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