« iepriekšējāTurpināt »
but a philosophy clothed in the language and embodied in the living forms of art. Both feel the burdens and obligations laid upon those who in our modern time think deeply or feel acutely, and both, in harmony with its analytic and questioning spirit, are constrained not only to depict but to moralize, to search into the
motives and the consequences of conduct, to analyze the subtle constitution of the soul. George Eliot was a scholar, but she was still more emphatically a student of life. It is life itself as she has seen it and known it, in the farmhouse or the field, life in the formative experiences of her own soul, which affords her the material for her thought. "I have always thought,"
she writes, “that the most fortunate Britons are those whose experience has given them a practical share in many aspects of the national lot; who have lived among the mixed commonalty, roughing it with them under difficulties, knowing how their food tastes to them, and getting acquainted with their notions and motives, not by inference, from traditional types in literature, or from philosophic theories, but from daily fellowship and observation.” George Eliot herself was such a “fortunate Briton," and her work, like that of Shakespeare, ' of Burns, of Carlyle, and of Dickens, rests securely on her sympathetic understanding of the daily life of man. The truth of her insight into the most ordinary and, as we might consider them, commonplace lives, her tenderness for them, her perception of the pathos and the wonder of their narrow world, is one of the finest traits in her character and her art. In her earliest story, after telling us that the Rev. Amos Barton, whose fortunes she is describing, was “palpably and unmistakably commonplace,” she goes on to speak of commonplace people in words which may be taken as a text of all her work. The large majority of our fellow-creatures, she declares, are "simply men of complexions more or less muddy, whose conversation is more or less bald and disjointed. Yet these commonplace people many of them bear a conscience, and have felt the sublime prompting to do the painful right; they have their unspoken sorrows and their sacred joys; their hearts have perhaps gone out toward their first-born, and they have mourned over the irreclaimable dead. Nay, is there not a pathos in their very insignificance — in our comparison of their dim and narrow existence with the glorious possibilities of that human nature which they share ?"
Here is that democratic spirit of human brotherhood of which we have so often spoken, uttering itself again through literature. Reflecting on these words, we measure again the distance that the England of Victoria has traveled from the England of Pope. It is not enough for us to appreciate that George Eliot shows us ordinary people under ordinary conditions; others have done this. Her distinction is that she feels and makes us feel a something in ordinary lives which before was not apparent. Perhaps when he looks into his own soul no man truly deems himself commonplace. George Eliot gives us such a glimpse into the souls of others. Hence her characters are substantial, living people, filling us with an intense sense of reality. Looking into our own lives we know that their secret vicissitudes are true.
The center of greatest interest in each of these novels is the soul's struggle between right and wrong. Ву the subtlest touch the author draws aside the veil that hides our inmost selves sometimes even from our own knowledge — and, with an insight that is frequently startling, shows us how temptation, at first repelled, gradually and insidiously disintegrates our moral being. Her novels show the process whereby the little hole in the dykes of conscience slowly and imperceptibly widens until at last it lets in the overwhelming flood of disaster and retribution. For human weakness in the presence of temptation, this student of conscience has abundant compassion, but she insists upon the stern obligation to sacrifice our pleasure to the common good. Yet this sacrifice is insisted on by George Eliot, not because of an earthly peace a future reward; right-doing is often a hard thing; wrong-doing is often a pleasant and an easy thing;
but "because right is right," we are to follow it "in scorn of consequence.”
Such a moral tone is both lofty and in the highest degree austere and uncompromising. Not only are the inexorable claims of duty constantly forced home to us, but in the performance of duty George Eliot recognized no divine helper; she is strengthened by no hope of a reward hereafter. The individual loses that the race may gain. Such doctrines place her with the great moral teachers of her century, but render her books preëminently exacting and almost somber. “My books,” she writes, “are deeply serious things to me, and come out of all the painful discipline, all the most hardly learned lessons of my past life.” From the literary aspect, perhaps Silas Marner is her most artistically perfect story, and Middlemarch her greatest work. Quite aside from their teaching, it is the art of these great books — their poetic beauty of style, their subtle understanding of the lives of men and women that places them with the great imaginative productions of the literature.
Other Novelists. Among the women novelists of the Victorian period, those of greatest distinction after George Eliot are the three sisters, CHARLOTTE, EMILY, and ANNE BRONTË, the daughters of the parish clergyman of the little Yorkshire village of Haworth. Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) published Jane Eyre in 1847. In the same year Emily Brontë (1818–1848) published Wuthering Heights, a story which in its descriptions of Nature, its somber unreality, and its wild and stirring power, seems, in some respects, the most perfect incarnation of the Brontë genius.
At the farthest remove from the passionate intensity of these works is the placid and soothing tone of The
Warden (1855) by ANTHONY TROLLOPE (1815-1882). In this book Trollope began his restful and marvelously truthful studies of life in an English cathedral town, which he made famous under the name of “Barchester.” WILLIAM WILKIE COLLINS (1824-1889) showed a fertility of invention and great ingenuity in the conception and elaboration of his plots. The Woman in White (1860) and Armadale (1866) must be placed with the most skilfully written and fascinating novels of plot and incident. A little later, J. H. SHORTHOUSE (1834–1903), a scholarly Birmingham manufacturer, won the praise of the cultivated and discerning by the spiritual elevation, subtle thought, and delicate beauty of his John Inglesant (1881), a philosophical romance of the time of Charles I. CHARLES READE (1814–1884) wrote several novels with the express purpose of exposing and correcting contemporary social abuses. In It is Never too Late to Mend (1856) he attacked the English prison system; and in Put Yourself in His Place (1870) criticized the trade-unions. His one romance, The Cloister and the Hearth (1861), a wonderfully careful and minute study of life in Europe in the fifteenth century, has been placed by Swinburne
among the very greatest masterpieces of narration." But the historical romance received greater attention at the hands of CHARLES KINGSLEY (1819–1875). In Hypatia (1853), he found a subject for romance in the Alexandria of the fifth century; in Westward Ho! (1855), he pictured the life of Elizabethan seamen on the Devon coast and the Spanish main; and in Hereward the Wake (1866), he told of the last struggle of the English against their Norman conquerors.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). But while Kingsley's tales of adventure possess a certain charm,