« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
EVERY person familiar with the English language in its most elegant and classic forms, acquainted with the writings of Goldsmith. In the harmony of his style, and the delicate, antithetical turn of his periods, he is the equal of Bolingbroke and the superior of Johnson. In the instinctive choice of the most harmonious words, a faculty more than any other the gift of nature, and so purely instinctive as scarcely to be improved even by cultivation, Goldsmith stands without a rival among English writers, and is comparable in this respect, among modern writers only with Voltaire. It is perhaps to these qualities, and to a vein of humor perfectly humane, free from the slightest tinge of bitterness or sarcasm, that he owes his extensive popularity as a novelist and essayist; for we are unable, conscientiously, though our admiration of him be excessive, to attribute to this delightful author any of the grander qualities of pathos, sublimity, or knowledge of the human heart, which characterise the writings of Shakspeare, or even, among writers of our own times, of Walter Scott. Not a single attribute of greatness can with justice be conceded to him, unless it be necessary to include among those attributes, a perfect honesty, simplicity and kindliness of nature. Of pride of character, in the heroic sense; of a philosophical patriotism, the result of meditation, or of that haughty superiority to the weaknesses and accidents of nature and fortune, which so elevates us in the writings of Milton, and combined with less genius, in those even of Dr. Johnson, we find nothing, either in the verse or prose of this truly pastoral writer. If we compare him with Tasso, we find him deficient in the gentlemanly, or rather chivalrous sentiment, of the author of Jerusalem Delivered. If we compare him with Virgil, we find his pathos comparatively domestic and vulgar. If with Irving or Addison, his humor appears less tempered and controlled by cultivated pride. He mingles with the scenes and characters which himself describes,
and is a part of the humorous catastrophe. He looks out upon human nature from the level of his own life, the level of the middle class. Aristocracy is the heaven above him; and however independent he may have been in his proper spirit, there is nothing in him of that haughty individuality, which raises the man of genius in his secret thoughts and aspirations to a level with great lords and dignitaries. We do not wish to call attention to this peculiarity as a defect; had Goldsmith possessed it, he might have become an aspiring politician or a discontented placeman, and his writings have discovered none of that simplicity and modesty which is their peculiar charm. If we except Dickens, Thackeray, and very few others of less note, the popular writers of our time partake so strongly of the republican spirit of the age, which desperately aspires to make the individual, in his proper self, the equal, and if possible the superior of kings; their writings tend to vex and disturb while they rouse and aggravate our self-esteem lords and ladies have ceased to be the heroes of fiction, and in their place we have the aspiring children of genius, rising by the force of nature, and the revolutionary fortune of the time, to become the leaders and idols of the people.
The heroes of Carlyle are commoners of low degree; the characters of Bulwer, it were a shame to call them heroes, are persons of doubtful reputation who achieve fortune and fashion, through evil report, by dint of pure scorn; even Goethe took his Wilhelm Meister from among the Bourgeoisie. In a word, novels of high life, properly speaking, are no longer written; for we cannot include among such, fictions like those of D'Israeli, whose evident design is to set forth the vices and weaknesses of hereditary nobility, contrasted with that untitled nobility of character and intellect. Literature has gone over to the people, and has shown itself the inveterate foe of aristocracy.
And with justice; since it is with action
and personal achievement that the novelist | the class, and we are not acquainted with must deal, and not with names and cere- a single writer of great eminence and popumonies. Wherever the active working larity, who has had the courage or the power spirit of ambition is to be found, bringing out to draw his leading characters from the upthe passions to their liveliest play, there per classes of society, except with the intentoo, the novelist must find his heroes and tion of drawing them down from their arishis characters. tocratic height to the level of common humanity. In the essays and reviews of Carlyle, aristocracy, whether of church or state, is set at nought, and all distinctions, save those of genius and virtue, treated either with subtle irony or undisguised contempt.
Independently, however, of the above described peculiarity, the literature of the present day is distinguished from that of the epoch of Goldsmith and his cotemporaries by a characteristic, which also distinguishes it from that of all other ages, namely, by its political character. Novels, plays, and poems, are at present written for the purpose of inculcating certain political ideas, and not merely, as formerly, to elevate the sentiments and refine the social feelings. A novel of Goldsmith or of Fielding inculcates frankness, generosity and courage: a novel of Walter Scott excites our admiration for these qualities in others, and inspires respect for the magnanimous traits of nobility and chivalry. Prior to the days of Lord Byron and of Bulwer, if a character of the middle or lower class was introduced, it was in strict subordination to his superiors; and the virtues dealt out to the inferior members of society, were of a kind to excite affection and pity, and never to stimulate the pride or pique the ambition of the reader. With the modern school of novelists this order is reversed, and in violation of the most ancient and settled prejudices, we find, in Bulwer, the highwayman carried up into the sphere of fashion and heroism; in D'Israeli, the Hebrew, formerly the scorn of civilization, elevated to the very pinnacle of power, pathos and sentiment. In Eugene Sue and George Sand, and a host of French novelists and dramatists, if a character of worth or interest is taken from the upper class, it is only to save appearances. With these writers, it seems necessary first to have become an outcast, miserable, friendless and degraded, to become fitted for the admiration and respect of all mankind: even Cooper, the American novelist, has taken his heroes from among the hunters and aborigines; and in some of his inferior novels, from among the buccaneers and pirates of the last century. "The Robbers" of Schiller, if not absolutely the first in this class of writings, is, at least, a type of
So completely has this sympathy with natural, nnassisted humanity possessed the writers of this time, we may, on a careful review of the body of our modern letters, pronounce the whole of it to be democratic and revolutionary. Literature has gone over to the people; it has gone over to the stronger side; for, notwithstanding the unfavorable turn which events have taken the present year, we are still under the necessity of believing that the people, as distinguished from the aristocracy, are actually the stronger side.
We were remarking also, that the writers of our day were distinguished from their predecessors of the last century by a perpetual effort to inculcate certain political ideas. To make this clearer, let us endeavor to remember the impression produced upon our minds by the novels of Richardson, of Fielding, of Smollett, and of those who immediately preceded and succeeded them. On rising from the perusal of any one of these, we do not find ourselves infected with that peculiar melancholy and discontent which a poem of Byron, a pirate romance of Cooper, or a novel of George Sand, leaves with us. We think only how excellent the virtues, and how happy the fortunes of the hero or the heroine; how elegant the manners, how worthy of imitation; we rise, too, with a feeling of deference for the forms and the usages of the good old time. With these writers, as with those of Queen Elizabeth's day, the established ranks of society and the forms of government were things as necessary and as unquestioned as the very laws of nature. Nobility and gentry were not so much the reward of virtue, as a condition proper to the order of the universe, and as stable and enduring as the flow of rivers, and the forms of conti
nents; a king, a nobleman, a priest, were things of God's making; men had no hand in their creation; and thus it happened that fiction was limited of necessity to the play of character, the consequences of virtue and vice, within the sphere given them by the fixed conditions of society. The satellite performed the duties and moved in the orbit of a satellite, and if it rose to the dignity of a planet, it was by the virtue of obedience, and the favor of a master; and most part too, to give a warning by its fall against the vice of that swelling ambition which transcends its order.
Turn now to Byron, Bulwer, and D'Israeli, and we find men in whom appears not the punishment, but the triumph of pride. With these writers there is but one virtue, and that virtue is ASSURANCE.
If we seek now the transition point by which we may pass easily from the old to the new order of fiction, we find it easily in Walter Scott; for in this writer, as in Goethe, whose Gotz of Berlichingen seems to have been the model of the Waverly novels, we find an almost perfect appreciation both of the old and the new, the revolutionary and the chivalrous, or rather feudal sentiment.
The characters of Cromwell and Balfour of Burleigh, as Scott has painted them, with a more perfect appreciation of the republican spirit than is to be found in any French or German novelist, stand forth harsh, but almost perfect presentations of the modern spirit, as contrasted with that of feudal society; while in the Pirate of the same writer, that peculiar union of aristocratic and democratic qualities of which our modern novelists make so much use, is clearly but somewhat timidly represented. The power of this writer seems to have lain, not so much in his sympathy with the olden time, as in his artistic appreciation of humanity in every shape, whether old or new. Whether any other author has equalled him in this respect, is at least doubtful. Not even in Shakspeare do we find an equal variety and breadth of appreciation. It would be doing great injustice to the artistic genius of Scott, to suppose that his Cromwell, his Pirate, his Balfour of Burleigh, and his godly host of Covenanters, were taken merely as foils to set off the better genius
of Feudalism; for although Scott, like all the great artists was a lover of the past, we are obliged to allow him the merit of understanding, if he did not love, the harsh and powerful traits of republicanism.
Power in every shape, grace and beauty in all conditions, are the objects of genuine art; and although the great artist may be inclined, by the necessity of art itself, to a study and a veneration of antiquity, he will always, as a creator and a producer -as the precursor of new forms and new conditions of society, be himself, and in himself, a freeman; in a certain sense a republican, subject to no laws, but those of nature and of divinity.
In noticing this characteristic of the latest writers of fiction, that their works are made the vehicle of certain political, and sometimes of religious ideas, we do not mean to speak to their disparagement, or to place them in unfavorable contrast with their predecessors: we can see no reason why the powerful idea of individual freedom, or of that pride which tramples under foot the formal distinctions of rank and riches, should not become as powerful an idea, as powerful a means of giving unity and body (character) to a work of art, and as capable, in the variety of its development, of fixing the attention and rousing the spirit of a reader, as that social honor and youthful generosity which forms the moral staple and vivifying principle in the novels of Fielding and Smollet. Nor are are the characters of our modern novels the only characters in fiction in whom this trait of freedom and pride of spirit is made the means of elevating imagination, and exciting the sympathy of the reader. What but this same is the moral stuff out of which the Prometheus of Eschylus is made? What but this in the Satan of Milton, and the Antigone of Sophocles, the Orestes and the Iphigenia of Goethe, under different forms, and with different catastrophes in all, joined now with virtues, now with vices, sometimes tempered with humility and sympathy, sometimes harsh, cruel, isolated, and rebellious? Yet, in all, one and the same, and imparting to the reader in all a feeling, a secret conviction of the dignity and liberty of the individual; of man in his objective and separate individuality, setting at defiance the opposition
of nature, of fate, of society, and even of Divinity itself.
The introduction of this principle as the staple of our current literature, seems to us, we repeat it, to be its distinguishing mark, as its introduction into politics is the distinguishing mark of the century, compared with those which precede it in the historical series.
It is very possible that many of our readers even among the judicious and the thoughtful, may be inclined to charge us with a spirit of generalization too little discriminating, when they find us pairing the Antigone of Sophocles with the Satan of Milton; though their prejudices will perhaps make less difficulty in classing the insolent gentlemen of D'Israeli, with him who led his rebel angels to storm the battlements of Heaven. Perhaps they will not smile at us if we even claim for Milton's Satan, the place of bon ton, the leadership among the heroes of insolence; for surely a more magnificent gentleman never trod the carpets of Olympus; and had his enemy been a Jupiter, instead of a Lord of Hosts, according to the Hebrew idea, the threat of Abdiel might have been no prophecy, and Satan have been now a successor of Jove.
We say that we do not mean to disparage the novelists of our time, by comparing them with the Smollets, Fieldings, and Richardsons; on the contrary, we obliged to admit, with their admirers, that however inferior in the style and manner of their works, they exhibit greater knowledge, a wider reach of thought, a more prophetic spirit, if we may be allowed the expression, a more reflective and conscious representation of the age in which they live, than any that have gone before them; above all, the principle from which they write, is itself, no doubt, of greater value and effect in moving the passions and determining the moral course of the readers over whom they acquire power.
The readers of Byron, D'Israeli, Bulwer, and George Sand, are in a manner morally shaped by these authors, and whatever of individual pride, or of discontent with their own inferior condition, may have existed in them, is developed, strengthened, and made motive in them, by the reading of their favorite authors. The church may preach humility, the law may thunder obedience,
formal society may frown disapprobation; it is all in vain, while the spirit is roused, and the appetite sharpened, by the reading of such authors.
The lower class of these writers, and who catch their spirit from the few superior intellects, busy themselves with stirring up the poor and the ignorant against the rich and the powerful. Shops for the sale of cheap publications supply the masses of the people with inferior novels; while the theatres give only such dramatic exhibitions, such vaudevilles and melodramas, as impress the poor, the uneducated, and the undisciplined, with a feeling of self-estimation, set off by a hatred of every species of control that does not emanate from the will of the individual himself. The one great lesson which all read, is, that the spontaneous sentiment, the agreeable impulse of the moment, the dictate of the heart, unassisted by reason, or by considerations of the general good, is the great and truly divine law. In these productions, we are taught to admire the most violent exhibitions of passion, if they are sanctioned by a momentary feeling of compassion. Weakness, in itself despicable, is made a merit.
The lower orders of literary productions, in every age, are but exaggerated imitations of their betters of the same age. Thus the inferior play-writers of Shakspeare's and Ben Jonson's day, exaggerate the characteristics of Shakspeare and Jonson. Instead of courage, their heroes have only ferocity; the generous faults of youth degenerate into libertinism; freedom of conversation becomes grossness of language; and ladies and gentlemen are made to talk like sharpers and kitchen maids. Still more remarkable are the exaggerations of the play-writers of the school of Congreve. With these dramatists the gentleman is absolutely confounded with the roué and the court sponge and so, in our day, we have our Byron, our Carlysle, and our D'Israeli, flashing gleams of the most brilliant virtues through their pages, which the inferior imitator, imitating coarsely, daubs in colors of blood.
Respectable people are probably, in general, but little aware of the enormous quantity of pamphlet fiction that is poured from the press, and overflows the entire continent. Dozens of novels appear at the be
ginning of the month; and at the end of it begin already to be forgotten. As far as we have examined them, they have the one tone of sentimentality, and that characteristic of the age, the setting at defiance, or the eluding of moral restraint. Attending these and flying side by side with them, go forth innumerable moral tales; good stories for good children, and that anomaly in literature, religious novels, a species of writings which endeavor to amuse us while they scourge us-a mixture of roses and thunder, in which, if the thunder is heard the roses are not seen, and if the roses are perceived the thunder is not heard.
To quarrel with a weak character for producing a weak novel,-to be angry with an immoral author because his works reflect himself, would be an equal injustice and folly while the age is ferocious, corrupt, and revolutionary, that is to say, while great numbers of men, more or less educated, and talented men, are wicked, corrupt, and chaotic in their own lives, no censorship of the press, nor refinement of public opinion, can do more than enforce a certain outward propriety and decency of expression. It were folly, indeed, in the moralist to run a tilt against writers, because they paint, in lively colors, the fooleries and insanities of human nature, without adding that compensation of moral dignity, that glimpse of reason which ensures the immortality of the truly great writer. How can it be otherwise with them? The weak hand cannot lift the heavy weight. Where there is merely wit, intellect and imagination in the man, there will be merely wit, intellect and imagination sporting in his work, and not a vestige will appear there of qualities which have neither force nor place in him. When the etherial blue is taken from the beam of white light, the beam is of a heated orange color, glaring and monotonous; and when the moral tone is absent from the genius of a writer, the color of his work lacks softness and atmosphere-it is raw, hot, coarse, monotonous.
When, on the other hand, the warm stain of passion is discharged from the work, and the proper mediocrity of yellow diffused over it, it is both cold and uninviting. It is unnecessary, after forcing the figure so far, to add that a perfect work of fiction will carry in its effect as well the
one color as the other; that the one will be only locally and momentarily distinguishable from the other; that the catastrophe of the work will be a justification both of nature and of reason, not separately, but together.
Each passion and faculty, in its natural sphere, is just and perfect; but as human nature is a combination of many faculties, and shows the play of many passions, there is required a governing power to restrain and keep them at their duty. How shall the novelist obtain immortality, if he is himself a mass of corrupt desires and ungoverned passions; or how can he impart to a story the color of experiences of which his life, and even his imagination are void?
Have we then discovered the true secret of immortality in authorship? the secret even of a respectable popularity only? Such is our conviction. There are living writers in America whose style of English is at times, perhaps, more pure and harmonious than Addison's; but because they have not the moral element, the power, which merely to name, destroys its value in a work of art, because they have not that secret regulative principle in themselves, or in their works, neither they nor their writings shall ever be respectable, much less immortal.
What quality is it that so charms us in the writings of Irving and Addison, of Goldsmith and Lamb? Is it merely the humour of these writers, the smoothness of their style, or the subject on which they write? Certainly it is not the choice of subject which gives them their charm, for we delight most in them when they were handling the most ridiculous subjects, and describing the most contemptible charac
The characters described by Goldsmith, in the Vicar of Wakefield, do not inspire as much respect, though they are drawn as gentlemen and ladies, as some of Dickens' grotesque delineations. The art of Goldsmith, or rather the moral power of Goldsmith, employing the literary art as its instrument, sets forth the faults and even the rogueries of his characters, when they have any character-for sometimes like the libertine squire in the Vicar of Wakefield, they are mere Whiskerandos, such men of straw, as every novelist must use-in a