took to writing, that to be profitable to us the book glance at the more recent fortunes of the novel, needs a powerful compression. ... The realistic especially with regard to the “religious classes.” method of a conscientious transcription of all the
Even lately-within a month or two—we have visible, and a repetition of all the audible, is mainly had intelligent men condemning novels as worthaccountable for our present branfulness, and that less, not to say mischievous reading; and it is prolongation of the vasty and the noisy, out of which, surely not more than seven or eight years ago as from an undrained fen, steams the malady of since the Archbishop of York caused some sursameness, our modern malady. ... We have the prise and a little downright wonder by admitting malady, whatever may be the cure, or the cause. in some public address of his that there were We drove in a body to Science the other day for an novels which might be read without harm, and antidote ; which was as if tired pedestrians should indeed with both pleasure and profit. The word mount the engine-box of headlong trains ; and Sci
"evangelical" has, like many other words, been ence introduced us to our o'er-hoary ancestry-them
very much clipped as to its ordinary meaning, in the Oriental posture ; whereupon we set up a pri- and we do not know whether Dr. Thomson meval chattering to rival the Amazon forest nigh would claim it as a descriptive adjective or not ; nightfall, cured, we fancied. And before daybreak but it is more than safe to say that among evanour disease was hanging on to us again, with the extension of a tail. We had it fore and aft. We were gelical people in the old sense the novel has not the same, and animals into the bargain. That is all yet been naturalized, and never can be without a we got from Science.
breach of logical propriety. Nevertheless, novels Art is the specific. ... In Comedy is the singu. go everywhere nowadays, leaving out of considlar scene of charity issuing out of disdain under the eration a few very “close " circles. The number stroke of honorable laughter; and Ariel released by of evangelical readers—using the word in its old Prospero's wand from the fetters of the damned with narrow sense—is larger than ever; but the inSycorax. And this laughter of reason refreshed is crease has been chiefly among the uneducated Aloriferous, like the magical great gale of the shifty classes. These, we need not say, have multispring deciding for summer. You hear it giving the plied enormously, and among them there is no delicate spirit his liberty. Listen, for comparison, intentional or conscious relaxation of the old to an unleavened society: a low as of the udderful strait-laced notions of what is good for "saints" cow past milking-hour! O for a titled ecclesiastic to read. There is a considerable difference in to curse, to excommunication, that unholy thing!
the practice, but the theory is the same; the forSo far an enthusiast perhaps ; but he should have a hearing.
mal teaching is the same; and when the law is Concerning pathos, no ship can now set sail with. laid down it is laid down in the old terms-exout pathos, and we are not totally deficient of pa- actly, fully, and without abatement. As it hapthos.
pens, the questions thus arising lie at the root of
some that strongly interest us in this discussion; Mr. George Meredith is an original writer of and, though we can not here push them to their fiction, who has never quite fallen into the ranks limits, we can not possibly omit them. of the order; indeed, he is perhaps more of a It is not more than thirty years—it is not poet, specifically, than of a novelist, and above twenty years since the condemnation of the all things capable of being a humorist of the novel, in what were known as the “religious cirShandean school. If “The Egoist ” had been cles," was absolute and unreserved. How the written as a series of sketches or “magic change in practice and sentiment (we are careful lantern slides," to use Coleridge's phrase con- not to use the word opinion) came about is ancerning Goethe's “Faust," it would have been other matter-one that will fall to be considered more successful; but he was bound down to the by us almost immediately. But we might almost forms of the novel proper, and the need of con- say that it was brought about surreptitiously
that the New Fiction, so different from the Old, all your life? Is he a benefactor to his species who made good its footing in the teeth of reasons here and there throws out a beautiful thought or a which remained the same, and were felt to re- poetic image, but, as you stoop to pick it up, chains main the same. In plain words, the majority of upon you a putrid carcass, which you can never throw the strictly so-defined religious public have, in off? I believe a single page may be selected from admitting the novel, “ sinned against light and Lord Byron's works which has done more hurt to the knowledge” (as they would say). We have, in mind and the heart of the young than all his writtruth, one more episode of a very old story. from notice, and is doomed to be exiled from the li
ings have ever done good; but he will quickly pass Wrong opinions (we are, of course, assuming braries of all virtuous men. It is a blessing to the that the old religious judgment against novels world that what is putrid must soon pass away. The was wrong) rarely give way, so far as the multi- carcass hung in chains will be gazed at for a short tude are concerned, before right reason ; they are time in horror ; but men will soon turn their eyes gradually weakened by the force of circumstance; away, and remove even the gallows on which it then a new tone of sentiment grows up by de- swung. grees, rises “ like an exhalation,” and influences conduct; but it is long before it consolidates or Now, it must not for one moment be imagined takes decided shape, so that the new opinion that this verdict concerning Byron is one that may adopt it as a garment or a shell. The sub- would be considered out of date in circles which ject is so curious as well to deserve treatment in are the immediate successors, at this moment, of some detail, however brief.
such circles as those which welcomed invective There is a well-known work for students, like the above. And the same might be said of written by an American divine, which had an im- the verdict concerning the novel proper (as dismense circulation in this country a generation tinguished from stories in verse like Byron's). ago, and is still largely read. It contains some Let it be noticed that Scott is inculpated : admirably wise counsel, and not a little really powerful writing. Thirty years ago this work and Moore, Hume and Paine, Scott, Bulwer, and
“But,” say you,“ has my author ever read Byron was edited by no less respectable an authority than “the Rev. Thomas Dale, M. A., Canon Cooper?.” Yes, he has read them all with too much
care. He knows every rock and every quicksand; Residentiary of St. Paul's, and Vicar of St. Pan- and he solemnly declares to you that the only good cras," a writer who had, in his day, some repute which he is conscious of ever having received from as a poet among readers who were not exacting them is a deep impression that men who possess in the matter of verse; some of his poems, such talents of such compass and power, and so perverted as “A Father's Grief,” “ A Daughter's Grief,” in their application, must meet the day of judgment are still prized for the purposes of the popular under a responsibility which would be cheaply reselections in use among mildly serious readers. moved by the price of a world. ... When you have We mention this for an obvious reason: Mr. read and digested all that 'is really valuable-and Dale was a man of taste; he was supposed, like that is comprised in what describes the history of Mr. Melvill (for example), to have a peculiarly in- man in all circumstances in which he has actually tellectual class of hearers, and his readers were been placed—then betake yourself to works of imof about the same order and rank as those of agination. “But can you not
, in works of fiction, Dr. Croly and L. E. L. He might, therefore, the mind taught to soar?” Perhaps so—but the lec
have the powers of the imagination enlarged, and have been expected to append a foot-note if he tures of Chalmers on astronomy will do this to a felt that what the American divine said about degree far beyond all that the pen of fiction can do. works of fiction was absurd, or even very wide “Will they not give you a command of words and of of the mark. But he does nothing of the kind, language which shall be full, and chaste, and strong?" and the young English student is left to make Perhaps so ; but, if that is what you wish, read the the best he can of despicable trash, such as we works of Edmund Burke. are now going to abbreviate. The general topic of the author is poetry and fiction :
The question raised with regard to the com• What shall be said of such works as those of of a mind of the size and splendor of Byron's is
parative effects of different portions of the work Byron? Can we not learn things from him which almost ludicrous; but we allow it to be thus can not be learned elsewhere ?" I reply, yes, just as you would learn, while treading the burning lava,
stated, as it opens in a convenient way a queswhat could not be learned elsewhere. ... Would tion which lies, otherwise, in our path. The you thank a man for fitting up your study, and adorn- author of the book, however, is conscious that it ing it with much that is beautiful; and if, at the is over Sir Walter Scott that the main battle will same time, he filled it with images and ghosts of the be fought, and he certainly does not flinch from most disgusting and awful description, which were to flinging his torch on to the pile at which the abide there, and be continually dancing around you auto-da-fé is to take place:
The question in regard to works of fiction usual. literary form) to the didactic. But that is not ly has a definite relation to the writings of Sir Wal- all. When we come to Sir Walter Scott, we are ter Scott. But, because the magician can raise fairly flung backward, unless we can, by habit, mightier spirits than other magicians, is he, there. by instinct, or by reflection, take the unfortunate fore, the less to be feared ? No. While I have con- critic's point of view. One would think, notfessed that I have read him-read him entire-in withstanding Scott's shortcomings in the matter order to show that I speak from experience, I can
of the Covenanters, it must have required aunot but say that it would give me the keenest pain thoritative supernatural illumination to entitle a to believe that my example would be quoted, small as is its influence, after I am in the grave, without critic to lay it down that the guilt incurred by this solemn protest accompanying it.
the author of " Ivanhoe,” “Marmion,” “Waver
ley," would be "cheaply removed by the price of Now, it will be remembered that the terms of a world.” At first sight it would seem absolutethe “ solemn protest " are that it will be found ly impossible that any human being of ordinary "at the day of judgment that the responsibility mold could receive one drop of poison from under which " a writer like Scott (who is incrimi- books like Scott's, unless he went very far afield nated by name in the very passage in question) to gather the plant, and then spent a good deal labors, for having written novels, “would be of semi-diabolical labor in distilling the venom. cheaply removed by the price of a world.” Looking at the matter from the highest secular
In writing of this order, which still represents standpoint, one might be tempted to say that no the opinions of large masses of serious people, human being had ever helped others to such a we come across the proper and natural contrast large amount of innocent pleasure as Sir Walter with the view suggested by the passage quoted Scott, and that his novels would be cheaply acfrom Mr. Meredith's new novel. It will be ob- quired at the price of a world. But the matter served that in the adverse criticism just quoted can not quite stop here; for we have at hand a there is, in the first place, an utter blindness to lecture, by an educated English divine, and of any kind of literary influence except that of the later date still, in which the lecturer uses landidactic kind: Byron and Hume wrote things guage about works of fiction quite as bad as any which were very wrong, things adverse to just that we have quoted, and goes on to depreciate impressions on the most solemn subjects; there- the character and brains of Scott, Fielding, and fore their writings must do infinitely more harm others. They had “no particular pretension to than good. Of the value of poetry like Byron's high mental power.” Godwin's intellectual qualin communicating impulse to the mind, in giving ities are disposed of by the remark that he a sense of largeness to life, and in suggesting in- “made but an indifferent Dissenting minister” numerable by-paths which lead to nothing but -a new crux for genius. It is a very shocking what is (on the more recent and liberal hypothe- thing that anybody should have read the story of sis) good, there is no sense whatever. The same Jeanie Deans in Scott, and yet be ignorant of the as to Hume. The real truth is, that a moder- life of Marlborough ! or have read "Tom ately intelligent use of Hume's admissions and Jones," and yet be “ignorant of the real Joneses * collateral sallies is one of the most valuable of (sic), the true and lasting ornaments of our counmoral tonics. Recall that unhappy jeu d'esprit try.” This reverend critic then assures us that in which he goes out of his way * to emphasize “writers of fiction" are “morally unhealthy," the moral aberrations of different men and dif- and supports this by reminding us that “ Defoe ferent races, and the different verdicts which was a bankrupt, and had been twice in Newhave been applied to the same act in different gate," and that Sir Walter Scott was “ placed in ages-recall that very disagreeable essay, and do painful circumstances.” Lastly, lest we should not forget the conclusion. Hume ends with an draw any inference in favor of fiction from the enumeration of the particulars in which men innocent tenderness of the “ Vicar of Wakecalled good have in all ages agreed, and this field," we are told that Goldsmith's "mode of candid close undoes the mischief of what goes life and thoughts while writing it brought him before. • Behold, thou hast blessed them alto- into distress." We are not exaggerating—the gether.” So far is pretty clear, and we are sure words are before us. The argument, of course, of having carried moderately intelligent and lib- stands thus : Goldsmith was evidently unable to eral readers a good part of the way with us. write “ The Vicar of Wakefield" without falling
But this does not touch, except remotely, into vice, such is the influence of fiction on its what most concerns us. It shows, indeed, a producer, and we are bound to conclude that startling insensibility to the value of the pictorial upon the reader its influence will be similar. or dramatic manner of teaching, as opposed (in Now, it is not to the purpose to say that all this is antiquated. For, to begin with, it is no- But Robert Hall had not got to the bottom thing of the kind; though it is much more shame- or nearly to the bottom of his own mind in this faced in its policy than it used to be. When matter. What he felt—what he thought was so writers such as Charles Kingsley, Miss Yonge, mischievous (and what, unless he had altered his and George MacDonald have written novels, belief, really was mischievous to him) was not so which have been read and relished by millions much the absence of any element of positive of good and pure souls within distinctly sectarian Christianity, as the diffused, interpenetrating, uninclosures—when such books awaken all but uni- conquerable delight of the novelist in life as it is, versal shouts of delight and gratitude—when that and the presence of moral elements for which is the case, common love of approbation (which there was no room under shelter of his beliefs, is usually very strong in a certain order of mind) for example, love, as understood among us of the makes certain people hold their tongues. They Western nations—a thing of which there is not do not want to be laughed at, that is all but a germ in the Semitic mind, or a hint in the Old their (more or less) secret opinions remain un- and New Testament. Now, it was the more or altered; the judgment condemning works of fic- less impassioned, but always direct, delight in tion is held as extensively as ever among the life and this world, without reference to any serious classes now incriminated; and here we positive Christian institute or dogma, which was have prepared a surprise for some—we will do at the bottom of it all, and spoiled Mr. Hall's them more justice than they, by their shame- religious life for weeks: and it is this delight faced reticence, do themselves, and will boldly which is the essential condition of all good poerepeat that if the logic of their creed is the same try or fiction. Write fiction on any other plan, their condemnation of fiction ought to stand. and nobody will read it. The literary artist in Robert Hall has left it on record that no write this kind turns over the pages of what Mr. Mereings ever did him so much harm as those of dith calls the " Book of Earth"_which is also, Maria Edgeworth :*
*"A Dialogue," beginning, "My friend Palamedes.”
* Inigo Jones and Sir William Jones.
as he says, the “Book of Egoism"--and he finds
it full, not only of "wisdom," but of delight. In point of tendency, I should class Miss Edge
And worth's writings among the most irreligious I ever
poor Mr. Hall-his tortured organs crammed read. Not from any desire she evinces to do mis- with sharp-pointed calculi-found that even as chief, or to unsettle the mind, like some of the insid- little as he got of it in Miss Edgeworth (who is, ious infidels of the last century; not so much from however, full of animal spirits), took the savor any direct attack she makes upon religion, as from out of his closet and pulpit exercises for “ weeks.” a universal and studied omission of the subject. In
Now, here we impinge, end on, upon one of her writings a very high strain of morality is assumed. the most interesting questions, and from its charshe delineates the most virtuous characters, and rep- acter necessarily the foremost of the questions resents them in the most affecting circumstances of suggested by the relation of the New Fiction to life—in sickness, in distress, even in the immediate the moral and spiritual culture of the age. It prospect of eternity, and finally sends them off the would recur again and again in dealing with stage with their virtue unsullied—and all this with- novelists like Kingsley, Thackeray, and George out the remotest allusion to Christianity, the only Eliot, not to mention others. The startling point true religion. Thus, she does not attack religion, in the case is that so much of our fiction has lost or inveigh against it, but makes it appear unneces- the healthy simplicity of Scott and his school, sary, by exhibiting perfect virtue without it. No and is as much occupied, though in a subauditur, works ever produced so bad an effect on my own mind as hers. I did not expect any irreligion there; with the skeleton in the cupboard of daily life as I was off my guard, their moral character beguiled even a Robert Hall could be with “the corrupme, I read volume after volume with eagerness, and tion of the human heart," and the “miseries of the evil effect of them I experienced for weeks.
the perishing creature."
It is the fashion to try to trace things to reNow, here we have the whole case in little mote origins, and show more or less plausibly the whole case, we mean, as to one of its most how complex products have been evolved from serious elements. Robert Hall was bound by beginnings held for simple — we say held for his creed (which was, however, liberal) to find simple, because the egg is in reality as complex fiction objectionable unless it was written with a
as the chick; and, as Dogberry said, “it will go certain dominating purpose. And so are those
near to be thought so" before long. What, who, nowadays, hold a creed resembling his. however, if we follow the fashion, may we supThey may and do dodge the obligation; they pose to have been the beginning of deliberately can not destroy it. The whole "situation" in
composed fiction among human beings? Rethis particular is thoroughly insincere.
serving that point for future consideration, we *“Life and Writings of Robert Hall, M. A.," 6 vols., may pause upon the one which has been already vol. i., p. 174.
raised, because it is, in the anatomy of the sub