« AnkstesnisTęsti »
the narrow Puritan who forbids all the merriment of Old England, be it before the Nimrod, who cares for naught but hounds, horses, and sherry. Doubtless, also, there is a danger sometimes that even the most highly cultivated may ignore too completely and altogether disdain the Continental culture, sometimes (as seems to be the case just now) that they may too indiscriminately admire the foreigners and lose their own qualities by trying to imitate those of others. But is there not a "golden mean "? Might not the cultivated Englishman of the nineteenth century know the Continent as well as his forefathers of the sixteenth or eighteenth centuries did, and judge it, instead of admiring or despising it without criticism? Is it necessary that he should affect the meditative attitudes and theoretical habits of the German, or the social flippancy and political systematicism of the ever-organizing Frenchman? If the great aim of all individual culture is to remain one's self, but to develop this self by looking around intellectually and morally, not by being wrapped up in self, is not the highest aim of national culture similarly to try to know one's national character, such as history and experience show it us, and not to copy other nations, but to know them, to understand their peculiarities, to respect their liberty and their opinions, as in private life we try to understand and respect the oddities, the freedom, and the thoughts of our fellow creatures?
GEORGE ELIOT AS A GODLESS WRITER.
[THE subjoined passage from a long essay in the last "Edinburgh Review," on George Eliot, is eminently valuable in itself, and will have additional interest to some of our readers as bearing on the subject of an article in the Editor's Table of our May number, entitled "Paganism in Fiction."-EDITOR APPLETONS' JOURNAL.]
SHE is the first great godless writer of fiction that has appeared in England; perhaps, in the sense in which we use the expression, the first that has appeared in Europe. To say this may sound a paradox or an insult; but it is neither. And this will appear presently, when we have explained the meaning which we attach to the obnoxious word godless.
We must remember that generally, up to the present time, human conduct was, among serious people, supposed to bear reference, before all things, to some power above ourselves, and of a different nature, to whom our souls belonged, and for whose sake we were bound to keep them pure. And this conception has so penetrated our modern civilization that it has been implied in the entire lives and thoughts of numbers who not
only never thought of affirming it, but who even posed as deniers of the belief upon which it rested. Shakespeare, for instance, may or may not have been a religious man; he may or may not have been a Catholic, or a Protestant. whatever his personal views or feelings may have been, the light by which he viewed life was the light of Christianity. The shine, the shadow, and the colors of the moral world he looked upon, were all caused or cast by the Christian Sun of Righteousness. But now, among the vast changes that human thought has been undergoing, the sun that we once all walked by has for many eyes become extinguished; and every energy has been bent upon supplying man with a substitute, which shall have, if possible, an equal illuminating power, and at any rate the same power of moral actinism. This substitute at present is, it is true, somewhat nebulous; but the substance it is composed of is already sufficiently plain. The new object of our duty is not our Father which is in heaven, but our brothers and our children who are on earth. It is to these alone, according to the new gospel, that our piety is due; it is, indeed, to these that all true piety has, in all ages, been ignorantly paid. It is needless to dwell upon this conception longer. Whether we think it sound or hollow, its general character is familiar enough to all of us; and we know that a growing number of men and women around us are adopting it. But it is one thing to adopt a belief in theory-another thing to put it in practice; and again another thing to receive it, as it were in solution, into our daily thoughts and feelings, so that we not only act and think by it, but also instinctively judge and feel by it. This third stage is the one that is reached latest, and we doubt whether as yet any considerable body of men and women have attained to it. The nearest approach to it, so far as we know, is to be found in the novels of George Eliot only there even it is not reached perfectly; for the moral standard of the novelist, and the rational justification of her own judgments and sympathies, are not present to her mind instinctively, and as matters of course; but they are for ever being consciously emphasized by herself, and for ever being pointed out, more or less directly, to the reader. At any rate, in the world of earnest art, she is the first legitimate fruit of our modern atheistic pietism; and, as such, she is an object of extreme interest, if not to artistic epicures, at any rate to all anxious inquirers into human destiny. For in her writings we have some sort of presentation of a world of high endeavor, pure morality, and strong enthusiasm, existing and in full work, without any reference to, or help from, the thought of God. Godless in its literal sense, and divested of all vindictive meaning, exactly
describes her writings. They are without God, not against him. They do not deny, but they 'silently and skillfully ignore him. We have the same old liturgies of human faith and action, only they are intercepted and appropriated by a new object, when they seemed to be on their way to the old. The glory and the devotion that were once given to God are transferred silently to
The way in which this feat is performed is very remarkable; for the characters she presents us with are suffered rarely, if ever, to hold opinions that are consciously to themselves at all akin to the author's. On the contrary, they are most of them Christian people, with the love of God and the fear of hell presumably before their eyes. But, in all their more vital struggles after God, the supernatural element in their beliefs is represented as having no effect on them. It is treated as a husk or shell, concealing, or perhaps sheltering, something more precious than itself; or at best conveying a truth in metaphor through the channel of a sacramental lie. Mr. Tryan, in "Janet's Repentance," and Savonarola in "Romola," are both of them marked instances of this; and the author's dealing with these characters is exceedingly skillful. Mr. Tryan is a clergyman, passionately devoted to his sacred calling, an ardent disciple of a special school of divinity, and eaten up with the sincerest zeal for souls. And yet the writer contrives to exhibit all that she wishes us to admire in him as resting on a basis with which his religious beliefs have nothing at all to do. In her portrait of Savonarola this treatment is yet more distinguishable and yet more significant. His chief connection with the story in which she introduces him, is his conversion of the heroine, from the neo-paganism of the Renaissance to the precepts of Christ, and to a humble acceptance of sorrow. But in all his exhortations to her, and they are some of them singularly beautiful, there is hardly one appeal to Christianity on its supernatural side. Savonarola is the spokesman of humanity made divine, not of Deity made human. In so far as he is not this, but the reverse of this, there, according to George Eliot, lies his weakness and not his strength. The "higher life," the withdrawal from man for the sake of communion with God, is for her a diseased weakness, if not a wickedness. The Christ of the Christian Church says, "If a man love father and mother more than me, he is not worthy of me." The Christ of George Eliot says the exact opposite, "A man is not worthy of me unless he love me less than father or mother." With her, as she says often and explicitly, the "transcendent morality" is to share willingly in the "common lot," and not to seek escape from ties "after those ties have ceased to be pleasant."
She urges with a solemn eloquence, she seems to see in a solemn ecstasy, that a man's highest life is to be found in sorrow, borne for the sake of others; and that all seeming miseries may be turned to blessings, by making an offering of them to something beyond ourselves. But an offering to what? To the God who has made us, loved us, and suffered for us, and into whose presence we may one day win admission? To no such God; but to some impersonal cause, some force of human progress. Make your marriage-sorrows," says Savonarola to Romola, an offering, too, my daughter: an offering to the great work by which sin and sorrow are to be made to cease." This is the one teaching of all her novels; and its fundamental difference from the higher Christian teaching lies in this, that it asserts the part to be greater and more complete than the whole; that it asserts those human hopes, and loves, and enthusiasms which Christianity has developed for us, and bequeathed to us, to be in reality complete in themselves, and clogged and weighted only, not supported by, what were once supposed to be their divine foundations.
This fact, as we have said before, is probably little suspected by the majority of George Eliot's readers. These carry with them the lamp of their own religion into that tender but gloomy world into which the author leads them; and do not perceive what the only light is, with which it would be else provided. They have themselves supplied what is wanting before they have felt the want. And they have imagined that the beliefs which they do not find dwelt upon, have been presupposed as true, instead of being studiously ignored as false. But if we would really see George Eliot in all her full significance, we must not close our eyes thus. If we do, we shall not only miss the one thing which she has renounced much to teach us, but we shall miss something that is of an importance far more general. We shall miss the first concrete examples of the workings of the new religion of humanity, and the only means as yet offered us by which to test the results of it, as seen or anticipated by one of its own apostles. Further, if we look at her in this way, and with this intention, her work, which seems so chaotic when judged by any mere artistic tests, becomes congruous and intelligible. It is not so much a series of novels, interspersed with philosophical reflections; it is a gradual setting forth of a philosophy and religion of life, illustrated by a continuous succession of diagrams. That this is the true view of the matter has been getting more and more evident as the career of the author has proceeded. How far this line of development has been conscious and intentional, with herself,
it is not ours to inquire. But, consciously or unconsciously, the main stream of her powers has drifted into the philosophic channel, and has left her artistic powers as a mere auxiliary to these,
although from the very nature of the case closely connected with them. It is, therefore, by her philosophy that she has the strongest claim to be judged.
THE PURPOSE OF FICTION.
T is a recent theory that fiction must depict the mishaps and defeats of life with realistic fidelity. The heroes and heroines of the earlier novel underwent innumerable tribulations, but always in the end overcame adverse circumstances as well as enemies, and sat down in peace with their hearts' desires accomplished. This regulation dénoûment is now a good deal derided, and story-writers are absolutely taking excessive pains to make their characters permanently unhappy. A marriage in the last chapter is looked upon as a weak concession to a conventional and inartistic prejudice, and heroes and heroines are thus made for the express purpose of exemplifying defeat, and showing how the best-laid plans may come to grief. It seems to be the accepted method to select characters with marked flaws in them, in order to indicate how "the rift" will "by and by make the music mute." This wanton design to make sadness the fashion clearly arises from the notion that art should consist of devices for showing all the unhandsome features of life, all the disagreeable and calamitous possibilities that beset mankind; and he thus is thought to be a master hand who is most expert in multiplying mischances, and who exhibits the greatest ingenuity in bringing right things to wrong ends. For the sake of that part of the community that by this theory are subjected to a great deal of gratuitous suffering, we venture to inquire into the legitimacy of the current dogma.
It is often assumed that the purpose of fiction is fulfilled by the delineation of character. This is an error, we are convinced. No matter how skillfully peculiarities of mind or tendencies of feeling may be portrayed, they are really side conditions of the novel. They are necessary, it is true, to give vitality to the picture. Without them the people of the story would not seem to be genuine, and consequently would fail to awaken our sympathies. It no doubt requires a high degree of skill to depict character truthfully and logically-to look into the minds of men and see their workings, to trace the operations of cause and effect, to measure accurately and depict authentically the reflex actions of temperament and emotion. But when a novel is confined to these things, it is like a splendid highway that leads nowhere; and, however well we may be briefly entertained by its ornamental attractions, there will be a feeling that no adequate end has
been served by it. Now, the real reason for the novel, the why and wherefore that men and women delight in the fictitious fortunes of other men and women, is because something is given which supplements nature, which bestows that which life too often denies. Every man has at heart a passionate love for what may be called the symmetries of fate— for the rewards that follow earnest and honest endeavor, and the justice that gives us finally full compensation for all that we endure. Through all the calamities and mishaps that surround us, we dream of possibilities-we imagine the good that will come by and by to cheer us; of difficulties that are assailed and overcome, of enemies that are put down, of the felicitous completion of our schemes. And it is exactly because these dreams so rarely come true in real life, that we delight in those inventions called novels, wherein wrong and suffering are suitably rectified. When mischance pursues us, there is sweet compensation in following the career of a hero who overcomes misfortunes, and wrests things to his own ends. In real life, bitterness and jealousy may be felt at the better fortunes of other men; but in the novel the hero is the very reader's self, and all the felicitous achievements and successes are enjoyed with almost as much zest as if they were his very own. The very foundation of fiction, its significance and meaning, lies in this power to reflect each reader in one of the principal personages. It shows us what we would like to do, and what we know we feel. The young lady who reads many novels has many lovers, and is married many times. The muchtalked-of psychological novel is valuable for this reason solely, because it analyzes successfully our own moods and emotions; and the extent to which people delight in the novel always depends upon the facility with which they can transfer themselves to the pages they are reading. If fiction did not succeed in getting us out of ourselves, in creating worlds more delightful than the world we experience, in fashioning things better to our liking than Fate fashions them, it is certain that novels would go generally unread. If we are right in this, the true function of the novel is at once apparent. It must give us pictures of life with a great core of sweetness, enlarging our individuality by multiplying our experiences and delights-the artistic requirements being simply that the people and incidents shall be possible and wholly thinkable. The writers who imagine they can secure sympathy by endowing their
characters with unheard-of virtues, or showering upon them impossible good fortunes, defeat their ends; but writers who, in disgust at these excesses, turn around and portray characters without charm, and substitute calamities for blessings, drift altogether away, not only from public sympathy, but from the real purpose of the novel.
If these notions are sound, it follows that the old-fashioned novel is the novel on the right model in this particular only, however. The novel has improved in many things; it is more flexible, more natural and easy, and at the same time more dramatic; but the old practical theory that it is the business of the novelist to rescue his hero and heroine from the evils that surround them, and bring all their trials to a happy end, was founded on a right perception of the reason for the novel, was the instinctive recognition of the principle we have endeavored to indicate. Distinctly, nobody wants novels that reproduce all the sufferings and struggles of real life unless supplemented with those compensations that in real life ought to follow, but rarely do; for the novel is nothing more than a device for setting the disorders of life right, and making us all happy by the contemplation of final, and so often rightly called poetic justice. The novel that does not do this thing for us may entertain a good many people by its character sketches and its descriptions, but, in missing the fundamental purpose of the novel, must fail to command the earnest sympathies of the general world of readers.
REALISM has its advocates and its opponents; but, after all, is there or can there be such a thing as perfect realism in either literature or the arts? Zola has doubtless come nearer to it than any one else, and this is the reason why he is so repulsive to many persons; but would he be tolerated at all if he wholly obliterated every distinction between his pictures and the ugly facts? There is, even in a delineation of squalor, however much the artist may endeavor to be faithful, a certain vivid, picturesque effect that the real scene does not possess. Art is tolerably sure to bestow on its most objectionable and realistic transpositions some quality or elevating touch that lifts them from repulsiveness to sympathy; and the very persons who are most determined that art in all its forms shall be exact copies of nature, unconsciously give little ideal touches that subtly transform the object or the scene. Beggars, for instance, have been painted, modeled, and delineated on the stage, often with a very resolute purpose to make them real, but in every instance the rags in the copy have lost the disgusting foulness of the original, and fallen in lines or produced effects of light and shade that were agreeable rather than offensive. Art thus instinctively finds pleasant features in the worst subjects, and idealizes by virtue of a fundamental law, even when it imagines it is strictly realizing. does not follow from this fact, however, that art does
not sometimes succeed in being too realistic; it only shows that painters and poets often build better than they know.
The deduction we have made indicates that the passion for realism is not likely to go as far as its friends desire; and the tendency is likely to be ar rested by the conspicuous absurdity of a few ambitious attempts in this direction. In pictorial art realism has probably already had its day; the cry everywhere now is for imaginative painting, for the poetic and the ideal in nature. In literature the camp is wholly in confusion, everybody seeming to be struggling for a school of his own, while he belabors everybody else who attempts the same thing, realism having no very conspicuous following except in France. On the stage realistic art seems to be gaining rather than losing, especially in England. We recall seeing, in London, Sheridan's "School for Scandal" in a reconstructed form, after it had been acted for more than two hundred nights. It was the "School for Scandal" with Sheridan left out
with all the breadth, the humor, the pointed wit, the essential qualities that make the play what it is, deliberately eliminated. Sir Peter Teazle had lost all his crustiness, Lady Teazle all her brilliant sparkle, Charles Surface all his overflowing spirits, and the entire group of scandal-mongers all the spice in their malice. The stage was set in some very pretty scenes, giving careful studies of the drawingrooms of the period, and the ladies and gentlemen came in, talked, and went out with an easy, graceful, well-bred manner that was wholly untheatrical, but at the same time wholly colorless. It was, no doubt, an excellent imitation of "good form," but the soul of Sheridan's wit had escaped into thin air. Realistic enterprises of this kind seem to be more common on the English stage than with us. An English essayist, deploring innovations of this character, informs us that the histrionic realist, not content with incursions into modern comedy and dramatic romance, has ventured to subject Shakespeare himself to the new theory. Here is an account which he gives of two recent renditions of Shakespearean characters:
An actor of admitted ability, for example, has treated us to a representation of Shylock, in which the profound sense of wrong, the identification of the man's injuries with those of his people, and the yearning for a terrible revenge, were discarded as so many turgid excesses. The Jew dwindled, in consequence, from a representative and poetic figure into an ill-used and, on the whole, very reasonable individual. Now and then, indeed, he complained of his injuries with a touch of asperity, but with a willingness to argue out his case, and a general moderation of tone, that left quite inexplicable his relentless adherence to his bond. passion which imagination alone can conceive and portray might have accounted; but imagination the actor had intentionally renounced. At a later period another performer, who had been gradually advancing in his art, found a chance of presenting himself as Othello. That he, too, was a disciple of the reasonable school which eschews violence of expression soon became evident. The generous but half-civilized Moor, with his transports
For this the white heat of
of love and jealousy, sank into an amiable and much tried gentleman, whose meek subjection to the arts of lago it was really irritating to witness. Deep emotion subsided into sentiment, passion into temper, terrible misgiving into uneasy perplexity. As in the case of Shy lock, it was difficult to trace the grand catastrophe to human impulses so carefully restrained. The massive scheme of the plot and its dénoúment fell in upon its frail supports. The design of the poet belonged to the unchanging truths of our being. The modes of representing it were derived from the artificial and fleeting manners of contemporary life, and thus lost the seal of imagination.
The attempt to take Hamlet, Romeo, Juliet, Rosalind, and Imogen out of their proper atmosphere is a sacrilege, but to retain the poetic language and yet kill the poetic spirit is monstrous as well as absurd. The realists may throw overboard if they will the stilted style and theatrical mannerisms with which heroic characters are often personated, but nothing of their poetic loftiness, of their ideal elevation, elements which if not true to the accidents of casual life, are yet true to the emotions and aspirations of our inner nature. We unconsciously, as we have already said, idealize the rags of a beggar; the painter can not depict a tree or a brick wall that he does not give it some grace or picturesque suggestion; and assuredly the imaginative personages of our literature should be held on their ideal plane. As an instance of how necessarily and how inevitably the art of ordinary life, the pictures of which are called real scenes and events, give even to homely incidents an imaginative touch, the following, from the essayist referred to, is instructive :
It may, we think, be laid down as a principle that whenever modes of exhibition, though borrowed from the facts of actual life, excite our disgust and revulsion, they cease to have a place in art; in other words, they cease to be representative, since, in our recoil from them, we necessarily lose sight of the mental qualities or states they were intended to represent. If it be urged that such modes of exhibition are justified, inasmuch as they spring from the realities of external life, we reply that our disgust at them springs also from reality. It springs, in a word, from a law of our nature which, since it is part of ourselves, while the forms exhibited are derived only from the external world, is for us the deeper reality of the two. If this be true, no representation that wantonly shocks the mind can be legitimate in art. Let us glance, in the first place, at modes of representation which, without inspiring the deeper sentiment of disgust, simply violate taste. We are brought in contact with such modes when ever a conception that appeals to our sympathies is presented to us in a form that offends them. Let us suppose that, in some drama of humble life, two lovers meet after a long separation, made more bitter by suspense. Take it that young William the sailor, whose ship has been long overdue, is once more on English ground, that he hastens to present himself to his betrothed, anxious Jenny, the farm-laborer's daughter. Let it be granted that these humble lovers have engaged our interest, and that we expect pleasure from witnessing their happy meeting. Our gratification at this event will be seriously impaired if, even with regard to dress, the swain and maiden do not make as agreeable an appearance as consists with their state in life. Jenny's gown may perhaps
be of mere calico; but we ask that, like her collar and cuffs, it be spotless, and that she shall not come slipshod upon the scene. Yet how very possible it might be in real life, and with no blame to Jenny, that, at the time of William's entrance, she should be upon her knees polishing the grate, and that her dress, her hands, her very face, should bear the traces of her occupation! If, however, dramatist or novelist were so to present our Jenny at this critical moment, should we not (always supposing our interest in her to be serious) have just cause of quarrel with him? We had expected to be pleasantly touched by the reunion of the pair after danger and anxiety-to be touched, perhaps, all the more by the thought that affection sheds a gleam of romance upon even the humblest fortunes; when suddenly our unskillful exhibitor disenchants us by his rude contrast between the sentiment excited and the form of its exposition. Our thoughts had been directed to Jenny's feelings; they are violently diverted to her complexion and her gown. If we do not frown at so absurd a disappointment, we broken. Should he plead that a real William might have shall certainly laugh. In either case the writer's spell is discovered a real Jenny under the very circumstances described, we reply that it was quite as possible to present her in fiction under more pleasing ones, that the author was free to choose the manner of representation, and that he willfully chose to offend that instinct which assigns to mental conditions forms that correspond with theman instinct, we repeat, that is a far deeper reality than any which springs from mere external accident.
As it is now tolerably certain that the Egyptian obelisk known as Cleopatra's Needle will be removed to New York, a good many persons are greatly distressed in consequence. We did not hear of any outrage done to Egypt when the companion obelisk was taken to London; nor did anybody then discover the unfitness of an ancient monument in the midst of modern civilization, as certain would-be acute critics are now doing. "When an obelisk," exclaims one writer, "was set up in Egypt it was placed before some temple, and on its sides were inscribed the events connected with the building of the temple and the name of the monarch who raised it. Cleopatra's Needle so placed, and so long as it is allowed to stand on its present site, will be full of interest to all nations. Take it away, and the charm is broken. And how out of place would this stone record appear in America-a record that dates from before the Christian era-set up in a city of yesterday! ... The obelisks of Egypt are part of that country; they date from the earliest period in its history, and can have little or no expression beyond its boundaries." This would be very well if it did not proceed from wrong premises. An Egyptian obelisk would be a relic of the past similar to those we gather in museums, and consequently it would be just as pertinent to say that the Elgin Marbles are out of place in the British Museum, or the Cesnola collection of ancient pottery out of place in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as to affirm that an ancient obelisk must be seen only in the place where it was