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suffer evil with constancy; and through evil or good to maintain truth always ? Show me the happy man whose life exhibits these qualities, and him we will salute as gentleman, whatever his rank may be."
His fondness for children was one of his most amiable characteristics. He once told Dickens he could never see a boy without wanting to give the boy a sovereign.
“To see a hundred boys marshalled in a chapel or old hall (he writes), to hear their sweet fresh voices when they chant, and look in their brave, calm faces; I say, does not the sight and sound of them smite you, somehow, with a pang of exquisite kindness ? "
Though not a churchman, he was deeply religious. He had the simple faith of a devout believer; unlike Carlyle and Tennyson, he was untroubled by the philosophic doubt of his day. To him Christianity was the religion of love and charity; a practice, not a dogma.
“ Biblical criticism might proceed on its devastating career (writes Lewis Melville), atheism might be rampant in the land, and the struggle between the churches of the earth become more and more embittered, but nothing of all this could touch his simple faith, 'I believe in God the Father!'”
As Reader and Critic. — The youthful Thackeray was an omnivorous reader, especially of fiction, poetry, and history. Later in life he said to a young cousin, “Read a tremendous lot of history.” Of Carlyle's French Revolution he wrote:
“The reader needs not be told that this book is written in an eccentric prose, here and there disfigured by grotesque conceits and images; but, for all this, it betrays most extraordinary powers — learning, observation, and humor. . . . Above all, it has no cant. It possesses genius if any book ever did.” Concerning this criticism Carlyle wrote to his brother :
“The writer is one Thackeray, a half monstrous Cornish giant, kind of painter, Cambridge man, and Paris newspaper correspondent, who is now writing for his life in London. . . . His article is rather like him, and, I suppose, calculated to do the book good.” In his Cambridge days Thackeray was for a time greatly interested in Shelley. He then called The Revolt of Islam "a most
beautiful poem- though the story is absurd, and the republican sentiments conveyed in it, if possible, more absurd.” While at Weimar he, of course, fell under the influence of Goethe and Schiller, especially admiring the writings of Schiller. Of French writers he read Montaigne, Hugo, Balzac, Eugene Sue, and Dumas. Of these he admired Montaigne and Dumas, at one time saying, "Dumas is wonderful. He is better than Walter Scott.”
In his younger days he bitterly denounced Miss Landon, Miss Mitford, Mrs. Trollope, and the author of Ernest Maltravers. He praises Swift as “an immense genius,” but laments his savage satire; acknowledges Sterne's humor and pathos, but condemns his effeminate sentimentalism and “gift of weeping.” For Congreve, Wycherley, and Farquhar, with their heroes and heroines of flimsy morals, he has no liking. His sympathy is with Addison, Steele, and Goldsmith. In his preference for Pope as the greatest of English poets, and in his opinion that while Milton was a great poet "he was such a bore that no one could read him," he shows his limitations as a critic. As to the novelists,
, he placed Fielding and Smollett above Richardson, acknowledging Fielding as his master both in matter and manner, going so far as to say, “My English would have been much better if I had read Fielding before I was ten." For Macaulay, Charlotte Brontë, Tennyson, Dickens, and other contemporaries, he usually had words of generous praise. He was of too large a nature to begrudge the popularity of his great contemporary in fiction, though he felt that Dickens was not a deep thinker, but had a “clear and bright-eyed intelligence, which is better than philosophy. I think he is equal to Fielding and Smollett — at any rate to Smollett. He is not such a scholar as Fielding was.” And at another time he writes, “He knows that my books are a protest against his — that if the one set are true, the other must be false.”
Style and Influence. Ever since his death there has been a steady growth in Thackeray's reputation, and while there is still a diversity of opinion as to his rank as a novelist, the opinion as to
the high quality of his style is unanimous. Long ago Carlyle said, “Nobody in our day, I should say, wrote with such perfection of style.” And as discriminating a critic as Mr. Brownell, who objects to the contentious special pleading of Macaulay, the exaltation of Carlyle, the rhapsody of Ruskin, and the periodic stateliness of Gibbon, finds the style of Thackeray perfectly sound and classical. It is simple, copious, and natural.
“ Its ease is absolutely effortless. It is like Raphael's line. He can make it say anything he chooses, anything his characters choose in their several dialects. ... Like his art and like the world of his imagination, it is an outgrowth of the most interesting personality, perhaps, that has expressed itself in prose." His influence upon English fiction has been decidedly whole
His novels, especially Vanity Fair and Pendennis, were a protest against the extravagant romanticism of the poor imitators of Sir Walter Scott. “By his ridicule and his creative work," writes W. L. Cross, "he brought the novel once more into the stream of realistic tendency, where since Pickwick it had not kept a steady course." Strainings after melodramatic effects, ghastly deaths, drownings, strangulations, blackest of inhuman villains, angelic saints, and faultless heroes, as well as the customary settings of antiquated castles in ruined splendor, tournaments, jousts, and haunted halls with gorgeous knights, have no place in Thackeray's art.
Mr. Howells, an ardent and uncompromising foe to romance, thinks Thackeray could not free himself from his environment; that he is in part “a survival of the romanticistic period whose traces in others (especially Bulwer and Disraeli) he knew how to burlesque.” This may be taken to mean that the realism of Thackeray falls short of the ideal of Howells, for it is true that Thackeray is not an extreme realist. It is also true that he is dangerously profuse and he is prone to indulge in confidential asides which stay the progress of the story; yet in his hatred of sham, in his avoidance of cheap effects, in his purity of tone, in his love of what is good and noble, he has set a standard for all writers of English fiction.
Life of Thackeray. LEWIS.
Thackeray in the United States. Wilson. Cent., vol. 41, p. 221.
EORGE ELIOT is not the first Englishwoman to write a
ney's Evelina, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, a book still widely read; Miss Edgeworth's tales, Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford, and the novels of Jane Austen — novels almost extravagantly praised by some modern disciples of realism. But with the exception of Jane Austen, which one of these names can bear comparison with that of George Eliot? And in the case of Jane Austen the eminence is one granted by literary criticism rather than by popular approval. In our own time we have the fiction of Mrs. Humphrey Ward, and that of a hundred lesser lights, but the highest praise we can bestow on any of our modern women who write fiction is that in breadth and depth, in substance and form, her novels approach the standard set by George Eliot.
The best of George Eliot's fiction bears comparison with the best of Thackeray, or Scott, or Dickens. Her style lacks the literary finish of Thackeray's, she is not a natural story-teller like Scott, and she is wanting in that wholesome exuberance which characterizes Dickens; but she has a distinction all her own. She is the creator of a new type of fiction, the introspective, psychological novel. As some one has pointed out, Dickens shows us how a man acts; George Eliot tells us why he acts.
Parents and Childhood. - Mary Ann Evans, generally known as George Eliot, was born at Arbury Farm, Warwickshire, on November 22, 1819. Her father, Robert Evans, was a man of character, strong both in body and mind. His ability as a man of affairs led Francis Newdigate, son of the man who established the Oxford Newdigate prize in poetry, to engage him as manager