« AnkstesnisTęsti »
and convictions of his generation. Finding that the great majority of his fellow-countrymen are adverse or inert, and that even his supporters lack initiative, he calls upon the Government to lead the way, or at least to remove all legal obstacles that forbid departure from the ancient paths.
When the English Government in India proclaimed Religious Neutrality as the basis of their policy, they probably imagined that at least this side of their position would be sheltered from attack. On the contrary, it has been repeatedly assaulted by those who accept the principle but differ widely as to the application by Christian missionaries, who summoned the Government to withdraw absolutely from any kind of protection or guarantee to the endowments made by heathen rulers to temples or shrines; by English Nonconformists, who demanded that no allotment of revenues paid by a non-Christian people should be made to Scotch or English chaplains; by the extreme ritualistic Hindus, who insist that the State has no right to interfere with the car of Jaggunâth or with religious self-immolation; and finally by the pioneers of Hindu liberalism, who desire that the law and the law courts shall no longer give their sanction to social usages which fetter the emancipation of women in India. The fact is that, in a country where everything depends on the State's initiative, neutrality pleases no ardent controversialist, and yet it is plain that the State can only act on the broadest view of political considerations, lest in giving way to one party it should expose itself to a much more formidable attack from another party. In the matter of women's rights Lord Lansdowne's Government has already gone quite as far as was prudent by passing what is called the Age of Consent Act, by which the limit of age up to which girls, whether married or unmarried, are absolutely protected is raised from ten to twelve years. In the discussion upon the measure it was contended, unreasonably, that the Queen's proclamation of religious neutrality barred any such interference with marriage customs; nor is it certain that the passing of even so slight and obviously justifiable an amendment did not excite suspicious disapproval in the centres of Hindu orthodoxy. At any rate the present time can hardly be opportune for going further in the same direction, when religious feeling among the Hindus has been extensively stirred by the agitation against the slaughter of kine, when there seems to be abroad a wholly unfounded impression that British officers have shown a leaning towards the side of the Mahomedans, and when the sanitary pre
cautions taken to prevent great fairs from breeding fatal epidemics are thought by ignorant folk to indicate an intention to meddle with religious pilgrimages.
In short, the English Government in India has so many difficult duties to perform, so many possible misunderstandings to face, that they cannot undertake the risk of anticipating public opinion upon the road of social reform, except in the cases expressly reserved by Lord Lansdowne, 'where demands 'preferred in the name of religion would lead to practices 'inconsistent with individual safety and the public peace, and 'condemned by every system of law and morality.' What, then, is the upshot of the criticisms and observations which in the foregoing pages we have laid before our readers? It is that while we may regard with legitimate satisfaction the evidence of moral and material progress contained in the official papers which we have quoted, and while much honour is due to Lord Lansdowne as a strong and successful governor, there are certain aspects of the situation within and without India which should arrest our attention and induce us to walk warily. The rapid extension of our frontiers in the direction of other European Powers in Asia involves fresh problems in politics and strategy, which are not altogether unconnected with the condition of our finances; and while the new wine of political aspirations and intellectual enlightenment is working among the educated classes, there appears to be going on simultaneously a fermentation of the earlier ideas and religious antipathies which still dominate extensively the religious mind of India. In such circumstances the Indian Government has need of all its statecraft, foresight, and penetration; and the English Parliament should take care that its control is not only vigilant but disinterested. From a reference in an English journal to the travels of the present Tsar through India it may be gathered that in his judgement the fault of our rule, meritorious in many respects, is its mechanical character, its want of insight into and sympathy with those spiritual factors which have in the long run always determined the destiny of India. The best way of taking the criticism is to consider what truth there may be in it. Our position will in no event be improved by sudden undignified alarms; and on the whole England may regard her vast interests in India as tolerably secure if the country is administered with prudence and thrift, if fair dealing in financial transactions is strictly observed, and if in matters social and religious the Indian people are left as much as possible to their own ways and traditions.
ART. II.-1. The Shaving of Shagpat: an Arabian Entertainment. 1856; 2. The Ordeal of Richard Feverel; 3. Diana of the Crossways; 4. Lord Ormont and his Aminta; and many other novels.
MR. MEREDITH's novels are an exceptionally curious and interesting study, because they stand alone in English literature. Whether they excite admiration or provoke censure, they defy any tolerable imitation. Indeed, it is difficult to pass a fair and comprehensive judgment on them, because the reader, unless of frigid and unsympathetic temperament, is perpetually being wrought up into fever fits of irritation. They should be read, or rather analysed, by very moderate instalments. A thousand times we are tempted to toss the volumes aside; but then, on despondingly turning the page, we come upon some passage of extraordinary power, or on some scene which is presented with wonderful felicity. We are delighted by a brilliant epigram, or enlivened by a startling paradox. It strikes us as matter of regret that Mr. Meredith did not flourish in the days of the Patriarchs. When men came to the maturity of their intellect after the lapse of four or five centuries, he might have had time to form a taste, though he could never have originated a school. We are glad to know that the works which had been so long admired and neglected are at last circulating in a popular edition. It is a creditable sign. of the progress of the times that there are so many of us who undertake the study of noteworthy fiction as if they were bracing themselves for a course of subtle philosophy. Nor can we withhold our admiration for Mr. Meredith's sturdy independence, and patient and persevering self-sufficiency. He has been content, like Wordsworth, to work and wait, in the belief that he would be appreciated in the fullness of time, or, in any case, that he would make his mark with posterity. As we shall presently show by suggestive passages in his novels, he must have known that he could have assured himself profit and immediate celebrity had he stooped from the serene spheres of his superior intelligence to catch the capricious breaths of popular favour. mission was to elevate his art, even at the cost of misapprehension or martyrdom; he could not bring himself to debase it. He stooped, nevertheless, but it was towards the realms of dark chaos and black night. These realms which he sought to make his own would have been intolerable to less
VOL. CLXXXI. NO. CCCLXXI.
impassioned travellers had they not been illuminated by the fitful gleams of radiance which promise to lighten up the sky, but die out tantalisingly in fleeting splendour. The fact is that Mr. Meredith has devoted himself to the study of obscurity with baneful success. We have said that he could never have formed a school, or found successful imitators, and it is because he is only redeemed from being dull by rare and original genius. Nor would that alone have sufficed to secure him a position of his own had he not possessed extraordinary intellectual staying power. We have wondered at such morbidly intellectual tours de force as Mr. Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,' which would seem to have been dashed off in the inspiration of a prolonged and horrible nightmare. But it seems to us that Mr. Meredith's brain must be ever in a condition of preternatural activity. He makes us live among incessant bouquets of fireworks, in the blaze of rockets, dissolving in showers of sparks before we have had time to receive a detinite impression, and in the bewildering whirl of catherine-wheels. It is a marvel that he keeps his own head in such surroundings-sometimes we more than suspect that he loses itbut he makes impossible demands on his readers when he expects them to be equally collected.
We have always maintained that the primary function of novel-writing is to entertain, and that no novelist has the right to demand such severe and sustained effort. We resent Mr. Meredith's methods the more, that he gratuitously aggravates our troubles. He might have expressed his profound thoughts and his far-fetched and subtle psychological speculations in intelligible language. In other words, he might have written in the pure English which has been modestly accepted by acknowledged masters of style who have trodden in the footsteps of our famous classics. But Mr. Meredith has adopted a manner of his own, which in most respects is the antithesis of all ordinary rules. There is constant inversion and perverse involution. So much so that when we come on anything simple or natural we are mystified-we suspect that surely there must be some hidden meaning. Before we have well realised that we might have rested our faculties for a few moments, they are again being racked and strained. So that we would wish for our own sake, and still more for his, that he had been cursed with something less of the volatile electricity of genius.
We cannot doubt that 'Diana of the Crossways,' when she betakes herself to novel-writing, is the reflection of her
creator's ideas and aspirations. It is true that Diana makes money, and a great deal of money, notwithstanding her aggressive waywardness and exalted ideas; but then, as Meredith regretfully and wistfully admits, that was owing to her charms and other exceptional causes.
'Antonia,' Diana's pet name, 'whatever her faults as a 'writer, was not one of the order whose muse is the public 'taste. She did, at least, draw her inspiration from herself, ' and there was much to be feared from the work, if a sale 'was the object. . . . Her aim, in the teeth of her inde'pendent style, was at the means of independence. . . . We have a work of genius. Genius is good for the public. 'What is good for the public should be recommended by the critics.' Diana is exquisitely sensitive to depressing influences, and, as with all writers and orators of the finer fibres, the inspiration comes to her by fits and starts. Because a friend takes moral exceptions to her Cantatrice' -because the friend finds a certain realistic scene, not only personal but verging on the vulgar-Diana is paralysed while paying her a visit. She is under stress of pecuniary difficulties, but, though the pressure is painful and intense, the muse of fiction will not be hustled. Were she to try a lower flight, all would be easy, and the prospects of gain would be immeasurably increased. The temptation is great, it is almost irresistible-we dare to say Mr. Meredith may have often experienced it--but she will not succumb. She will work in her own way, according to her fixed determination, or not at all. Yet,
'Strange to think, she could have flared away at once in the stuff Danvers delighted to read-wicked princes, rogue noblemen, titled wantons, daisy and lily innocents, traitorous marriages, murders, a gallows dangling a corpse dotted by a man and a woman bowed beneath. She could have written with the certainty that in the upper and the middle, as well as in the lower classes of the country, there would be a multitude to read that stuff-so cordially, despite the gaps between them, are they one in their literary tastes. And why should they not read it?'
Why not, indeed? If we were to answer it in the sense which Diana and Mr. Meredith seem to expect from the dictates of good taste and calm reason-we should sentence at once to an index expurgatorius great part of Scott, almost all Dumas, the most fascinating chapters in Balzac and Hugo, to say nothing of some of our more fashionable contemporaries who have been reviving successfully, because artistically and with knowledge, the moribund historical novel.