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not be unnatural or forced, for the sake of producing a clap-trap, melo-dramatic finale. To write thus, and to excite wonder, pleasure, interest and admiration, is to be a great novelist : to do this is to make for one's self more slaves and puppets to one's will, than ever bent before the throne of emperor or of despot : to accomplish this is to render one's-self the “ cynosure of all eyes," to prove how truly Jules Janin has observed, "Si on annon cerait Monsieur de Balzac et Monsieur le Duc de Montmorency dans un salon, on regarderait Monsieur de Balzac." To become such a man as this is no mean ambition; it must be achieved, without such support as the painter with his colors, or the dramatist with his actor, can bring to his aid; “it is," writes Sir Walter, “the object of the novel-writer, to place before the reader as full and accurate a representation of the events which he relates, as can be done, by the mere force of an excited imagination, without the assistance of material objects. His sole appeal is made to the world of fancy, and of ideas, and in this consists his strength and his weakness, his poverty and his wealth."
If we considered the novelist as little more than a “diverting vagabond,” we need not thus write of bis position or of his qualificatious; but, when we ask, as we have asked, do we possess a Great NOVELIST, it is right that we should declare, as we have declared, what we consider a great novelist to be; and this more especially when we remember the hold, firm and long placed, which some of our so called great novelists have upon the minds of a vast number of the reading public of these Kingdoms.
Take, for example, Dickens and Thackeray. Three years ago it was written, in our mind correctly, in this Review :" It has been said, that Alphonse Karr is a French Charles Dickens; the observation is sufficiently just, in its estimate of the genius of the former, provided we understand it as applying to the first works of Dickens, written before money, ease, fame, and the critics, had spoiled him. Karr describes nature as sbe is. His men and women are not caricatures of humanity, or the embodied quips and wbimsies of a man of genius ; liis children are not beautiful monstrosities, guiding their grandfathers through the country, or, whilst sitting in a go-car, hearing voices in the waves of the ocean.
Karr never reproduces his successful creations. Having drawn a Tom Pinch, he would not recall him in a Prince Purveydrop ; having suc
ceeded in a Snawley, and a Stiggins, he would not revive them in a Chadband; having painted the Cheeryble Brothers, he would not produce the two single gentlemen rolled into one," as a Jarndyce ; having drawn a Mrs Dombey, he would not half revive her as a Lady Dedlock; having succeeded in a Chuffy, he would not galvanise him in a Mrs. Smallweed; having painted a Pecksnisl
, he would not reproduce him, weak and sketchy, in a Skimpole ; having to describe a nobleman, he would not habitually represent him as a fool, or as a scoundrel, a Sir Mulberry Hawk, or a Lord Perisopht, a Sir John Chester, a Lord Feenix, or a Sir Leicester Dedlock. Having joined the noble profession of the law, he would not pander to the taste of the ignorant, by representing its practise as little more honest than that of the pickpocket, or the charlatan ; he would not render his book interesting to those readers, by representing all the abuses of his profession, those productions of timewhilst he never described the advantages of the systein. If Karr were to write a history, or, ‘a Child's History,' he would not take advantage of his position to perpetuate every error, to slander a noble but unfortunate nation, and would not barter truth for popularity, or cover profound ignorance by reckless assumption. Karr never outsteps the boundary of nature ; he carries his plot through to the end, and never attempts to gain our sympathy by detailing the loves of a burglar and a strumpet; he never makes the clief interest of a portion of his plot turn upon a case of seduction, and if he did so, would not paint a victim ruined by such arts as must have failed, unless the unfortunate had been a maundering idiot, or half corrupted and half willing; he never describes a woman flying with a man she hates, for the purpose solely of vexing her husband. Alphonse Karr has no Bill Sykes, or his trull Nancy; he has no Steerforth and Emily; he has no Carker and Mrs. Dombey. In his religion there is no cant, nor is there an anxiety to represent a clergyman as a well meaning poetising dreamer, or as a stupid prosing preacher, whose sermons act as 'a mild dose of opium. For the sacred Redeemer of the world, Alphonse Karr has other, and truer, and more defined titles than 'He,' or 'Him,' with a capital H; and he never, like Dickens, leaves us in doubt as to whether ihe writer is to be looked upon as very affected in his style, and considered as an ordinary believer, or as one who glories in that belief, which is but a hair's breadth removed from unbe
lief – Unitariamsın. With Karr, a church is a place raised for the worship of God, not a house in which we are to criticise our neighbours, and to cry down the preacher, forgetful of the moralist's thought
• The worst speak something good. If all want sense,
Preachers conclude with, hath not lost his pains.' It was the complaint of Jeremy Taylor to Lord Carbery, that he had lived to see religion painted upon banners, and thrust out of churches, and the temple turned into a tabernacle, and the tabernacle made ambulatory. Had he lived till now, he would find all the errors we have pointed out, committed frequently by Mr. Charles Dickens, and would discern that, according to him, religion dwells in woods and fields, in the breasts of peasants and elderly gentlemen of the middle classes, and in the bosoms of impossible children. He would learn, too, that religion is still ambulatory, or peripatetic, that every man is his own tabernacle, and that all worship best in • The Great Cathedral of Nature ! These are the distinguishing characteristics of Mr. Dickens's late works, and, therefore, we consider that Alphonse Karr is not a French Charles Dickens; in our judgment, he is, in his truth and fidelity in painting life and nature, a French Oliver Goldsmith. We do not write thus through any great personal regard for Al. phonse Karr, but although we cannot consider him a Charles Dickens, yet we look upon him as something more than a French Charles Dickens,—we believe that the genius of the Author of Pickwick is as brilliant as ever; his faults spring from his knowledge of, and from his trading upon, the old regards and recollections of his readers."
These observations were true when written, during the publication of Bleak House, whilst the conclusion of that work, and a close examination of the other volumes issued previous to that period, have not only strengthened, but fully confirmed the estimate of Mr. Dickens' powers above inserted. He las not written, and we believe never will write a work of fiction, entitling him to the appellation of a great novelist, That he draws individual characters most admirably none can admit, more freely and more gratefully, than do we; but he fails, utterly and wofully, in the combination of characters, and in that harınonious working of plot and under plot, in
which the real art of the great novelist undoubtedly consists. The Sketches by Boz, and the collection of sketches known as The Pickwick Papers, shew the full strength of Dickens' genius : give him a pathetic, or a whimsical, or a grotesque, or a burlesque, or a peculiar character, or one tostand in relief, as a study, and no man living can excel Dickens in the portraiture : but let this character form one of a series comprised in a work of fiction, and whilst it may, and will, save the work from forgetfulness, it will the more surely prove how little clain Dickens has to the fame of a great novelist, even though it may entitle him to the reputation of being the first living sketcher of character. Do we remember Nickleby, or Chuzzlewit, or Copperfield, or Bleak House, or the Old Curiosity Shop, for their plots or stories ? Even Dombey and Bleak House, the only tales of the entire set in which a plot is even attempted to be carried out, are weak and spiritless, and unnatural. As to Dombey, Carket's proposed seduction of, and hide-and-seek elopement with Mrs. Dombey, and its futile conclusion, with Carker's calling her names, and thumping the table_are about the poorest and most unnatural, and most ridiculous things in the whole range of English literature. Referring to this character, Carker, when at an early stage of serial developement, and reserriug also to Dickens' knack of changing the whole natural disposition of his actors as the tale proceeds, Lord Jeffrey wrote to him :
"Perhaps I hate Carker even more, already; so much, indeed, that it would be a relief to me if you could do without hiin. And I must tell you, too, that I think him the least natural of all the characters you have ever exhibited (for do not consider Quilp, or Dick Swiveller, as at all out of nature); but it seems to me that a Knight Templar in the disguise of a waiter, is not a more extravagant fiction, than a man of high gifts and rare accomplishments, bred and working hard every day as a subordinate manager or head clerk in a merchant's counting-house. One might pass his extreme wickedness and malignity, though they, too, are quite above his position; but the genius and attainments, the manners and scope of thought, do strike me as not reconcilable with anything one has yet heard of his history, or seen of his occupations. But I must submit, I see, to take a great interest in him, and only hope you will not end by making me love him too."*
See Life of Lord Jeffrey, Vol. II. p. 427.
But, though we cannot admire the books above named for their plots, we do admire them for the beautiful, or whimsical, though often unnatural creations which they contain. It is this very admiration for them which has too frequently rendered Mr Dickens' friends forgetful of the many defects of his works ; and thus, confirmed in his strength and in his weakness, he has grown the spoiled pet of the public. And who can wonder at it, when we find Jeffrey writing thus to him in, 1847 :
* You have the force and the nature of Scott in his pathetic parts, without his occasional coarseness and wordiness; and the searching disclosure of inward agonies of Byron, without a trait of his wickedness."*
"The force and nature of Scott"--The force of Flora Mac Ivor, of Rob Roy; of Jeanie Deans, of Burley, of dozen others; the nature of The Bailie, “rest and bless him," of Andrew Fairservice, of Magnus Troil, of The Antiquary, of Louis the XI. of Dalgetty, of Caleb Balderstone : Dickens said to have" foroe and nature," to draw characters like these! "The searching disclosure of inward agonies of Byron;" let us think of the Prisoner of Chillon, of Alp the Renegade, of fifty passages in Childe Harold, of The Dream, and above all, of the serious portions of Don Juan, and then,
we believe of the critic, who declared to Dickens, that he, Dickens, possessed « the force and nature of Scott," "the searching disclosure of inward agonies of Byron !” What could Jeffrey have meant? Would he have preferred the fluttering of a London sparrow to the soaring flight of a mountain eagle? Would he set the Cheeryble Brothers against Oldbuck? Mark Tapky against Caleb Balderstone ? Would hambat to continue the roll is absurd, a sketcher can never be enrolled amongst the great masters; a Rembrandt outline is never put in competition with a picture of Titian's, and therefore, and for all the foregoing reasons, we cannot consider Charles Dickens a GREAT NOVELIST.
And now, with powers weakened, with fancy fading, seeking in new scenes, and strange lands, and popular topics, for mate rials which genius should supply, or gather from the old and best known world of home, who can declare that Charles Dickens
• See Life of Lord Jeffrey, Vol. II., p. 429.