Imagens das páginas

name of the great author. Even in this age of steam it was not to be expected that within a few weeks of Thackeray's death any volume, even though only seeking to fill a place between "the newspaper or review article, and the more elaborate biography which may be expect ed in due course," could be produced, which would do credit to the author, or be of any real service to the public. The volume to which we allude has equaled, if not surpassed, our worst anticipations. For a small book of two hundred and twenty pages, in the preparation of which the scissors and paste have been very extensively put in requisition, that portion of her majesty's lieges who desire to learn something more of the great author whose yellow-covered serials have so often delighted and instructed them, are expected to pay no less than seven shillings and sixpence. Let no man order the work under the expectation of finding any critical analysis of Thackeray's characteristics as a man of letters, or gaining any great information relative either to the man or the author. The arrangement is not lucid, the style is not vigorous, very few of the facts are new. Of the "anecdotes and reminiscences," the great majority had previously appeared in the newspapers; and though we are glad enough to have them collected and put in this more permanent form, we had a right to expect that a seven-and-sixpenny memoir should contain something more than bis crambe repetita. Nor do our complaints end here; for, of what is inserted, we could very well have dispensed with twelve pages devoted to the unhappy episode connected with the Garrick Club. No doubt Thackeray was right in the main, though possibly a little too sensitive; no doubt, too, the criticism which led to the dispute was ungenerous and unjust; probably Mr. Dickens erred in the course he pursued between the disputants: but it would, in our judgment, have been better if the whole affair had been relegated to the "tomb of all the Capulets;" and assuredly the space which it occupies in these brief memorials is utterly disproportioned to its real importance.

It is somewhat singular that we are indebted to our northern friends for the fullest and most genial sketches of Thackeray that have yet appeared. The brief notice by Mr. Hannay, which originally appeared in the Edinburgh Evening

Courant, is marked by discrimination and full of personal interest. But still more complete and valuable is the elaborate paper in our cotemporary, the North British-rich in its personal recollections, minute and pains-taking in its record of the author's literary career, acute and thoughtful in its critical observations, and every where breathing that spirit of hearty admiration which Thackeray never failed to inspire in those who were brought into personal contact with him. The contrast between this paper and the more pretentious biography to which we have referred above, is very striking. Much as we admire it, however, we do not feel that it has at all preoccupied the ground which we had marked out for ourselves prior to its appearance. With the personal history we have nothing to do, save as it has left its impress on the writings of our great satirist. It is our purpose to discuss here the literary characteristics and moral and religious tendencies of Mr. Thackeray, and to pass from that to a general survey of recent works of fiction, and an estimate of the influence which they are likely to exert. We fear that we shall find that the loss of Thackeray is specially to be deplored, because of the rise of a school formed after an entirely different model, and inculcating very opposite lessons from those which it was his constant study to enforce. His course as a novelist began with efforts to counteract the morbid tendencies of such books as Bulwer's Eugene Aram and Ainsworth's Jack Sheppard; both of which, though very dissimilar in many respects, were alike objectionable, as serving to throw a romantic interest round vice. An epidemic of the same character has recently broken out with even increased violence; and we know no one who could have done more to restore the diseased appetite of the reading public to a more healthy tone. Unhappily, he is gone, and we can only hope that in some other way the desired corrective may be supplied. Meanwhile we may do some little service by pointing out the marked contrast between a writer like Thackeray and the Eliots, Braddons, Collinses, and other favorites of the circulating library; and by indicating some of the mischief which these latter are working with much subtlety, but not with less fatal effect.

Thackeray is in fiction what the PreRaphaelites are in painting. Whether the characteristics of that school be a

striving after purity and simplicity, a scru- | happy accident which led Ethel Newcome
pulous fidelity to nature, or extreme accu- to open Orme's History of India, and
racy in minute detail, and perfect finish, find the memorandum of the legacy which
they are all found in him. As mere tales, her grandmother had intended to leave to
his novels are open to many exceptions; her step-son, he does not appear to advan-
as pictures of life, they are to the extent tage. The device is so awkward that we
of their range all but perfect, singularly might have suspected the presence of a
true, and full of important practical sug- poor 'prentice, and not of a great master
gestions. In every case the plot is subor- of his art. It was elsewhere that his .
dinate to the greater object the writer strength lay; and he showed practical
has in view, of introducing to us real men wisdom, as regarded his own reputation,
and women, in whose characters, as de- by cultivating the gift that was in him,
veloped in the commonplace incidents of while he did more good to his generation
every day life, he holds up to us a mirror by laboring to become its instructor, in-
in which we may see ourselves, and so be stead of being content merely to cater for
taught to reform our own faults. There its amusement.
is little to hold the reader in breathless
suspense, as he watches the gradual un-
folding of some mystery round which the
whole interest of the tale gathers; and
those who need stimulating food of this
character may very probably be surprised
at the attraction which Mr. Thackeray's
homely dishes possess for so many. Their
great charm, indeed, is the air of reality
that is diffused over the whole. There is
hardly a character to which it would not
be easy to find numerous counterparts, or
an incident that might not be paralleled
from the events of an ordinary career.
The difficulties, misunderstandings, delays,
and disappointments which, according to
the common notion, generally checker the
course of true love, and which, in the case
of the majority of novelists, form the main
thread of the story, occupy in his tales the
place that they hold in actual life. They
may serve as a connecting thread by
which to unite a number of characters
and incidents; but they are far from hold-
ing an exclusive, and sometimes they
hardly gain a prominent place in the atten-
tion of the reader. The romantic occur-
rences which are so common in the pages
of fiction, so very uncommon in the expe-
rience of any of us, find little place in
these stories. No stroke of the magician's
wand suddenly converts his wonderful
heroes into noblemen or princes: in truth,
he has no heroes on whom to confer such
elevation, but very commonplace men,
who make no pretensions to superhuman
excellence of any kind, and who rarely
achieve any thing beyond a moderate
share of success. Where Thackeray pur-
sues another course, as, for example, in the
sudden enriching of Philip by the discov-
ery of the will in the sword-case that had
lain for years in the old chariot, or in the

There is one peculiarity of his writings which, in less skillful hands, might have only exposed the author to ridicule, but which, as managed by him, has always seemed to us to throw an air of greater reality around his stories. We refer to the allusions which abound in each, to some or all of the others. We do not here refer to the link by which Esmond, the Virginians, and the Newcomes are connected, after the manner of the old Greek Trilogies, but rather to the little incidental references in one to events narrated at full length in some of the others. The doings of the illustrious Becky in the season of her prosperity in London, are introduced both in Pendennis and The Newcomes; and the Marquis of Steyne, though not playing a part in either of them, yet is one of the figures in the background as a great leader of fashion of the day. This is natural enough. The scene of the three tales is laid in the same period and the same city. What could stamp upon all a greater impress of reality, than to regard them as having a common relation, being, in fact, the narrative of occurrences in different circles, all forming part of the "Upper Ten Thousand," and so brought more or less into contact with each other, and having certain knowledge of the leading events in each other's history? The part taken by Arthur Pendennis and that wonderful Laura, so singularly good, ever so ready for kindly services, and yet, strange to say, so very unattractive, is much more open to question. Yet, the pair serve naturally to connect the several circles, and there are few admirers of Thackeray who would be content to dispense with the scenes in which they fill a prominent place.

In the delineation, or rather in the de

[ocr errors]

velopment, of character, (for he rarely sketches portraits, but leaves events to reveal the real spirit of the actors,) he is a master, seldom rivaled, and scarcely ever surpassed. To have this quality, it is necessary that an author should possess not only a thorough familiarity with men, but also a genuine sympathy with them in the temptations, the sorrows, and the difficulties that go to make up the great battle of life. Nor must he be a mere theorist: he must himself have mingled in its fray, and known something of its terrible struggles, its cruel disappointments, its humbling reverses, its bitter agonies. Thackeray had all these qualifications. The sorrows which clouded his path have possibly given a hue of sadness to his views of life; but they certainly prepared him to be a kindly judge of his brethren. While, therefore, few have had a keener insight into the workings of the human heart, or could more thoroughly unmask those hypocrisies by which it often succeeds even in imposing upon itself, none have ever been more ready to discern and recognize those elements of good which are frequently to be found mingling with much that is mean and selfish and base. Longfellow has said that woman-and, though possibly more applicable to her, it is not true of one sex exclusively-even in her deepest degradation,

"Holds something sacred, something undefiled, Some pledge and keepsake of her better nature;

And like a diamond in the dark retains Some quenchless beam of its celestial glow."

Into the spirit of this Thackeray has entered, and it has influenced and imparted a truthfulness to most of his portraits. He has nowhere painted monsters acting under the dominion of fiendish passions and possessed of no redeeming qualities. Barnes Newcome, and perhaps Dr. Firmin, are, so far as we remember, the solitary exceptions to the last part of this rule. Barnes is an insufferable little wretch, a singular mixture of the puppy and the brute, with all the insolence and cowardice of a bully-a man who disgraced himself in every relation which he filled, who sneered at his too indulgent father, insulted and wronged his gentle mother, goaded his unhappy wife to an act of mad wickedness, made himself merry with the simplicity of his nobleminded uncle, and was mean enough to

prey upon the self-denying sister who had devoted herself to minister to his comfort and the good of his children. Dr. Firmin is a smoother-tongued but certainly not less odious and repulsive villain-one of those men who not only live upon their brethren, but appear to think that their victims ought to feel themselves infinitely honored by being permitted to minister to their ease and comfort-men of ineffable selfcomplacency, imperturbable assurance, boundless love of personal enjoyment, and an equal amount of callous insensibility to the happiness of others. The picture of this man is one of Thackeray's cleverest conceptions; and the execution is as masterly as the idea was original. In him, with his grand expectations and miserable failures, his readiness to use the affection of every one who trusted him as the instrument of his own avarice, the utter heartlessness which he hid under an exterior formed after the most approved laws of conventionalism, there is nothing to admire. Perhaps Blanche Amory might be cited as an example of a similar character; and she is certainly a sufficiently disagreeable specimen of unrelieved selfishness. But there is something in the circumstances of her history and the character of her surroundings, even from her infancy, which makes us feel that in her case justice must be tempered with pity; while there are now and then flashes of a better nature, that indicate a

capability of something better, had there been any thing to aid its development. Becky Sharp is thoroughly bad; but she could feel admiration for her husband's manliness in that attack on Lord Steyne which ruined her own prospects; and her remembrance of the early kindness of Amelia, though it had not hindered her from drawing away from her side the husband whom the poor creature so madly idolized, induced her to interpose on behalf of the long-suffering and devoted Dobbin, and, by promoting his union with the woman he so truly loved, to contribute to the happiness of both. Lady Kew is hardly less worldly, less intriguing, less unprincipled than Becky-indeed she is Becky placed in a different position; with the same predominant selfishness, the same cynical contempt of goodness, the same resolute determination in working out her own plans, and the like disregard of all the feelings and interests of any who might stand in her way; but, per

haps, with a trifle more heart than Mrs. | Rawdon Crawley. Her affection for Ethel, debased though it was by the coolness with which she sought to sell her beauty and wit to the greatest possible advantage; and her pity for poor Lady Clara, whom she would fain have shielded from harm, though she would not or could not learn the obvious lesson of her unhappy story-plead on behalf of this miserable creature, in whom Thackeray has sketched, as it never was drawn before, a likeness of the woman of the world, a being whom none can love, and whose life appears to serve no purpose but to act as a beacon to warn others against the indulgence of like vices.

But while Thackeray's charity-which, however, is never debased by the alloy of morbid sentimentalism-finds lingerings of the good even in hearts where the evil is predominant, he, on the other hand, never seeks to depict perfect heroes. Arthur Pendennis and Philip Firmin are not men who can excite very deep sympathy or profound admiration. Henry Esmond is a fair specimen of a dashing cavalier, with a good deal of chivalrous feeling, capable of acts of self-sacrifice, constant in his attachments, and pure in his principles, yet hardly coming up to our ideal of a hero. Clive Newcome, despite many excellences, is yet deficient in many of the qualities necessary to command the reverence of generous and virtuous hearts. Dobbin is a noble specimen of singleness of purpose, purity of heart, disinterested and constant love, and untiring self-sacrifice. We can not fail to admire the true hearted man, yet is there the absence of any thing that could awaken veneration; and the impression conveyed, unintentionally, perhaps, but not less certainly, is, that had he been more brilliant he would not have been so good; and we lay down the book with the feeling that, though he and his beloved Amelia may be very good people, they would not be those whom we should select for bosom friends, or in whose future fortunes we could take a very profound interest. Yet, with the exception of Colonel Newcome, Dobbin (with all his simplicity and gaucherie, so well expressed, with the author's characteristic skill, in his name) is the nearest approach to a hero among Mr. Thackeray's characters. In him, undoubtedly, the writer intended to teach a very important lesson; the superiority of an un

selfish and loving heart to all gifts of intellect or fortune. But we question whether in the desire to point the contrast between goodness clothed in the least attractive form, and selfishness, even when associated with all those graces of manner and powers of mind which never fail to fascinate, he has not gone into an extreme, and run the risk of exciting in many minds a feeling of pity, where he sought only to create one of admiration. Colonel Newcome stands alonecharming all who make his acquaintance by his beautiful simplicity, his lofty principle, his unselfish devotion to the boy he loved so well, his chivalrous sense of honor, his superiority to the corrupting influences of the world. A little more of the "wisdom of the serpent" would certainly better have fitted him for the battle of life; but it could not have been introduced without marring the effect of a portrait which, as it stands, is singularly beautiful and impressive. To appreciate it fully, we should place it side by side with that of Major Pendennis, a very respectable man, as society deemed him, who found his way into the best circles, and secured for himself a certain éclat, who possessed an inexhaustible fund of that selfish sagacity which the world esteems wisdom, but who was always emphatically "of the earth, earthy." He had some measure of affection for his nephew, but it only serves to bring out in bolder relief the essential worldliness of the man. He never seeks to rouse Arthur to any noble aspirations, or to set before him any principle of truth or honor as his guide; but, on the contrary, is ever pouring into his ear the subtle counsels of a debasing selfishness, that could only poison every spring of generous feeling in his heart; he can apologize for any youthful vice, or, indeed, incite to its indulgence; he is severe only on what he regards as acts of imprudence, the sacrifices of worldly advantages in deference to principle or honor; and withal he would have himself esteemed a very model of propriety and wisdom. Placed in contrast with a poor worldling like this, the character of the good colonel stands out to special advantage. There are few things more touching in the range of fiction than the record of his last days-the genuine independence that led him to take his place among the poor brothers of the Charterhouse, rather than


accede to the wishes of the generous such women, and that it would be no friends who would have provided another difficult task to find the originals of every asylum for his old age; the uncomplain- portrait. Perhaps even the limited exing meekness with which he bent his perience of each indidivual reader may head before the terrible storm of adversity enable him to point out some answering that beat upon him; the gentle resigna- to the description; and it may be that it tion of the broken-hearted old man under is in the very truthfulness of the representhe reproaches with which he was so un-tation that the gravamen of the offense justly assailed, the child-like faith and lies. But were all this true, there would tenderness that shed a soft beauty over still be reason to object to the number of the sadness of the closing scene. Where such characters, and the lack of repredo we find any thing more exquisite than sentatives of the highest style of female the brief sentences that give the story of excellence. We must confess that there his departure? "Just as the last bell is not one of Mr. Thackeray's heroines struck, a peculiar sweet smile shone over (a title which can only be given to any of his face, and he lifted up his head a lit- them by courtesy), that commands our tle and quickly said, 'Adsum,' and fell hearty admiration. We need not speak back. It was the word we used at school, of Amelia or Laura Pendennis; for we when names were called; and lo! he, do not fancy that the most thorough dewhose heart was that of a little child, had votee of Mr. Thackeray will ask for a veranswered to his name, and stood in the dict in their favor. Lady Castlewood is presence of the Master." a much finer character, and has been described by a very acute critic, the late George Brimley, as one of the sweetest women that ever breathed from canvas or from book since Raffaelle painted Maries, and Shakspeare created a new and higher consciousness of woman in the mind of Germanic Europe." In this judgment we are not prepared to acquiesce. We readily admit the existence of many traits of exquisite loveliness in this devoted, self-denying, greatly-suffering, and deeply-loving woman; but there is a great want of decision and force; and the relations which she sustains to Esmond leave a painful impression upon the mind, and, unlike most of our author's portraitures, are not true to nature. There is, too, an occasional waywardness in her conduct, as, for example, in her unjust treatment of Esmond after the death of her husband, which is hardly consistent with the general tone of her character. On the other hand, we are free to confess the originality of the conception, the singular tenderness and pathos which are revealed in many of her words and actions, and the charm which the portrait can hardly fail to exert on all thoughtful beholders.

The colonel is an exception to the ordinary run of Thackeray's characters, who rarely combine the elements of strength and goodness. Despite all that has been said in his defense, we think that women especially have good right to complain of the part that the sex plays in his stories. He has certainly drawn some of the most execrable women who ever appeared on the pages of fiction. Becky Sharp, Blanche Amory, and Beatrix Esmond, are one group with sufficiently distinctive points of difference, yet all of the same type of character-beings who have not a single thought beyond themselves, and whom no scruple restrains from any pursuit which promises to gratify their own desires. Not less offensive are the more decorous, but not more honorable mammas, who carry on precisely the same game as these young ladies, but have some more regard, albeit very slight, to the proprieties of society-Mrs. Bute Crawley, of the Queen's Crawley Rectory; Philip Firmin's scheming and pretentions mother-in-law; and, worst of all, the creature whom of all others we most dislike, the old " Campaigner," whose face, ever beaming with smiles on the outside world, concealed as mean and base a heart as ever throbbed in human breast, a heart which even the misfortunes of the noble old colonel could not move to pity, and in which the troubles of the child she professed to love so fondly could not awaken a feeling of honor.

It may be said, indeed, that there are

But in our eyes Ethel Newcome has far greater attractions. She is thoroughly natural, and in the gradual refinement and elevation of her character we see one of the highest triumphs of Mr. Thackeray's skill. Had we found her at first a fair flower of unselfishness blooming in those gardens of fashion in

« AnteriorContinuar »