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of the term. It takes the elements of humanity, and combines them in such a manner as to produce a new individual, essentially different from other beings, yet containing nothing which clashes with the principles of human nature. Who believes, that a character exactly like Macbeth or Miranda ever existed; yet who ever thought they were unnatural? In fact, these ideal beings are as true existences to the soul, as any friends or enemies whom we see bodily. They are more real than most of the names of persons which we read in history. We quote their sayings, and refer to their actions, as if they were living beings. They are objects to us of love or hate. We take sides for or against them, in all their principles and actions. We forget the author in his creations.
The delineation of character, in which observation, reflection, and imagination are variously exercised, is also a high merit in a poet or novelist. English literature contains many authors who have evinced great skill in the use of this power, and it is indispensable to the novelist of real life. The Vicar of Wakefield, Parson Adams, Squire Western, Rob Roy, Baillie Nicol Jarvie, and Tony Weller are names taken at random, but they are all living beings. They are our friends from the moment we make their acquaintance. Has Mr. James added one to this company? Has he delineated a single character which is wedded to our memories? Yet few authors have written more novels ; and his volumes are filled with more names of persons than would suffice for a chronological table to a universal history,
He has certain types of character, which he generally reproduces in each successive novel. And here we would do Mr. James complete justice. He has an exact sense of moral distinctions, and his personages, though not strictly individuals, are walking essays on character, replete with instruction, and displaying some analytical skill. His hero is generally brave, loving, noble in mind and heart, combining reflection with action, and is a fit model for imitation, if we except the number of men he slays in the course of the story. As he does this, however, in a perfectly chivalrous way, and is justified in it by the usages of the times in which the person is supposed to live, we hardly think that even the peace societies would take much exception to the practice. The moral tone of thought and action is generally high and true. The heroine is always idealized into something which is neither spirit, nor flesh and blood. We perceive that the author has an exalted feeling of the beauty of woman's character, and has a desire to represent it in concrete, so that it will strike forcibly upon the heart, and be garnered in the memory ; but he fails in his purpose. His women, like his men, are ideas and feelings embodied. They are constructed, not created, or painted ; built, not drawn. They do not stand boldly from the canvass. They are, to our minds, reflections on female character, like those we read in the 6 Rambler." We are told by the author, that they act, suffer, love, and hate ; but we do not find it out for ourselves. His heroine is so beatified with description, that she loses all hold upon sympathy. Die Vernon and Jeanie Deans whisper in our hearts, that she does not strictly belong to the sex. She is a beautiful icicle, flushed with the sun's tints, and having the appearance, but not the reality, of warmth. She is a frail, delicate, lovely, unreal creature, whom we praise and admire, as we do all that is good and beautiful. We hope that she will get safely through all her troubles — that her health will not be injured by mental distress or outward accident and that she will in the end be happily married. She is “ A Young Lady's Guide,” walking “from the covers.” Now all this, we repeat, is “from the purpose" of novel
" writing. If we compare one of Mr. James's heroines either with a fine creation, like Desdemona, or a natural delineation, like Sophia Western, or a purely ideal portrait, like Shelley's Cythna, we perceive, that he fails in each and every department of the creation and portraiture of character. She is neither the reality, nor the possibility, of woman.
Connected with these names of good persons, there is generally a scoundrel. The mechanical nature of Mr. James's mind is shown more in the construction of his wicked personages, than in anything else. His rascal is an unmitigated rascal. He takes the idea of a man with a sharp intellect and great capacity, whose whole nature is under the dominion of selfish passion, -- gives the idea a name, and intermingles it with the machinery of his plot. This criminal appears regularly in every novel, and labors assiduously to overthrow the hero and heroine. He is something like Gammon, in “ Ten Thousand a Year." He has the advantage over goodness, until nearly the end of the volume, and is then dismissed to proper punishment. This type
of character is the most forcible of the author's attempts; but Rashleigh Osbaldistone, or Varney, throws it into the shade. Whenever Mr. James aims to draw humorous persons, to fill in the spaces of his narrative, he never succeeds, not even in making them say witty or humorous things.
We might extend these remarks to other personages in our author's novels; but it is needless. If we are correct in the view we have taken, it is proved, that Mr. James, in several high qualities of romance, is deficient. Yet he is compared, by many of his admirers, with Scott. Their reasoning to support so singular a conjunction must be drawn from the stores of honest Fluellen. Mr. James chooses historical events as the basis or auxiliary of his plot, and pours forth novels as other men do essays ; Sir Walter Scott did the same ; therefore, they bear a surprising resemblance to each other as novelists. This is the old argument ; “ There is a mountain in Wales, and there is a mountain in Macedon.” In truth, no two writers have less in common, in the essentials of their art, than Scott and James. Scott's marvellous range of character, the fertility with which he created or painted individual beings, his genial sympathy with his race, his remarkable objectivity of mind, his open sense to all outward objects, would alone constitute a great gulf between him and James. He did not repeat himself in his novels. He wrote fast, because his mind produced quickly. In the poorest of his novels, he always gives us some characters whom we ever remember with pleasure. Mr. James's knowledge of history, great as it is, and much as he draws upon it, is used without any of the peculiar power of imagination with which Scott gave life and hue to what were before mere names, and made his readers contemporaries with the past. A king, a man-at-arms, or a tournament, delineated by the author of " Waverley,” is presented to our minds as vividly as real personages or events, which have passed before our own eyes.
To this pictorial imagination Mr. James has little claim. He gives to his scenes the vividness of history, not that of reality, or romance.
A writer who chooses great subjects and personages for his themes often obtains that rank in general estimation, which should be held only by those who treat them with eminent ability. Mr. James is considered by many to be a greater man than Mr. Dickens, because he delineates kings and nobles ; describes battles ; shows a minute acquaintance
; with history ; makes all his characters mathematically moral or immoral ; strains ever to obtain a certain stilted elevation of thought and sentiment ; is careful never to wound the most fastidious delicacy with any words which may convey or suggest unpleasant and vulgar images; and speculates dubiously on government, nature, the arts, religion, and destiny. We are quite sick of hearing him praised for his attempts, instead of being judged by his execution. One of Mr. Dickens's coachmen is more worthy of admiration than one of Mr. James's kings. A cardinal, or a pope, may be a loftier personage than a poor parish priest ; to delineate the former, “ from the heart outwards, and not from the flesh inwards," may be a greater triumph of art than to succeed in portraying the latter ; but still Parson Adams “ bears the gree" from all the clerical dignitaries of romance. The nature of the man should not be confounded with his name or his garb. To call a personage a bishop, and to represent him in the dress of his order, is not to delineate a bishop. Beneath all externals, there are a human heart and brain, and an individuality distinguishing him from every other bishop. To exhibit him dramatically, either in play or novel, it is indispensable that these characteristics should be preserved.
It may be asked, why it is, if Mr. James is thus deficient in the higher qualities of the novelist, that his works are so popular. Are they not read and admired by thousands? They are read, admired, and forgotten. They are not read a second time. By the time one has passed from the memory, another flows into it, which, in its turn, gives place to a third. No characters or incidents adhere to the mind, and become to it a possession for ever. After we have studied them all, we find that they have only given us general ideas, or furnished us with historical knowledge. We love and remember none of his personages for themselves alone. They are all insensibly resolved into their original abstractions. We recollect one of his few types of character, as we remember a proposition in Combe's
Constitution of Man."
But it may still be asked, Whence comes it, that his novels are read at all? We might here avail ourselves of a New England privilege, and answer this question with another equally pertinent. Why are the productions of fanaticism, quackery, bad taste, and sentimentality read ? Why do melodramas draw larger audiences than “ Macbeth "? But we have no wish to evade difficulties, by insisting strongly on the rights derived from our local position. We answer, therefore, by acknowledging, that, though the test of merit is not success, yet there must be some reason in the construction of a popular book, to account for its popularity; and in Mr. James's case, this public favor is owing to the intricacy and interest of his plots.
The incidents in his novels are brought together with much cunning and skill. Every person who begins one of his books desires to get through it as quickly as possible. To many this may appear the highest praise, and to settle the question at once. To us, it does not so appear. Although the power of creating incident, and of skilfully linking one event to another, is an important element of a good novel, yet it is not the most important, nor is it one in which Mr. James enjoys preēminence. When we discover the secret of his method of story-building, our admiration decreases greatly. We acknowledge, that his novels are interesting, that they awaken and fix attention ; but we discriminate be
; tween the kind of interest they excite, and the interest of “ Tom Jones” or “ Ivanhoe."
; We perceive that his plots are pieces of machinery, constructed according to the laws of mathematics. Their intricacy, and not their naturalness, is the source of their hold upon our minds. The characters seem not to have free play. They are puppets, moved by the scheming brain of the author. We know that the hero and heroine will enjoy no felicity or peace until the conclusion of the third volume, and we hasten to the consummation as fast as our eyes can carry us.
The world to which we are introduced is not a free, common world, where there are chances in favor both of vice and virtue ; but a fenced
; park, full of man-traps and spring guns. A sort of iron necessity conducts every thing. We do not feel ourselves safe, until we have come to the conclusion. A sort of feverish, unhealthy excitement is the feeling we experience as we read. There is always some murder, forgery, or other VOL. LVIII. No. 123.