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tending. Everything about the individual produced the impression that pretense was hateful to him. He was quiet in his manner, and spoke slowly and deliberately in a low tone-apparently uttering his thought as it rose to his lips without selecting his words. After spending ten minutes with him, it was easy to see that he was a man of the world in the best sense of the phrase, and neither a bitter Juvenal nor a shy "literary man," living only in books. There was, indeed, almost nothing of the typical littérateur about him. His face and figure indicated a decided fondness for roast beef, canvas-back ducks-of which he spoke in terms of enthusiasm-plum pudding, "Bordeaux," of which he told me he drank a bottle daily at his dinner, and all the material good things of life. The idea of a disordered liver seems absurd in connection with him. The fact is, Mr. Thackeray was a bon vivant—not given to wearing his heart upon his sleeve, but prone to good fellowship, fond of his ease, and liked nothing better than to loll in his arm-chair, tell or listen to a good story, sing a good song, smoke a good cigar, and “have his talk out" with his chosen friends.
As to the general tone of his conversation, what impressed me most forcibly was his entire unreserve, and the genuine bonhomie of his airà bonhomie which struck me as being anything but what his critic, Mr. Yates, called it-"forced." The man seemed wholly simple and natural, and I could fancy him saying: "I have nothing to conceal from you, friend; you see me just as I am, and you are welcome to use your strongest magnifying-glasses to discover any hidden humbug about me, and to drag it forth and denounce it publicly. I say what I think, and am not try ing to make any impression upon you, good or bad. My desire is to be friendly and natural, avoiding what is hateful to me, sham and deceit." He smiled easily, and evidently enjoyed the humorous side of things, but in private, as in delivering his lectures on Swift and some others, there was an undertone of sadness in his voice. For whether from temperament or in consequence of the great domestic sorrow which was his lot, Mr. Thackeray was not a gay man. He was kind, courteous, and good-humored, but not a hearty, cheery person; and evidently did not look upon this as the best of all possible worlds. His comments on men and things were occasionally half sad, half satirical. He seemed to regard life as a comedy, in which rascals, male and female, predominated-his business as a writer being to laugh at or denounce them. That he saw more vice than virtue, and had been a little soured, may have been caused by his own personal experiences. It is known that his lot had been trying. Inheriting about one hundred
thousand dollars, he held on to his property just long enough to acquire luxurious and expensive tastes, when he was persuaded to risk it in a speculation, and lost the whole. Thereupon he married, like his friend "Philip," and wrote for bread. He alludes to these "hard times" in several places in his books, as where he makes his pen say:
"I've helped him to pen many a line for bread, To joke with sorrow, aching in his head, And wake your laughter when his own heart bled.” A more affecting allusion of the same sort may be found in his "Roundabout Paper," De Finibus, where he says: "As we look to the page written last month, or ten years ago, we remember the day and its events; the child ill mayhap in the adjoining room, and the doubts and fears which racked the brain as it still pursued its work." It seems hard to fancy any experience more distressing than this; the life of a plowman or woodcutter would be far preferable to that of an author harassed by such anxiety; but Thackeray had gone through the bitter ordeal, and it no doubt saddened him. A last influence, and one worth noticing, was the slowness of his fame. He had reached middle age nearly before he took rank higher than a clever magazinist. With all his faculties in their ripest vigor, with a style as finished as it ever became, and with "Esmond" and "The Newcomes" in his inkstand, this literary leviathan was regarded as a fish of only moderate size, and the manuscript of "Vanity Fair" was declined by publisher after publisher. If this tardy recognition somewhat embittered a man who must have been conscious of his great abilities, the fact is scarcely to be wondered at. He must have resented this obscurity in which his best years were passing; and the reception of "Vanity Fair" even, when that big gun was discharged, did not mollify him, perhaps, in any great degree, as far at least as the critics were concerned. They opened upon him with the cry of "Cynic-misanthrope! and seemed to grudge a fame which had been secured without their concurrence. It had come by hard brain-work, and the capacity to waitbut the waiting was long; and it is melancholy to reflect that a man capable of writing “The Newcomes" should have floundered about like a big whale in the shallows of "Jeames's Diary," the "Shabby-Genteel Story," and other trifles, until he was nearly forty. It is not probable that the whale liked the shallow water, or relished the slighting comments or the indifference of the critics on shore. The slighting criticisms still followed him into the deep water of "Esmond” and the rest-the author was "a cynic, a manhater; the lasher of shams was a sham himself "
—and, like a genuine John Bull, Thackeray struck back on all occasions, making his satire still more bitter and uncompromising. With his visit to America, however, this mood of mind seems to have greatly changed. At Boston, soon after his landing, he heard a "rosy-cheeked little peripatetic book-merchant call out 'Thackeray's works!' in such a kind, gay voice as gave him a feeling of friendship and welcome." This welcome met him everywhere. His lectures became extremely popular, and, as human nature is always human nature, Mr. Thackeray no doubt thawed greatly under this flattering reception. As to this, I can only repeat what I have already said, that when I saw him he was anything but cold, cynical, and disagreeable in his personal bearing. His bonhomie was wholly unforced; I could not have imagined a more courteous and agreeable companion.
To come to my "talk with Thackeray," which the reader may consider too slight a matter for so long a preface. It certainly was not my purpose to "interview" Mr. Thackeray on this or any other occasion. I met him in private or at the houses of friends, who gave him entertainments, and listened with great interest to his opinions of men and books; but I had no intention to make a record of anything which fell from his lips in these unreserved talks. There is no harm in doing so now when he is dead, and I find no difficulty in recalling, aided by some chance memoranda, what Mr. Thackeray said in one of these interviews-to which I shall now proceed.
Having no business to engage me one morning, I went to call on him at his hotel, and found him in his private parlor, lolling in an easy-chair, and smoking. This good or bad habit, as the reader pleases, was a favorite one with him. He was a dear lover of his cigar, and I had presented him with a bundle of very good small "Plantations," which he afterward spoke highly of, lamenting that his friend G. P. R. James, then consul at Richmond, would come and smoke them all. On this morning he had evidently nothing to occupy him, and seemed ready for a friendly talk. Smoking was the first topic, and he said:
people. If it is not a natural gift, he says it can not be acquired."
"I don't know," Mr. Thackeray replied. "I have dictated a good deal. The whole of 'Esmond' was dictated to an amanuensis.”
"I should not have supposed so-the style is so terse that I would have fancied you wrote it. Esmond' is one of the greatest favorites among your works in this country. I always particularly liked the chapter where Esmond returns to Lady Castlewood, bringing his sheaves with him,' as she says."
"I am glad it pleased you. I wish the whole book was as good. But we can't play first fiddle all the time."
"You dictated this chapter?"
"Yes-the whole work. I also dictated all of 'Pendennis.' I can't say I think much of 'Pendennis'—at least of the execution. It certainly drags about the middle, but I had an attack of illness about the time I reached that part of the book, and could not make it any better than it is."
Another allusion to "Esmond," and his portrait of Marlborough brought from Mr. Thackeray's lips, in a musing tone, the single word Rascal!" and he then inquired in a very friendly manner what I had written. I informed him, and he said:
'Well, if I were you, I would go on writing some day you will write a book which will make your fortune. Becky Sharp made mine. I married early, and wrote for bread; and 'Vanity Fair' was my first successful work. I like Becky in that book. Sometimes I think I have myself some of her tastes. I like what are called Bohemians, and fellows of that sort. I have seen all sorts of society-dukes and duchesses, lords and ladies, authors and actors, and painters-and, taken altogether, I think I like painters the best, and Bohemians' generally. They are more natural and unconventional; they wear their hair on their shoulders if they wish, and dress picturesquely and carelessly. You see how I made Becky prefer them, and that sort of life, to all the fine society she moved in. Perhaps you remember where she comes down in the world toward the end of the book, and associates with
"I am fond of my cigar, you see. I always people of all sorts, Bohemians and the rest, in begin writing with one in my mouth." their garrets."
"After breakfast, I suppose. I mean that you probably write in the forenoon ?"
"Yes, the morning is my time for composing. I can't write at night. I find it excites me so that I can not sleep."
“May I ask if you ever dictate your books to an amanuensis?" I said. "I ask this question, Mr. Thackeray, because our friend Mr. G. P. R. James says that the power to dictate is born with
"I remember very well."
"I like that part of the book. I think that part is well done."
"As you speak of Becky Sharp, Mr. Thackeray," I said, "there is one mystery about her which I should like to have cleared up.” 'What is that?"
sick old man-in his chamber; and behind the curtain is Becky, glaring and ghastly, grasping a dagger."
in his books was, so to say, a mere mechanical process.
Mr. Thackeray spoke of himself and his writings with entire candor and unreserve, of which
"Beneath the picture is the single word I shall give an instance before concluding this 'Clytemnestra.'"
"Did Becky kill him, Mr. Thackeray?"
This question seemed to afford the person to whom it was addressed, material for profound reflection. He smoked meditatively, appeared to be engaged in endeavoring to arrive at the solution of some problem, and then with a secretive expression-a “slow smile" dawning on his face-replied:
"I don't know!"
A desultory conversation ensued on the subject of Becky Sharp, for whom, in spite of her depravity, it seemed very plain that Mr. Thackeray had a secret liking, or, if not precisely a liking, at least an amused sympathy, due to the pluck and perseverance with which she pursued the objects she had in view. And then, from this lady and her sayings and doings, the conversation passed to Mr. Thackeray's other mauvais sujets, male and female; and I said that I considered the old Earl of Crabs, in the sketches relating to "Mr. Deuceace," as the most finished and altogether perfect scoundrel of the whole list. To this Mr. Thackeray was disposed to assent, and I asked if the Earl was drawn from any particular person.
"I really don't know," was the reply. "I don't remember ever meeting with any special person as the original."
'Then you must have drawn him from your imagination, or from general observation."
"I suppose so-I don't know-I may have seen him somewhere."
And after smoking for several moments, with that air of silent meditation which his friends must often have observed, Mr. Thackeray added, in the tone of a man indulging in soliloquy:
"I really don't know where I get all these rascals in my books. I have certainly never lived with such people."
It did not seem to occur to this profound and subtile observer of human nature that daily association with the class to which the Earl of Crabs, Lord Steyne, and others belonged, was not necessary to the just delineation of the personages. He had looked from behind his glasses, with those keen eyes of his, upon the moving throng of rascaldom, in London, at Rome, on the Parisian boulevards, and everywhere—and the penetrating glance had photographed the figures upon his brain-their inward being as well as their outward show-after which to reproduce them
'brief sketch; and his opinions upon other writers were equally frank and outspoken. The elder Dumas, the author of "Monte Cristo" and the "Mousquetaire" stories, seemed to be an especial favorite with him.
"Dumas is charming!" he exclaimed; "everything he writes interests me. I have been reading his 'Mémoires.' I have read fourteen of the small volumes, all that are published, and they are delightful. Dumas is a wonderful man -wonderful. He is better than Walter Scott."
"You refer, I suppose, to his historical novels, the 'Mousquetaires,' and the rest.".
"Yes. I came near writing a book on the same subject, and taking Monsieur d'Artagnan for my hero, as Dumas has done in his 'Trois Mousquetaires.' D'Artagnan was a real character of the age of Louis XIV., and wrote his own 'Mémoires.' I remember picking up a dingy little copy of them on an old bookstall in London, price sixpence, and intended to make something of it. But Dumas got ahead of me—he snaps up everything. He is wonderful ! ”
"I am glad you like him, as he was always a great favorite of my own," I said; “his verve is unflagging."
"Yes; his good spirits seem never to change. He amuses you, and keeps you in a good humor, which is not the effect produced on me by many writers. Some books please me and enliven me, and others depress me. I never could read 'Don Quixote' with pleasure. The book makes me sad."
Further allusion to the old knight of La Mancha indicated that the source of this sadness was a profound sympathy with the crazed gentleman-a commiseration so deep for his troubles and chimeras of the brain, that the wit and farcical humor of Sancho were insufficient, in his opinion, to relieve the shadows of the picture.
Passing from these literary discussions, Mr. Thackeray spoke of his tour in America, and said how much gratified he had been by his reception. Richmond was an attractive place to him, he declared-he had been received with the utmost kindness and attention—and he had always looked upon the Virginians as resembling more closely his own people in England than the Americans of other States. They seemed "more homely," I think was his phrase—which I recall, from the curious employment of the word "homely" in the sense of "home-like.”
"Your American travels will no doubt give you the material for a volume on this country," I said.
"Yes; I have seen a great deal," was his reply.
ers, who will be prominent characters; one will take the English side in the war, and the other "Well, I don't think you will abuse us, Mr. the American, and they will both be in love with Thackeray."
"I shall not write anything upon America," he said; "my secretary may-he is quite capable. And, as to abusing you, if I do, I'm-!” The sentence terminated in a manner rather more emphatic than would have suited the atmosphere of a drawing-room; and it was plainly to be seen that Mr. Thackeray had thoroughly made up his mind not to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Dickens, and criticise his entertainers"throw their plates at their heads," as Scott said when he declined accepting an invitation to dine with the old Count Barras, near Paris, of whom he declared he would probably have some harsh things to say in his "Life of Napoleon." Mr. Thackeray had the instinct that, one would think, should control all persons of good feeling and good breeding, and never wrote a line, that I am aware of, which any citizen of the country, North or South, would have wished unwritten.
Further conversation upon Virginia, the character of the country, people, etc., led Mr. Thackeray to speak of what was then a mere literary intention the composition of "The Virginians," which was not written, I think, or at least did not appear, until two or three years afterward.
"I shall write a novel with the scene laid here," he said.
the same girl."
Having so said, I became suddenly aware that I had committed something closely resembling a social faux pas, inasmuch as I had quietly recommended to an English gentleman to take the surrender of Lord Cornwallis as the climax of his drama.
"I really must beg your pardon, Mr. Thackeray," I said with some embarrassment.
"Beg my pardon?" he said, turning his head, and looking at me with a good deal of surprise. "For my ill-breeding."
His expression of surprise was more pronounced than before at these words, and he evidently did not understand my meaning in the least.
"I mean," I said, "that I quite lost sight of the fact that I was talking with an English gentleman. Yorktown was the scene of Lord Cornwallis's surrender, and might not be an agreeable dénoûment."
"Ah!" he said smiling, "it is nothing. I
"In America? I am very glad, and I hope accept Yorktown." you will be able to do so soon."
"No. I shall not write it for about two years."
"Yes. It will take me at least two years to collect my materials, and become acquainted with the subject. I can't write upon a subject I know nothing of. I am obliged to read up upon it, and get my ideas."
"Your work will be a novel ?"
"Yes, and relating to your State. I shall give it the title of 'The Two Virginians '"-a title which, as the reader knows, was afterward changed for the shorter and simpler "The Virginians."
As I expressed a natural pleasure at the prospect of having a novel painting Virginia life and society from the author of "Esmond," Mr. Thackeray spoke more particularly of his design, thereby exhibiting, I thought, and think still, a remarkable instance of the simplicity, directness, and absence of secretiveness in his character. I was nearly an entire stranger, but he spoke without reserve of his intended book, telling me his whole idea.
"I shall lay the scene in Virginia, during the Revolution," he said. "There will be two broth
"I know you admire Washington."
"Yes, indeed. He was one of the greatest men that ever lived."
My host had evidently no susceptibilities to wound in reference to these old historical matters, so I said, smiling:
"Everybody respects and loves Washington now; but is it not singular how the result changes our point of view? The English view in '76 was that Washington was a rebel, and if you had caught him you would probably have hanged him."
To this Mr. Thackeray replied in a tone of great earnestness:
"We had better have lost North America."
This ends my brief sketch of an hour's talk with this man of great and varied genius. The man was a study, as his books are; and I might almost say that he was to me more interesting than his books. The singular commingling of humor and sadness, of sarcasm and gentlenessthe contrast between his reputation as the bitterest of cynics, growling harsh anathemas at his species, and the real person, with his cordial address, and his voice which at times had a really exquisite sweetness and music in its undertones—
these made up a personality of such piquant interest that the human being was a study. His writings will continue to be studied; for, whatever may be said of them, they assuredly occupy a place of their own in English literature. The object of this little sketch was to show that the man himself was not a bitter cynic, but a person
of the greatest gentleness and sweetness, and
THE CRITIC ON THE HEARTH.
T has often struck me that the relation of two important members of the social body to one another has never been sufficiently considered, or treated of, so far as I know, either by the philosopher or the poet. I allude to that which exists between the omnibus-driver and his conductor. Cultivating literature as I do upon a little oatmeal, and driving, when in a position to be driven at all, in that humble vehicle, the 'bus, I have had, perhaps, exceptional opportunities for observing their mutual position and behavior; and it is very peculiar. When the 'bus is empty, they are sympathetic and friendly to one another, almost to tenderness; but, when there is much traffic, a tone of severity is observable upon the side of the conductor. "What are yer a-driving on for? Will nothing suit but to break a party's neck?" "Wake up, will yer, or do yer want the Bayswater to pass us?" are inquiries he will make in the most peremptory manner. Or he will concentrate contempt in the laconic but withering observation, “Now then, stoopid!"
When we consider that the driver is after all the driver that the 'bus is under his guidance and management, and may be said pro tem. to be his own-indeed, in case of collision or other serious extremity, he calls it so, "What the infernal regions are yer banging into my 'bus for?" etc., etc.—I say, this being his exalted position, the injurious language of the man on the step is, to say the least of it, disrespectful.
there is a pretty close parallel to it in the mutual relation of the author and the professional critic.
While the former is in his spring-time, the analogy is indeed almost complete. For example, however much he may have plagiarized, the book does belong to the author: he calls it, with pardonable pride (and especially if any one runs it down), "my book." He has written it, and probably paid pretty handsomely for getting it published. Even the right of translation, if you will look at the bottom of the title-page, is somewhat superfluously reserved to him. Yet nothing can exceed the patronage which he suffers at the hands of the critic, and is compelled to submit to in sullen silence. When the book-trade is slack —that is, in the summer season-the pair get on together pretty amicably. "This book," says the critic, "may be taken down to the seaside, and lounged over not unprofitably"; or, "Readers may do worse than peruse this unpretending little volume of fugitive verse"; or even, “We hail this new aspirant for the laurels of Apollo." But in the thick of the publishing season, and when books pour into the reviewer by the cartful, nothing can exceed the violence, and indeed sometimes the virulence, of his language. That "Now then, stoopid!" of the 'bus-conductor pales beside the lightnings of his scorn.
Among the lovers of sensation, it is possible that some persons may be found with tastes so utterly vitiated as to derive pleasure from this On the other hand, it is the conductor who monstrous production." I cull these flowers of fills the 'bus, and even entices into it, by lures speech from a wreath placed by a critic of the and wiles, persons who are not voluntarily going 'Slasher" on my own early brow. Ye gods, his way at all. It is he who advertises its pres- how I hated him! How I pursued him with ence to the passers-by, and spares neither lung more than Corsican vengeance; traduced him in nor limb in attracting passengers. If the driver public and private; and only when I had thrust is lord and king, yet the conductor has a good my knife (metaphorically) into his detested cardeal to do with the administration: just as the cass, discovered I had been attacking the wrong Mikado of Japan, who sits above the thunder man. It is a lesson I have never forgotten; and and is almost divine, is understood to be assisted I pray you, my younger brothers of the pen, to and even "conducted" by the Tycoon. The lay it to heart. Believe rather that your unconnection between those potentates is perhaps friendly critic, like the bee who is fabled to sting the most exact reproduction of that between the and die, has perished after his attempt on your 'bus-driver and his cad; but even in England reputation; and let the tomb be his asylum. For