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eray has given us the talk and manners, the thought and life, of the Queen Anne period, he has succeeded in at least persuading us that the people of that time talked and acted as in Henry Esmond. As the tale is told in the person of Henry Esmond, the novelist is obliged to use the language of the eighteenth century in narration and description, as well as in dialogue. The most exacting critics have found but few flaws in the style of Henry Esmond. Thackeray had the imaginative sympathy which enabled him to live in the past; he had also with great assiduity saturated himself with the literature of the eighteenth century. He knew Swift, Steele, Addison, and others of less note who belonged to that age, better than he knew the writings of his contemporaries. Perhaps the best reason of all is that his own temperament was the temperament of the eighteenth century.
Walter Pater calls Henry Esmond "a perfect fiction,” and Saintsbury thinks it “The greatest book in its own special kind ever written.” Trollope considers it without a peer, and praises its completeness of plot, its pathetic and almost divine tenderness, and its delicacy in its treatment of love. Harriet Martineau called it the book of the century and was astonished at the author's fertility.
The hero is Henry Esmond, the teller of the tale; the heroines are Lady Castlewood and her daughter Beatrix. But Henry is not an unqualified hero, for Thackeray himself tells us that he was a prig. His defect, however, is lost sight of in the tenderness and refinement that make him so thorough a gentleman. Lady Castlewood, a woman of great charm and tenderness, but not without weaknesses which Thackeray seems to think inseparable with women, in the end is married to Esmond. Beatrix, a natural coquette, lovely and attractive, more ambitious for power than for love, is a subtle creation. The spirit of melancholy broods over the romance, and we have again the familiar refrain, Vanitas vanitatum.
The Virginians, published in 1857 and 1858, is a sequel to Henry Esmond, though its story is not a continuation of the career of Esmond. The tale concerns itself with the two
brothers, the Esmond Warringtons, who are the American grandchildren of Esmond and Lady Castlewood, the only daughter of Esmond and his wife having married a Warrington. We meet Beatrix, whose first marriage had made her the wife of a tutor, her second that of a bishop, and now we meet her as the Baroness Bernstein, old and rich.
The Virginians falls short of Thackeray's best work, though the style is excellent and the philosophy of life mature. But more than style and philosophy are needed to make a great work of fiction. The desultory narrative, the frequent digressions a habit that has here grown to excess — the formlessness of the plot — these are the characteristics marking a novel which Thackeray himself called stupid, but which Trollope says does not contain a vacant or dull page.
The Newcomes. This genial and mature product of Thackeray's pen appeared in 1854–55, having been written in the years between his first and second journeys to America. For the novel, as he told an American friend, he was to receive £4,000. There are competent critics who consider it his masterpiece; it is certain that in Colonel Newcome he has given us a rare portrait of the gentleman. Says Chesterton:
“ Thackeray called his book The Newcomes, but there is only one Newcome. On him our eyes are fixed when he first walks into the Cave of Harmony, and our eyes are fixed on him until he dies. He dies in great poverty, a pensioner of Gray Friars. ... He has nothing left but his goodness, and with that he confronts God." That Thackeray himself took the most sympathetic interest in the Colonel is illustrated by this story: While the novel was appearing James Russell Lowell met Thackeray on the streets of London. The novelist looked depressed, and seeing the kindly interest in the poet's eye said, “Come into Evans's and I'll tell you all about it. I have killed the Colonel." After walking in and seating themselves at a table, Thackeray drew the fresh sheets of manuscript from his pocket and read with deep emotion, ending in a sob, the pathetic scene describing the death of Colonel Newcome.
Other leading characters are Ethel Newcome, a lovable woman, and Clive Newcome, the son of the Colonel. Clive's love for his cousin Ethel lends coherence to the epic copiousness and variety of this novel of manners. They marry at last, but only after Clive has had an unhappy marriage, and Ethel had lost her youthful charm. Then there are
" Hobson Newcome with the straw in his mouth and the hands in his pockets, and the truly masculine decision to mind his own business, and let his wife mind everything else; Lady Anne Newcome with one infallible feeler or sense left in her, the power of knowing a gentleman, with which she salutes the Colonel; Barnes Newcome, the neat and nasty young man from the city, who is safe and successful enough to conquer the world, and has a soul like a dried small pea.”
Such are the Newcomes who with their friends and enemies crowd the pages of this epitome of life. So rich and productive was the genius of Thackeray that in a novel like this he has scenes, characters, episodes, observations, and studies in abundance sufficient to furnish many a later novelist with material enough for three or four novels.
As a Lecturer.— The English Humorists and The Four Georges, published respectively in 1853 and 1861, were first given to the public in the form of lectures. Dickens enjoyed public speaking; Thackeray detested it, feeling as he describes
"I, for my part, own that I am in a state of tremor and absence of mind before the operation; ... in a condition of imbecility during the business; and that I am sure of a headache and indigestion the next morning."
In 1851 the lectures on the Humorists were given in places like London, Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, and Edinburgh. Among the distinguished hearers were Charlotte Brontë, Monckton Milnes, Carlyle and his wife, Dickens, Macaulay, and Hallam. The lectures were carefully composed and intelligently read without any striving after effect. Mr. Marzials, who heard him, writes :
“It is a full thirty years since I heard him, and yet I hold still clear in my memory the very tones in which he spoke of his reputation for cynicism, and afterwards told us how his own child would come to him and ask why he did not 'write a book like one of Mr. Dickens's books.'”
And Longfellow has recorded that the soft, deep, sonorous voice of the lecturer" was pleasant to hear." In regard to his public speaking the truth seems to be that when he read his carefully prepared lectures he did very well, but that when he spoke without manuscript he frequently broke down in embarrassment.
He lectured to make money, for he had the laudable ambition to provide an income for his family in case of his death. This also is the motive that induced him to set sail in the autumn of 1852 for the United States. He lectured with profit and pleasure in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, and in smaller places. After an absence of almost six months he returned to England.
In October, 1855, he again visited the United States to deliver his new lectures on The Four Georges. He remained until April, 1856, lecturing with much success. In England he was afterwards severely criticized for ridiculing in democratic America the voluptuous, extravagant, weak George the Fourth and contrasting him with that George whose surname was Washington. At a public dinner in 1857 he replied to the criticism: "And I believe, for my part, that in speaking the truth as we hold it, of a bad sovereign, we are paying no disrespect at all to a good one."
Other Writings and Last Days. — In 1859 Thackeray became editor of the Cornhill Magazine, resigning in April, 1862. Though an excellent judge of good writing, Thackeray was too sensitive and indulgent to be a first-class editor. In this magazine there appeared from Thackeray's own pen such contributions as The Roundabout Papers, Lovel the Widower, The Adventures of Philip, and Denis Duval, a novel, like Dickens's Edwin Drood, interrupted by death. The Roundabout Papers are examples of Thackeray's best essay work; the two completed novels fall short of his best fiction.
Thackeray died on Christmas Eve, 1863. On the 30th of December, attended by an immense concourse, including the celebrities in art and literature, his body was laid away in Kensal Green Cemetery. Though it was known that he had had brief severe attacks of illness for several years, his end came as a shock to even his intimate friends. “I saw him," says Dickens, "shortly before Christmas at the Athenaeum Club, when he told me he had been in bed three days. . . . He was very cheerful and looked very bright."
As a Man. — Thackeray was large in stature, being over six feet tall, with a head having a cranial capacity of 1,660 с.c. “A
“ big, fine weeping man,” Carlyle once called him. Like many large men, he was tender-hearted and sensitive. Who can read his four great novels, especially Henry Esmond and The Newcomes, without feeling the pervasive tenderness of the author ? And yet this man for years was misunderstood; he was called a cynic. He is at times a satirist, but satire is not cynicism. He honored good men and good women, and his faith in the good God had a beautiful simplicity, but he, like Carlyle, hated sham. If to hate sham and snobbery and to admire truth and sincerity be the mark of a cynic, then Thackeray must plead guilty to the charge. His letters and his books, for both letters and books give us an intimate revelation of the man, show Thackery to be a thorough gentleman. Reserved, free from ostentation, generous to a fault, quick to respond to every cry for help, manly in his appreciation of the worth and talents of his contemporaries in art and literature, strong in his endurance of his great domestic tragedy, beautiful in his affectionate devotion to his daughters, devoid of vulgarity in his life as well as in his fiction — such was Thackeray, the gentleman. In the concluding paragraphs of George the Fourth, that scathing denunciation of a worthless monarch, we have Thackeray's conception of what it is to be a gentleman.
“What is it to be a gentleman? Is it to have lofty aims, to lead a pure life, to keep your honor virgin; to have the esteem of your fellowcitizens, and the love of your fireside; to bear good fortune meekly; to