« AnteriorContinuar »
which she was trained, we should have
We wish that Mr. Thackeray had given
long to a sphere far removed from that of
Mankind reïterate themselves
ever justification it might find in Barry drawn, is very limited, and the range of Lyndon, Vanity Fair, and even Pen- his moral teaching correspondingly nardennis, is abundantly contradicted by row. The Book of Snobs contains, in the later works. It is despondency rather fact, all the leading thoughts which he than cynicism that inspires the moraliz reiterates and illustrates in each successings with which the course of the narra- ive tale. His great aim is to inspire contive is again and again interrupted, and tempt for every thing that is not genuine ; which, colored as they frequently are by to place the beauty of simplicity and truth a sadness that approaches to somber mel- in opposition to the meanness, the deancholy, are far from being the least in formity, and the wretchedness of hypoc teresting or valuable parts of his books. risy and falsehood, even in those forms And when, as is not unfrequently the of it which society is content to sanction; case, indignant virtue, ready to utter its to rebuke that debasing worship of wealth anathemas on some deed of meanness and or money which is a disgrace to our Engvice, is asked to pause, to look within, to lish society; to exhibit the degrading inquire whether it has such sinlessness as bondage in which Mrs. Grundy holds would warrant it in casting the first stone; such numbers; to teach a man to respect instead of recognizing the voice of a himself, and to feel that the only position cynic, we feel that we are listening to one worth having is that which is won by his of large heart and generous sympathies, own real worth and persevering effort; who would plead for charity to the fallen, and to indicate the happiness which is to and speak words of wise caution to those be found in the cultivation of the kindwho are disposed to cherish a feeling of lier feelings of the nature, and the faithself-righteousness, and who, in fact, is ful discharge of duty, in however humble only reiterating the precepts of the old a sphere. Flunkeyism, selfishness, unreBook, "Judge not, that ye be not judg-ality, frivolity, pretentiousness, subservi ed;""Let him that thinketh he standeth ence to the world's opinion, and complitake heed lest he fall." ance with its customs, are the evils against We therefore do not complain either which he brings his whole artillery to that Mr. Thackeray's heroes are not per- play, and, as all must feel, with terrible fect, or that his analysis of human char- effect. Sometimes he indulges in playful acter is so keen and searching as some- wit; then he employs all the force of a times to awaken uncomfortable feelings keen and biting satire; by-and-by he in the minds of his readers. His object glides into a strain of irony so polished certainly is to excite in all distrust of that it has often deceived the unthinking themselves, not of others; and though reader; anon he kindles with righteous possibly there may be found many who indignation, and pours forth words of derive from such teachings the miserable burning eloquence; or, most impressive consolation that they are as good as oth- of all, he speaks in that strain of tender ers commonly esteemed their superiors, and soul-subduing pathos, of which he this is a proof only of the perverted in- was so consummate a master. Examples genuity of the disciple, not of mistake or of these different styles must at once ocincapacity on the part of the master. On cur to the remembrance of any who are the contrary, the effect which such lessons familiar with his works; and he must be must exert on right-minded men must be well fortified in his own conceit, who has beneficial; leading them to cherish gen- not sometimes, as he has read, heard the erous thoughts toward others, to form inward voice saying, "De te fabular narlowly estimates of themselves, to be watch-ratur." Still, though the influence thus ful against all forms of temptation, and, exerted is healthful, we must feel that it above all, to eschew that wretched spirit is very circumscribed in extent. Nothing of Pharisaism, which not only injures the is condemned which does not deserve repman himself, but hinders so seriously the robation, and rarely is praise bestowed progress of godliness. What we do ob- upon unworthy objects; but there are ject to is, that the writer takes little or no numberless evils in society left unnoticed, account of large classes, who, however and types of pure and noble character mistaken he may deem them in their among us which find here no representaviews, are striving to live up to their tive. Very rarely is an excursion made sense of right; that, in fact, the circle beyond those fashionable circles, where from which his actors and incidents are the scene of the stories is mainly laid, ex
high principle, laboring for some definite end, viewing life with an abiding sense of solemn responsibility, and exerting some influence for good upon the society in which they move.
cept into those regions of literary and artistic life, between which and the loftier sphere of aristocratic exclusiveness there exists a certain undefined connection, in virtue, mainly, of special privileges enjoyed by some of the denizens of the for- The moral tone of these works is almer. Of life in drawing-rooms and clubs, ways pure and elevating. Thackeray has in barristers' chambers and artists' stu- often been compared with Fielding, and dios, in English country houses and those not without propriety; but it is only nec continental cities which are the favorite re-essary to run through a few pages of sorts of those of both sexes who are broken Tom Jones, to feel how much our age has down in constitution or character or purse; gained in finding a writer who could exof scheming dowagers, vulgar pretenders, pose its weaknesses and lash its vices, worn-out dandies, profligate critics, wretch- without ever penning a word that could ed tuft-hunters, and intriguing misses; of offend the taste of the most fastidious, or the Book of the Peerage, and all the call up a blush on the face of the most moral and social evil it works in the cir- modest. He has often to speak of sin, cles where it is something like the fetish but there is nowhere that coarse descrip of the poor savage; of the laws, prac- tion over which the impure would gloat, tices, and vicissitudes of that matrimonial that still more dangerous style of reprebourse, where the dignity of man, the sentation which veils its native deformity purity of woman, and the tenderest affec- and suggests apologies for its commission. tions of both, are so often bartered away Mr. Thackeray's own views of this style for the coronet of an earl, or the fortune of writing were strongly expressed in the of a millionnaire, we have-not more than lecture on the "English Humorists," in enough; for the evils denounced are great, which he administers so terrible a castiand so strong that they need to be vig-gation to Sterne. "There is," he says, orously assailed, if they are to be removed at all-but still so much, that we have wished that the same vigorous pen had been employed in satirizing some other follies as well. And much as we admire many of the examples of quiet heroism that develop themselves in the course of such narratives, we could desire that Mr. Thackeray had sometimes trodden other paths which he has entirely eschewed, not only that he might have made his pictures of our modern society complete, but still more, that, while rendering honor where honor is due, he might have kindled the ambition of the young to seek after the noblest and truest forms of distinction. But, unfortunately, service of the character to which we allude, however lofty its motives, or self-denying its toil, is too much overlooked by the class to which Mr. Thackeray belongs. They seem to forget the world that lies beyond the circle in which they move, which, after all, is very contracted; and, whenever they introduce any of its inhabitants, only discover their own utter ignorance relative to them, their aims, their principles, and their doings. The defect is more apparent in Mr. Thackeray, because his range is even more re-injustice of society in its ideas of crime stricted than common; and there is in his and its treatment of different criminals, tales a singular lack of men inspired by is fearlessly exposed; the downward path
not a page in Sterne's writing but has something that were better away, a latent corruption, a hint as of an impure presence. Some of that dreary double entendre may be attributed to freer times and manners then, but not all. The foul Satyr's eyes leer out of the leaves constantly: the last words the famous author wrote were bad and wicked-the last lines the poor stricken wretch penned were for pity and pardon. I think of these past writers, and of one who lives amongst us now, and am grateful for the innocent laughter, and the sweet and unsullied page, which the author of David Copperfield gives to my children."
Surely we must all cherish a similar feeling to the author of Vanity Fair and the Newcomes. In both these tales the writer has to deal with characters and incidents which, in less skillful hands, or rather in hands not under the guidance of so pure a moral feeling, might have become indelicate and injurious. But here there is not even the most distant approach to any thing of this kind. Where strong, earnest, and manly words of denunciation need to be uttered, there is no shrinking from their employment; the
of temptation and indulgence is traced | to indulge respecting all thing sacred and profane, human and divine, and which seemed to reveal a mind trembling on the verge of absolute atheism, may indicate one of those phases of struggle through which, at some period of his life, in common with numbers of young men, he may have passed. But it is impossible to read his books, and believe that he long retained such doubts, however for a season they may have disturbed and harassed him. On the contrary, we find, scattered here and there, expressions of religious feeling the most pure and touching. It is true they do not go very far, and have little to do with mere dogmatic opinions; but at least they manifest the presence of some feeling of reverence in the heart, the recognition of a divine guide of human action, and a divine consoler in human sorrows, and the acknowledgment of the blessed influence which dependence upon this direction and solace exerts on human character and happiness. There are passages which set forth certain aspects of religious truth with an eloquence and force to which few preachers have attained. What a striking comment on the text, "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth," is that marvelous picture, so full of truth and pathos, in which he sets forth the character and exposes the falsehood of Congreve's views of life, where, after describing the revelers in the midst of their riotings, he adds, "Hark! what is that chant coming nearer and nearer? What is that dirge which will disturb us? The lights of the festival burn dim-the cheeks turn palethe voice wavers-and the cup drops on the floor. Who's there? Death and Fate are at the gate, and they will come in." With what true and touching thoughts of death he introduces the account of Lady Kew's funeral, telling in such forcible words the story of a wasted life! "To live fourscore years, and be found dancing among the idle virgins! to have had near a century of allotted time, and then be called away from the giddy notes of a Mayfair fiddle!" What exquisite beauty and right feeling are there in the account of Helen Pendennis's death, breathing out her life so gently in an act of prayer for the son she loved so fondly!
with that minuteness which a desire to make it a warning to others would excite, and the penalties consequent on sin are set forth with terrible vividness. But there is a wise and becoming reticence where it would be impossible to speak without doing evil rather than good. The whole story of Lady Clara Newcome is told with singular delicacy and skill, which we may appreciate all the more if we will place it in contrast with some of the productions of modern, especially female novelists. It was not an easy task that he had to execute; for he had to brand with deserved infamy the apparent victim, but really the provoking cause of this heinous sin; and yet, at the same time, so to do it as not to suffer the feelings of the reader to lapse into a morbid sympathy with the crime of the criminal. Through the difficulties of this course he has steered with consummate art. Sir Barnes stands forth as the wretched, unmanly, contemptible, canting villain that he was; and yet every feeling of commiseration which has been cherished for Lady Clara, so long as she was the victim of his cruelty, is changed for stern reprobation when her agonies goad her into transgression. The brief but graphic sketch of her future life is one of the most powerful sermons against vice it were possible to preach. If ever sin might have pleaded excuse, it was here; yet in depicting the complete wreck of Lady Clara's happiness, her loss of reputation, peace of mind, and the very love for which she had sinned so deeply, our author shows that wrong can never be right, and that every where the wages of sin is death. Never did we need such lessons more than at a time when so many are strung with a spacious sophistry, to make the worse appear the better reason, to abate the instinctive horror with which vice should be regarded, and so to accustom us to contemplate its features, presented under a light so favorable, that we may learn to view it at least with pity and kindliness, if not with positive approbation.
Of the religious tendencies of Mr. Thackeray's writings, we must speak much more doubtfully. Not that he was an unbeliever; or, so far as we can detect, had any sympathies with intellectual skepticism. The bitter sneers in which Arthur Pendennis at one time was wont
"As they were talking the clock struck nine; and Helen reminded him how, when he was a little boy, she used to go up to his bedroom at that hour, and hear him say 'Our
Father.' And once more, oh, once more, the young man fell down at his mother's sacred knees, and sobbed out the prayer which the divine tenderness uttered for us, and which has been echoed for twenty ages since by millions of sinful and humbled men. And as he
spoke the last words of the supplication, the mother's head fell down on her boy's, and her arms closed round him, and together they repeated the words, for ever and ever,' and Amen.' The sainted woman was dead. The last emotion of her soul was joy, henceforth to be uncheckered and eternal. The tender heart beat no more; it was to have no more pangs, no more doubts, no more griefs and trials. Its last throb was love; and Helen's last breath was a benediction."
We can not, with our limited space, multiply extracts of this character, although it would not be difficult to find many. Nor would we attach to them a deeper significance than they are fairly entitled to possess. In the face of them all we are compelled to admit, what we greatly deplore, that there are many evidences of want of sympathy with, if not aversion to, what we regard as evangelical religion and its special work. Very seldom, indeed, is it spoken of with actual contempt; nay, there is often a respect shown to those who conscientiously hold and consistently carry out its principles; but it is too manifest that their views are regarded as delusions. Mrs. Sophia Alethea Newcome, surrounded by her unctious ministerial friends, firmly asserting her authority, and not always using it in the wisest way, very narrow, very morose, and somewhat inclined to be overbearing, does not appear in a very loveable light, and her portrait has something about it of the caricature. Yet justice is done to her sincerity, to her abundant charity, and to a general excellence which all her bigotry and sourness could not wholly conceal. There are, however, quiet hits at tract distribution and other modes of Christian labor, which indicate that the author regards them with but scant favor, and, even where he gives their promoters credit for conscientious zeal, is disposed to look on it as a sign of intellectual feebleness. Perhaps, too, there is a tendency, evidences of which cross us here and there, to regard relig. ious feelings and acts as coming within the province of women rather than of
It is worth our while to see if, from any thing in Mr. Thackeray's writings, we
can discover the reason of this feeling in one who had so true a reverence for virtue, such, earnest sympathy with all that was noble and generous, and so real a consciousness of a relation between man
and God, that he could write of the prayers of good women in such terms as these: "They have but to will, and as it were an invisible temple rises around them; their hearts can kneel down there, and they have an audience of the great, the merciful, untiring Counselor and Consoler." This is the more important because, unquestionably, he was a representative of a large class, wielding great influence, in virtue of their intellectual power and moral purity; and if there be any thing either in our modes of presenting Christian truth or in our forms of Christian activity that is fitted to repel rather than to attract, and in which we could effect a change without any compromise of principle, it certainly becomes us to make the attempt. It is easy and perhaps flattering to our own complacency to say, that the pride of intellect rebels against the peculiar doctrine of the gospel; but though this is certainly true, and though we can never expect that the "offense of the cross" will cease, we are surely not to be content that the noblest power of the world should thus belong to the devil; and, least of all, should we needlessly increase the difficulties which men of this caliber may feel to the acceptance of the truth.
One thing which manifestly impressed Mr. Thackeray, and which, we fear, has had a similar influence upon many others, is the unreality of many so-called religious acts. There is a very striking passage relative to the practice of family prayer, which reveals very much of this painful feeling, in the account of domestic worship at the house of the well-intentioned but weak, purse-proud, and worldly baronet, Sir Brian Newcome:
"I do not sneer at the purpose for which, at that chiming eight-o'clock bell, the household is called together. The urns are hissing, the plate is shining; the father of the house, standing up, reads from a gilt book for three or four minutes in a measured cadence. The members of the family are around the table in an attitude of decent reverence, the younger children whisper responses at their mother's knees; the governess worships apart; the maids and the large footmen are in a cluster behind their chairs, the upper servants performing their devotions on the other side of the sideboard; the nurse