Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

Yet with all this faultiness, Wuthering Heights is, undoubtedly, a work of many singular merits. In the first place it is not a novel which deals with the shows of society, the surfaces and conventionalities of life. It does not depict men and women guided merely by motives intelligible to simplest observers. It lifts the veil and shows boldly the dark side of our depraved nature. It teaches how little the ends of life in the young are rough hewn by experience and benevolence in the old. It goes into the under-current of passion, and the rapid hold it has taken of the public shows how much truth there is hidden under its coarse extravagance.

Very young persons are prone to fancy that the march of life, especially in our own free country, is now, by the enlightenment of the age, all perfectly uniform and regular. But as soon as they fall fairly into the ranks, they begin to perceive that there is still some hurly-burly and jostling, and that it requires resolution to keep from turning into characters resembling Heathcliffs. With a very limited experience, the proportion of honest men is seen to lessen. In a short time we begin to find that men with gray hairs are guided often by the weakest and most childish passions. There are plenty of such who will sell the very souls of their own offspring merely to keep up their dignity. There are plenty also who will treat boys and girls in the most overbearing manner, and then go into a great rage and persecute them inveterately on the least show of youthful anger. Boys often suppose that the old, especially those of some character and station, will regard them with kindness; but they soon learn to make proper distinctions, and to cheat and flatter the right sort, thereby preparing themselves to be proceeded with in the same manner when their own time comes. We soon find out, though it takes strong proof, that there is a large proportion among old as well as young who do actually regard nothing but money. And so it is with a thousand other truths which, in_ early life, had only the force of rhetorical maxims; they gradually, like the storms of the tropics, at first no bigger than a man's hand, but rising and expanding, cloud over the sky of youthful hope, and leave us more and more in the gloom of despondence.

The world has no confidence in the courage and strengh of youth. It gives no credit. It stands before the rising race like a bristling rampart. Let no young man fancy what he might or could accomplish if circumstances were otherwise with him than they happen to be, if he had capital to start with, or if notliing ailed his heart. The weakest vagrant in the street can quiet his conscience with such apologies. Neither let any young man expect the fruition of any of his early hopes. They are all mere fictions of the fancy. He may change and change, and realize something resembling the dream; but the apple of knowledge must be first eaten, and ever after there is a flaming sword turned evenway before the original Eden. Or he may have pride enough to render him indomitable; he gains nothing by it. Sooner or later he must succumb to wrong, or to disease, or age. But there is a noble satisfaction in holding out to the very last, and one may do this without being a misanthrope, without turning his back to tiit world, or treating it with discourtesy or indifference.

A president of one of our colleges once said to a graduate at parting:—" My Sob. as this may be the last time I shall *«■ you, and I shall never have another opportunity of doing you any good, (he had never improved any previous one dunnc four years,) I want to advise you: Never oppose public opinion. The great world will slave right on .'"

Whether the graduate has ever opposed public opinion is of no consequence; what we would particularly call attention to is the wisdom of the advice. Of coarse. if one is to go by public opinion, he mu-. first ascertain, as well as he can, what public opinion is, and must then cut out afashion his individual opinion to conform thereto. This process must be the coosta*. habit of his soul; he must, in fact, tors himself wrongside out. He must sacrift?himself to gain what the very sacrifice renders it impossible that he should eojo* The advice is so sound and may be of s» much service, especially to the aspiric.among those whose occupations force tbts before the public, that it deserved to b printed.

But at the same time, there is a eera* class of well-meaning characters, who. w ire well aware, can never act upon it. They will have their own way, or, if not, at east the way of no one else. They will hink and speak for the truth, or what they lecm such, as long as they can; and the Torld may stave on as much as it pleases —it owes them nothing. They know very *ell what will be the result of the conflict; hey know that the world asks of every nan to spread his soul and body on its errible rack, and permits him no rest but n his grave. They know that life is ac;arsed, that what it promises it never perbrms, that it wears out first the heart, then he mind, beginning with its subtlest vir.ues, and at last the body.

Notwithstanding this, these stubborn >eople are so invincibly obstinate, many )f them, that they wilfully keep up a iheerful countenance, and persevere in )eing good-natured under all the whips md scorns of time. The mean gain vicories over them, but the consciousness of heir meanness poisons the luxury of the riumph—or if it does not, the vanquished lu not mind. For they set great store ipon animal comforts, and on the various ensual and sensible delights. They take a )ride in a good digestion; and lo! when he crafty and envious think they have now iverpowered them, they are making merry we with another, in a wholesome and pro>er manner. Their motto is, not "never ay die!" but, "never say die!" or, as the Jamoeid proverb has it, " Orinandbearit!"

It is to help such weakly constituted lersons as these that Providence has given lomestic and social affections, and, growng out of them, the sweets of contemplaion, and the sure pleasures of literature md the arts. These are immortal and unchangeable. "A thing of beauty is a joy iorever."

But we need not dwell longer on these >ld and well-known truths. Our object in ■walling them, has been simply to warn he young, whom these ideal personages of ft'uthering Heights are now so strongly aipressing, against the infection of unxxisciousry imitating them. Let no hopetess young gentleman persevere in a conlUncy like Heathcliff's, nor any forlorn »ives in an attachment to others than their )wn bosom partners—if they can help it. If they must preserve their just revenges, let them endeavor to do it without injuring

their bodily or mental health, calmly awaiting the proper opportunity to strike the blow. It were well also if they could keep their purposes profoundly secret ; for so they may forget them: "there is no grief," says Sancho, "that time cannot assuage." Is there not, moreover, a great comfort in the faith and hope of Christianity? For this teaches us that we are not to undertake to right all wrongs, but to live I hem down, and leave their punishment to Heaven. The chivalry of youthful affection should yield before the eternal wisdom; and, laying down the little things of today, we should nourish that greater revenge which has stomach for all eternity— which is the love of right and hatred of wrong.

Next to the merit of this novel as a work of thought and subtle insight, is its great power as a work of the imagination. In this respect it must take rank very high, if not among the highest. It is not flowingly written; the author can hardly be an easy writer. Yet he has the power, with all his faults of style, of sometimes flashing a picture upon the eye, and the feeling with it, in a few sentences. The snow-storm which occurs in the second and third chapters of the first volume, is an example. But the effect of the description is often marred by consciouslychosen fine words; as for instance, the word "shimmering" in one of the extracts first quoted.

The dialogue is also singularly effective and dramatic. The principal characters all talk alike; yet they stand before us as definite as so many individuals. In this respect the book reminds us of the Five Nights of St. Albans. It is like that also somewhat, in the tone of the fancy; the dream in the opening might have been conceived by the author of the Five Nights; the effect is so like some of his own. Yet this novel has none of the loftiness of that splendid romance; and whatever it may be as a work of genius and ability, is not worthy to be named with it as a work of art.

That it is original all who have -read it need not be told. It is very original. And this is the reason of its popularity. It comes upon a sated public a new sensation. Nothing like it has ever been written before; it is to be hoped that in respect of

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

• its faults, for the sake of good manners, nothing will be hereafter. Let it stand by itself, a coarse, original, powerful book,— one that does not give us true characters, but horridly striking and effective ones. It will live a short and brilliant life, and then die and be forgotten^ For when the originality becomes familiarized, there will

» not be truth enough left to sustain itj The public will not acknowledge its men and women to have the true immortal vitality. Poor Cathy's ghost will not walk the earth forever; and the insane Heathcliff will soon

f rest quietly in his coveted repose.

We are not aware that anything has been written upon the rank that ought to be assigned to such works as Wuthering Heights in fictitious literature. In conversation we have heard it spoken of by some as next in merit to Shakspeare for depth of insight and dramatic power; while others have confessed themselves unable to get through it. But all agree that it affects them somewhat unpleasantly. It is written in a morbid phase of the mind, and is sustained so admirably that it communicates this sickliness to the reader. It does in truth lay bare some of the secret springs of human action with wonderful clearness; but still it dissects character as with a broad-axe—chops out some of the great passions, sets them together and makes us almost believe the combinations to be real men and women. It abounds in effective description, is very individual, and preserves the unity of its peculiar gloomy phase of mind from first to last. Yet the reader rises from its conclusion with the feeling of one passing from a sick chamber to a comfortable parlor, or going forth after a melancholy rain, into a dry, clear day.

Now if the rank of a work of fiction is to depend solely on its naked imaginative power, then this is one of the greatest .novels in the language. Not one of Walter Scott's resembles it in assuming a peculiar and remote mood of feeling, and carrying it through two volumes in spite of the most staring faults and extravagances. Scott takes every educated person at about the level of an after-dinner conversation and tells a long story, full of chivalry, antiquarian lore, splendid scenes, characters true as far as they go, excellent sense, and thought, which, if not deep, is free and

manly. We rise from reading Ivunhoe younger than when we sat down. Em after his most tragic novel, the Bride ci Lammermuir, the regret which we feel is not of that uneasy kind which the seal struggles to shake off; we do not feel a

DO ■

if we had been reading a horrible murdt! in the Newgate Calendar. The characters are sublimed into the pure art-region; in imaginative power is not exerted through an unfortunate individual experience, but I passes out through curious knowledge aaj plain legal thinking. Scott did not deigl to entertain the public with his prinw griefs; his ideal life had no connects with his actual one. He told his stories a stories, and kept himself so complex; aloof from them that he was never law* to be the author of them till circumstascd forced him to confess it.

Yet few men are really more individia than he; few men have passed away M the world in the last century who have W a plainer impression of themselves beta them. Only he is never designedly or c« sciously individual. We feel the fore.: J his character in reading his novels: A contact of his cheerful, resolute spirit. '■> true manly heart, quickens kindred qxi ties in the reader; but it is not ben* the writer intends it, that they do. h is intent only on his tale; he studies ho to carry on his incidents, develop his cii acters, throw them into perplexities» get them at last safely out of them. Tj world has long ago acknowledged hs on ginality; but it was by nursing no sail larity that he was so. He meant only tell his stories in a sensible, agreeja manner, such as should find him read* among gentlemen and ladies, and mc" letters. Whenever he assumes a chant it is as unlike his own as he could nal it. His originality, in fine, was simp!'-" natural birth of his mind, which he no a* controlled than he did the shape id * features.

It seems that here should be made * & tinction in all works of the imacm-si1' whether the imaginative power be sisf the confessing oneself to the workl. working under the sway of the will a region entirely removed from the aom>» tual existence. One writer, stung bv i appointment or mortified vanity, ton* the world and makes a face at it; coc* is mage and unpacks his heart; another, ii'liT similar troubles, takes advantage of le knowledge they have given him, and >es on as before, keeping himself to himJf and working the harder—too proud to Iow a single tear. We do not inquire hich of the twain makes the most judiDus manifestation of himself, but which ight to take precedence as exhibiting a le healthy imaginative power? Undoubtedly, though the first may exbit the most vehemence of passion, the ier is the greater artist. For the one 10 keeps to himself and uses his noblest iiiities for his service, sending them out delight the world with their free flights, ; soul dwells apart, like a star, in a serene iven of contemplation. He weeps, if :r, in secret places, taken unawares by ; bitterness of sorrow, but soon recovers serenity and labors to make the world re cheerful. Whereas the one who ns world-hater lives in the pity of other n; he sighs for sympathy, that always les too late; he cannot use his powers ept to relieve himself. He is like those sionate men who, when they suffer grief, f the tragedy hero to their friends—ind, he is weaker than they; for it is the v of one's friends to support him through trials, and all of us have our failing its, but no one has a right to intrude woes upon strangers. P we could look into the inner lives of greatest artists, using that title in its est sense, as comprehending all who ress the world through its sensibility to ily—poets, painters, musicians, sculpnovelists—it would then perchance ound that the guises under which they jared through their works, have been lost cases the farthest possible" from

■ real life—unless, indeed, as of many light be truly affirmed, we consider

■ ideal life as more actual to them than • real, inasmuch as it occupies the most icir attention. Outwardly, they may r sickness, poverty, yea, starvation; in, the rapt spirit holds high converse

the great ones of old, the living fancy geons and plumes its wings, the active i*ct toils like an iron engine. It is such as if, while the body trailed le dull earth, the soul expatiated in 'olden regions above the sunset. whatever fashion this power of throw


ing aside the actual, and living two lives, develops itself, whether in poetry, lyric or dramatic, painting, music,.novel writing, it will always be found to be quite independent of the individual. For it is in its essence simply the power of being unindividual, and wherever the individual is mixed up with it, the observer does not fail to distinguish them by an intuitive perception. No man could, or should rather, plead for his life in the same way that he might make an ideal hero in a tragedy plead for his. The language of art is not that of real life. No living being ever conversed in Shakspearian dialogue. Yet no dialogue represents witty conversation better than the scenes with Falstaff. Though it affects the reader with the fidelity of an actual report, yet when it is analyzed, it is seen at once to be quite another thing; and besides, it is actually present. We might glance over all of the arts and select similar instances, but it is not necessary for our purpose.

There is a delightful class of artists, whose imagination, through accident or habit, continually personates a single character. This is a development so much resembling that of the misanthropist, that it requires some care to distinguish them. The misanthropist personates to the world an extremely ill-used person; the humorist places himself in the shoes of some very agreeable one, as Isaac Bickerstaff, Robinson Crusoe, or Elia. Where this development is very peculiar and sustained till its originator almost takes on his imagined form of being, the world is very apt to charge him with being a self-worshipper. But it does not necessarily follow, because an artist manifests himself in that way, that he was an egotist. That is a matter to be decided on other grounds, by what his friends say of him, and by the course of his life.

Supposing, which requires some confidence, the reader to be able to collect and unify these discursive remarks, we will recur to the previous question, as to what rank ought to be assigned to such works as Wuthering Heights. We have said, what all who have read it know, that it was original. Douglass Jerrold, in the newspaper advertisement, that, by one of those singular coincidences which make the same idea to be expressed twice at a

[graphic][ocr errors]

single instant, happened, as we wrote the last word, to stare us in the face, says, "We can promise our readers that they never read anything like it before,"—which is adding the opinion of one unsafe man to that of a good many honest people.

A certain personal phase, not a pleasant one, is assumed and carried through it with great power. But this phase must have been conscious to the writer. He must have been designedly original. He must have set to his work with some such feeling towards the world, as he would probably think well expressed by the words, "There! take thut, and see how you like it!"

No truly great artist ever desired to place himself before the world in that attitude. The pride of genuine nobleness is more humble. It does not condescend to don the motley and please the general with fantastic tricks. In a word, that originality which is conscious to the writer, is not genuine, and it is soon found out and disliked. Herein we fear that the author of Wuthering Heights has some unsound timbers in him; the critical underwriters, to use a mercantile figure, cannot insure him as A. No. 1. He may make fortunate voyages hereafter, but the chances are against him.

All that is really great and good in this book, might have been given in a better style, without its revolting pictures. Indeed, the writer might have been personal and peculiar, and melancholy even, if he had so pleased, provided his greatest solicitude had been to please the reader. As it is, admirable as is his power, he must be ranked not among the first writers of fiction. His book has the air rather of an expose of his life-suffering, to use a Germanism, than a purely ideal composition. The world will not long be pleased with one who treats it with so much intentional rudeness; it is an extremely sensitive creature, and there are none it cuts the acquaintance of sooner than those who take pains to be in favor with it, by letting out that they despise it.

It seems when we have got through all that can be said of a writer's style, thought, power, and all qualities appertaining to literary work, that in the end, the great test by which writers must be tried, is not their excellence in particulars, but the esti

mate which they allow us to make of tha whole characters. A work of fiction 5 but the manifestation of its author's «K In books, as well as in life, character s the great criterion. And we have a rigk certainly in the case of an anonymous author, to express freely opinions resaltia: from a fair application of it. With u one's disposition to fortify himself niti reasons, in judging of a work of fiction. *e inevitably come back to the first qifc tion, "How does this affect us?" All our candid examination of its merits only serfs to analyze the impression with which »« laid it down. For it is that alone, tkt color of the soul that shines through J. which really operates upon the reader. He may be interested in the story, may M its faults and excellencies of style, mif yield to its power, and still at the end M may feel a relief. There may have been qualities of the author's character, a shown through his pages, to which to does not take. He may be uneasily impressed by him:—just as when, in tw elling, you sit down to the tavern dinner and there comes a man with a thin me* nose, and plants himself at your side; Toi speak of the day and the route ; all is Wj] well, except the je ne sais quoi, wfcid makes you glad when he takes himsdl away; nothing was said beyond a few com mon sentences, and yet the man disgu^ you. You have no particular dislike d him, yet you do not desire him to be br you feel that you could say to him wit) Dogberry, "I wish your worship weS God restore you to health; and if a menl meeting may be wished, God prohibit itl Just so the reader may be impress* after finishing a novel.

We believe that the world requires i an author some evidence of moral herJii as well as mental power. It must feel til gentleman in a writer; the kind heart, th upright meaning, the high-mindedn«( from which a deep religious feeling I almost inseparable. It does not exact "4 ponderous gravity of a didactic purpose; it is sufficient if it can be secure that i; i in the society of a man of decent manneri and honest and benevolent intentions.

If we are legitimately impressed b Wuthering Heights, it will not in this n spect answer so universally the requiri ments of the public as any of the novels 1

« AnteriorContinuar »