Lapas attēli
PDF
ePub

genius !” The incident is a trifle, but it will reveal, we suspect, an element of fervor, as well as a heartiness of frankness in recording the fervor, both equally at variance with the vulgar conception of him.-From "A Brief Memoir of the iate Mr. Thackeray" (1864).

[merged small][ocr errors]

OOKING at Mr. Thackeray's writings as a whole, he

would be more truthfully described as a sentimen

alist than as a cynic. Even when the necessities of his story compel him to draw bad characters, he gives them as much good as he can. We don't remember in his novels any utterly unredeemed scoundrel except Sir Francis Clavering. Even Lord Steyne has something like genuine sympathy with Major Pendennis's grief at the illness of his nephew. And if reproof is the main burden of his discourse, we must remember that to reprove, not to praise, is the business of the preacher. Still further, if his reproof appears sometimes unduly severe, we must remember that such severity may spring from a belief that better things are possible. Here lies the secret of Thackeray's seeming bitterness. His nature was, in the words of the critic in "Le Temps." "furicise d'avoir été désappointé.” He condemns sternly men as they often are, because he had a high ideal of what they might be. The feeling of this contrast runs through all his writings. "He could not have painted 'Vanity Fair' as he has, unless Eden had been shining brightly before his eyes." And this contrast could never have been felt, the glories of Eden could never have been seen, by the mere satirist or by the misanthrope. It has often been urged against him that he does not make us think better of our fellow men. No, truly. But he does what is far greater than this—he makes us think worse of ourselves. There is no great necessity that we should think well of other people; there

Essays hy George Brinley. Second Edition. Cambridge, 1860. A col. lection of singularly good critical papers.

is the utmost necessity that we should know ourselves in our every fault and weakness; and such knowledge his writings will supply-From "Thackeray's Literary Career," in "Spare Hours" (1866).

III

By HIPPOLYTE ADOLPHE TAINE

N

O writer was better gifted than Thackeray for this

kind of satire because no faculty is more proper to

satire than reflection. Reflection is concentrated attention, and concentrated attention increases a hundred-fold the force and duration of emotions. He who is immersed in the contemplation of a vice, feels a hatred of vice, and the intensity of his hatred is measured by the intensity of his contemplation. At first anger is a generous wine, which intoxicates and excites; when preserved and shut up, it becomes a a liquor burning all that it touches, and corroding even the vessel which contains it. Of all satirists, Thackeray, after Swift, is the most gloomy. Even his countrymen have reproached him with depicting the world uglier than it is. Indignation, grief, scorn, disgust, are his ordinary senti

When he digresses, and imagines tender souls, he exaggerates their sensibility, in order to render their oppression more odious. The selfishness which wounds them appears horrible, and their resigned sweetness is a mortal insult to their tyrants: it is the same hatred which has calculated the kindliness of the victims and the harshness of the persccutors.'

This anger, exasperated by reflection, is also armed by reflection. It is clear that the author is not carried away by passing indignation or pity. He has mastered himself before speaking. He has often weighed the rascality which he is about to describe. He is in possession of the motives, species, results, as a naturalist is of his classifications. He is sure of his judgment, and has matured it. He punishes like a man convinced, who has before him a heap of proofs,

1 See the character of Amelia in "Vanity Fair," and of Colonel Newcome in "The Newcoines."

who advances nothing without a document or an argument, who has foreseen all objections and refuted all excuses, who will never pardon, who is right in being inflexible, who is conscious of his justice, and who rests his sentence and his vengeance on all the powers of mediation and equity. The effect of this justified and contained hatred is overwhelming. When we have read to the end of Balzac's novels, we feel the pleasure of a naturalist walking through a museum, past a fine collection of specimens and monstrosities. When we have read to the end of Thackeray, we feel the shudder of a stranger brought before a mattress in the operating-room of an hospital, on the day when cautery is applied or a limb is taken off.

In such a case the snost natural weapon is serious irony, because it bears witness to concentrated hatred: he who employs it suppresses his first feeling: he feigns to be speaking against himself, and constrains himself to take the part of his adversary. On the other hand, this painful and voluntary attitude is the sign of excessive scorn; the protection which apparently is afforded to an enemy is the worst of insults. The author secms to say: “I am ashamed to attack you; you are so weak that, even supported, you must fall; your reasonings are your shame, and your excuses are your condemnation.” Thus the more serious the irony, the stronger it is; the more you take care to defend your adversary, the more you degrade him; the more you seem to aid liim, the more you crush him. This is why Swift's grave sarcasm is so terrible; we think he is showing respect, and he slays; his approbation is a flagellation. Amongst Swift's pupils, Thackeray is the first.

One step added to serious irony leads us to serious caricature. Here, as before, the author pleads the rights of his neighbor; the only difference is, that he pleads them with too much warmth; it is insult upon insult. Under this head it abounds in Thackeray. Some of his grotesques are outrageous: for instance, M. Alcide de Mirobolant, a French cook, an artist in sauces, who declares his passion to Miss Blanche through the medium of symbolic dishes, and thinks himself a gentleman; Mrs. Major O'Dowd, a sort of female grenadier, the most pompous and talkative of Irishwomen, bent on ruling the regiment, and marrying the bachelors will they nill they; Miss Briggs, an old companion born to receive insults, to make phrases and to shed tears; the Doctor, who proves to his scholars who write bad Greek, that habitual idleness and bad construing lead to the gallows. These calculated deformities only excite a sad smile. We always perceive behind the oddity of the character the sardonic air of the painter, and we conclude that the human race is base and stupid. Other figures less exaggerated, are not more natural. We see that the author throws them expressly into palpable follies and marked contradictions. Such is Miss Crawley, an old maid, without any morals, and a free-thinker, who praises unequal marriages, and falls into a fit when on the next page her nephew makes one; who calls Rebecca Sharp her equal, and at the same time bids her "put some coals on the fire;" who, on learning the departure of her favorite, cries with despair, "Gracious goodness, and who's to make my chocolate?" These are comedy scenes, and not pictures of manners.--From "History of English Literature," translated by H. Van Laun (1864-65).

IV
By William SAMUEL LILLY

I

SHALL inquire, presently, of what kind Thackeray's philosophy of life was. First let me say what it was not.

There are those Taine is among them—who find him a misanthrope; a charge which, hy the way, was brought against Balzac. The accusation seems to me wholly unjust in both cases. To speak of Thackeray merely, he drew the world around him, as he saw it, extenuating nothing, but, assuredly, setting down nothing in malice. He saw clearly enough--as who that has eyes must not see?—the seamy side of society: its littleness, its meanness, its selfishness, its baseness, its false religionism, its secret impurities-in a word which sums all up, its worldliness. I remember hearing a very learned and pious divine, the late Father Dalgairns, once tell a particularly smart congregation, "society is the devil's church.” I do not know whether Thackeray would have gone as far as that. Certainly, however, "Vanity Fair" might stand as the title of every one of his books. But clearly as he saw, and vividly as he painted, the seamy side of society, he was no misanthrope, as Taine fancies. He saw with equal clcarness, and painted with equal vividness, the truth and incorruptness, the purity and goodness, the love and pity which exist side by side with the abounding evil. He discerned in these things the real goods of human existence, and felt for them that reverence which Ruskin has happily called "the chief joy and power of life." Taine seems to me particularly unhappy in calling him a disciple of Swift. In my judgment there is hardly anything in common between his genial humor and the sacva indignatio, the savage wrath, of that arch-inquisitor of human nature. Pungent as his satire often was, the man was overflowing with the milk of human kindness. “If Fun is good, Truth is still better, and Love is the best of all," are the words with which he concludes his “Book of Snobs." They seem to me an accurate expression of his mind.

Again, I cannot agree with Taine in his complaint--which has been made by hundreds of others that the good people in Thackeray, if I may so call them, are contemptible and uninteresting. Colonel Newcome, George Warrington, nay, even Arthur Pendennis, particularly interest me as admirable specimens of what I take to be the best kind of man now extant on this planet, the English gentleman. And then his women, his good wornen. Surely Amelia Sedley is the very type of all that is "pure womanly": Laura, in her "finished chasten'd purity,” “the queen of marriage;" while in Ethel Newcome we have "a perfect woman, nobly planned. to guide, to counsel, and command." Thackeray, happily, lived at a time before the strong-minded woman had come into fashion-at a time when it was generally received and believed that "woman is not undeveloped man, but diverse."

But I am treading on dangerous ground. Let me go on to notice another of Taine's complaints of Thackeray, whom he finds a cynic. The complaint is echoed by thousands, by hundreds of thousands. I confess it seems to me that those who make it, speak unadvisedly with their lips; that they have not realized what a cynic is. I find no cynicism in

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »