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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 The sub- would be considered out of date in circles which ject is so curious as well to deserve treatment in are the immediate successors, at this moment, of some detail, however brief.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 Cooper ?" Yes, he has read them all with too much than “the Rev. Thomas Dale, M. A., Canon
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 can not be learned elsewhere ?" I reply, yes, just almost ludicrous; but we allow it to be thus 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 infuence, 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 Foneses * 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 writ- 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 char. she 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
ject, vital. If a man maintains not only that man heaven of divine luster, and utterly alien in conis imperfect, but that he is corrupt and, without ception to anything to be found in the Fathers or supernatural aid connecting itself with certain the Apostles. Governor Winthrop's wife writes beliefs, incapable of good, then he must feel that to her husband, “I love thee, first, because thou to him the fountains of art, in poetry, fiction, or lovest Christ"; but the good man would have otherwise, are sealed. But, whatever else may been very much hurt if he had believed her. be said of the essential logic of such an opinion This, I repeat, is the everlasting difficulty as to as that, it is plain that poetry and fiction have in the poetic, or thoroughly “human" novel, reall ages set themselves in battle array against it, garded from what we have (without committing and that the victory seems more and more to any one) agreed to call the “ evangelical " point of lean to their side. Now, as we have already view. A novel may contain no vice, or other noticed, the seit-geist does not argue—it is in wrong-doing, or it may treat the wrong-doing the air, and it conquers by inconsistencies. How- with the most orthodox severity, and yet the ever, we can not now follow up this, or trace the work may be obnoxious to criticism of the kind history of story-telling, so far as we know it, from now contemplated. Hawthorne's “Scarlet LetJotham's parable down to Mr. George Meredith's ter" is a case in point. True, Hawthorne makes " Book of Egoism." :
it plain here and there that he did not understand Most, if not all, of the critics of the old-fash- Puritanism, after all; but Cotton Mather himself, ioned school who have condemned novels and or a grimmer than he, might be satisfied with the romances have been anxious to explain that they climax-the scene in which the minister dies on do not extend their condemnation to books like the scaffold. Nevertheless, the predominant inthe “ Pilgrim's Progress,” or stories carefully Auence of the story is naturalistic, and it does not written in order to inculcate religious truths, or require a very subtile intellect to gather doubtmoral truths set in organic relation to religious ful oracles from it. External nature and human truths. It is true they have always been very nature are both handled with the sympathetic jealous in admitting stories of actual life to any touch of the artist, not with that of the moralist. position of even qualified honor, because of the The Rev. Mr. Wilson would have turned sourly difficulty of introducing what they would call the away from the last chapter, in which it is sugsal evangelicum into such stories, and also be gested that “a new truth” will some day be cause to tell a story of natural human feeling is, “revealed," in order to place certain matters on from their point of view, slippery work—the “in- a more satisfactory footing. “New truth ? new terest” being apt to slide, under the workman's truth? Why, what new truth can there be in very eye, into paths held to be dangerous. But, such a case?" he would have said. “My unof course, it would never do to condemn simple learned and unregenerate brother, you have given parables, or even complicated parables, or narra- your mind too much to ballads and play-books. tives as inartificial and as little discursive as those Learn the lesson of self-abasement, and be not of Joseph and his brethren, or Job. This would wise above that which is written.” land then in an obvious difficulty. The great The exact process by which the literature of crux with them is always the passion of love any given age, or any given branch of literature between man and woman. In the first place, assumes a new color is sometimes very obscure, paint it as he will, the artist is sure to get too but now and then it is amusingly obvious. Many much color on the canvas-for their taste. In reasons have been assigned for Queen Elizabeth's the second place, they are vaguely influenced by remaining unmarried. If one of them were proved the fact already mentioned that love, as under- to be true (which is not possible), then it would stood among the Westerns, is not to be found in follow that very much of the poetic and romanthe Bible. When the description of love is car- tic literature of her age and Milton's received a ried to the height which is necessary to make it peculiar tinge from facts which had no more to interesting in itself, there are, in the eye of these do with literature or morals than the shape of critics, two evils. The first they see clearly and Cleopatra's nose. As it happens, we can trace constantly point out-namely, that “the perish- the fact that in our own time the religious classes ing creature" occupies too large a space in the (with large exceptions) read novels extensively heart. The second they do not see clearly, but and without scruple to immediate causes which they feel it—and they flinch from pictures of life lie upon the surface. We are not now taking the which attribute so much exalting power to an larger or deeper view of the matter—we are not " earthly" passion; the good woman in the Book going to pause upon the question of the influence of Proverbs, or a subordinated figure like the of Sir Walter Scott and Miss Austen in breaking wife sketched by St. Paul, does not show very fresh ground among that large class of serious congruously with woman as the inspirer and re- readers who take what might be roughly described generator of the man; a being seen in a seventh as the ordinary old-fashioned Church of England view of religion, nor upon the influence in foster- In this scale I have left out Mrs. Gaskell, but ing latent naturalistic tendencies which was exer- her influence in making novels acceptable readcised by the revival of the old ballad literature: ing in certain circles has been incalculable. It the writings of Wordsworth and Coleridge, and was not on account of any poetic naturalism that the cultivation of German. The last, however, her“ Ruth” was ever shut out. But Mrs. Gashas had more to do with it than would at first kell was one of three very notable novelists, sight be supposed. The childlike poetic natural- whose early training lay within Puritan or quasiism of German romance and poetry stole upon Puritan boundaries. The other two are Mrs. the mind before there was time to think how Beecher Stowe and George Eliot. Both these naturalism in art stood related to hard-and-fast writers had the command of a certain dialect literalism of creed—and the waters were out be- (not to say more) which gave them the entry into fore any one knew it. The direct influence of "evangelical" circles at once. There are thoustories like Fouqué's and ballads like Uhland's sands of such circles where “Mr. Gilfil's Love was confined, of course, to a few minds. But story," and much more “ Adam Bede," would these were minds that could be swiftly kindled, meet a doubtful welcome; but none where “Unand that were sure to pass on the torch. How- cle Tom's Cabin” or “The Minister's Wooing” ever, to pass from such generalities, it may plausi- would not take the readers by storm. It is inbly be said that writers like Miss Yonge, Charles teresting, by the way, to note the prominence Kingsley, and Dinah Mulock (Mrs. Craik), were which the question of poetic naturalism and Puthe foremost among those who led the way to ritanism assumes in Mrs. Stowe's earlier novthe new state of things. So far as we know, Mr. els. Her own mind was evidently much exerKingsley was the only one who avowedly took cised " upon it. up naturalistic-poetic ground as land lying within The end of it is that, nowadays, nearly everythe territory of any Biblical creed. He did this body reads a story of some kind. Nearly all, with great ardor, and got himself into trouble by if not all, the avowedly religious periodicals, in it; but he was within his commission as a dis- which a story is at all possible, take care to have ciple of Mr. Maurice, whatever may be thought one running from number to number. True, the of his policy or his arguments. “It may seem “human interest” in these tales is never strong, paradoxical, yet is hardly hazardous, to say that nor is the humor; and the range of allusions is the Maurice theology owes its power not less to narrow. In other words, we find the old antagoits indulgence, than to its correction, of the pan- nism still present—when we look closely. But theistic tendency of the age. It answers the de- the general reader does not look closely, and the mand of every ideal philosophy and every poetic very thinnest of such narratives approximates soul for an indwelling divine presence, living and more closely to the character of the novel proper acting in all the beauty of the world and the good than, say, Legh Richmond's“ Dairyman's Daughof human hearts." These sentences of Dr. Mar- ter," or Hannah More's “Celebs in Search of a tineau's are aimed at the influence of the Maurice Wife.” dogma upon the practical religious “benevo- It will probably be said that the extended aclence” of the age, but they apply with even ceptance of the novel in our own day is largely more obvious weight to the question of the rela- due to the fact that fiction is no longer the indetion between poetic literature and the old stiff cent thing it once was. But this, so far as it is orthodoxy. And here, once more, the minds im- true, refers us back to the larger question of popregnated by Maurice and his school were them- etic naturalism as against dogmatic literalism; selves propagators, and what one man like Dr. for the purification of fiction has gone on handGeorge MacDonald acquired he passed on to in-hand with certain wide improvements and thousands. We do not pretend to determine to greater freedom of construction as to what may what extent, if any, Dr. MacDonald was at any be good to read. We might here recall the outtime indebted to the elder prophet; but the reader cry made in certain circles about “Jane Eyre," may find in the former's poem of “The Disciple" and later about “Ruth.” But it is undoubtedly a fragmentary statement of the case as we have true that within the boundaries of literature propput it, and Dr. MacDonald's solution. Now, Dr. er there is little fiction that is offensive. Indeed, MacDonald, like Kingsley, has written no novel too much stress-or at least stress of the wrong without distinctly Christian assumptions. But to kind-has been laid upon the presence in recent a reader within the Christian precincts there is literature of what might be called the luxuriousno great harshness in the transition from, say, wanton novel. The importance of this product “Robert Falconer" to a story by Mrs. Oliphant; has been overrated, and certainly its real signififrom Mrs. Oliphant it is easy to pass to Mr. Trol- cance has not been shown or hinted at. The lope ; and from him to Mr. Blackmore or Mr. exaggeration in the treatment of it is easily Charles Reade.