Abbildungen der Seite

homage of an artist, — he is the last man to be unconscious of the bounds of his own nature, or to struggle against them. It even pleases him to exaggerate the phlegmatic temperament, and the incapacity to dazzle and captivate, of that imaginary observer of men and manners, — Mr. Spec, or Mr. Brown, or the Fat Contributor, - behind whose masks he hides his own penetrating eyes. It is a “fogy” who paints the tender pas. sion in those soft and glowing colors; the chivalrous ardor with which Mr. Solomon Pacifico talks of Erminia is nothing more than that respectful admiration with which, in his youth, it was the custom to speak of every charming woman. It is with the manners of an earlier generation that he affects to be most familiar. He often speaks of the period when he himself was young, ardent, and enthusiastic, as one which belongs to a distant past, and sometimes assigns to it the date of 1812. Are then the biographical dictionaries all at fault, which inform us that Thackeray, W. M., was born in 1811; and had he already assumed the toga virilis, and become the victim of Miss Emily Blenkinsop's charms, at a time when the statement of the said dictionaries would lead us to inser that he was only a baby in long clothes? We suspect it is not age, but premature wisdom that has checked the swift current of his blood; for this tone is not peculiar to his later works, but belongs also to those which were written fifteen years ago. The season of illusion, it would seem, was a short one with him. He had not paid many visits to the theatre when he discovered that the ballet girls were not fairies; and if he still recollects Miss B.'s dimples and smiles, it is because real beauty and goodness leave a glow in the heart long after its fevers are all over.

But if Thackeray's character wants the polish and brilliancy of Fielding's, the intrinsic qualities of the metal are, it must be owned, superior. Fielding was a man of generous impulses, who tasted to the day of his death the bitter fruits of self-indulgence. Thackeray's heart is not less noble; but he is inured to the discipline of self-denial, and wears in the bid. den shrine of his conscience the laurel of self-conquest. If he has not escaped the taint of that speculative spirit which questions further than reason can reply, this is but a

necessary stage in the development of a thoughtful and earnest mind. But his will is too robust, the energies of life are too strong within him, to yield to the benumbing influence of speculation. He shakes off the fatal lethargy; and the doubt which he cannot satisfy by argument he dissipates by action. On the whole, there could not be a greater contrast than between the buoyant Fielding, draining the sweet cup that life holds to his lips, - reckless of “next morning's" headache, and of the sharp necessities that follow unthrift, and the melancholy, but strong and self-sustaining Thackeray, who feels the general woe, and fights bravely in the common cause of humanity.

Such a man has a right to look the world boldly in the face. And surely no eye was ever keener, no speech ever franker, than Thackeray's. The heart of every reader of his works confesses his insight into its most secret emotions. And yet it is not in sounding the depths of the soul that his peculiar and unrivalled excellence lies, but in noting all the external indications of character, in seizing, with a comprehensive glance, the multifarious and minute peculiarities of habit or appearance, by which thought and feeling betray themselves to a penetrating gaze. He is the greatest of observers. In the masquerade of Vanity Fair he recognizes every one; the choice of the disguise betrays the wearer, or the manner in which it is worn. No man watches with such vigilance the by-play of life. The petty artifices of vanity, the covert leers of slander and envy, the insolent courtesies of varnished vulgarity, the stolen glances of timid affection, the unbreathed sighs of patient suffering, - all these he surprises on their passage, and interprets as if by intuition. He sees the soul, not naked, but draped in the customs and formulas of artificial life; and he points out how awkwardly the garments fit, and what a sorry figure it is that struts about before the admiring crowd, padded with honors and dignities, or, it may be, with virtue and respectability. He is not a detective officer, who follows a criminal to his secret haunts, and drags his dark deeds to light. It is while engaged in his open and regular pursuits and amusements, at dinner, in the theatre, while reading the newspapers, or driving in the park, that the suspected VOL. LXXVII.


NO. 160.

party is under our author's surveillance. By the appearance and the manner, at such times, - the dress, the gesture, the traitorous communications of the quivering lip or knitted brow,- he reads the emotion and deciphers the thought. To be an adept in this mystery, — to be able to discover character by those “ trifles light as air” that distinguish one man from another, or the same man from himself at a different time, in actions and habits common to all, - requires a knowledge of those rninute details of art and science which have so much to do with men's appearance and behavior. For example, if you would qualify yourself for the observation of human nature in a fashionable sphere, you must first obtain a competent knowledge of dress, gastronomy, and etiquette. It is evident that these have been with Thackeray matters of especial study. He knows the table of precedence at every court in Europe, from imperial Versailles to high-transparent Pumpernickel; he has confidential interviews with the distinguished chef of the “ Sarcophagus ;” and his acquaintance with the minutiæ of costume is extensive, historical, and precise. His familiarity with all the points of female attire, the command he shows of the vocabulary of the mercer, the dressmaker, and the modiste, confound the male reader, and appall the ladies.

Thackeray, therefore, unlike most novelists, never makes us acquainted with his personages by unveiling the process of their thoughts, taking up the train with the event that suggests it, and following it down to the act that results from it. He reverses this order, — exhibits the action, and then points to the delicate thread which connects it with the motive. If he sits beside the Misses Twigg at the play, and those young ladies, as well as their chaperon, Mrs. Captain Flathers, suddenly whisk away the neat little bouquets, which they have just before been exhibiting with considerable pride, and trample them under their feet, or cover them with their handkerchiefs, he glances around, and presently the secret of this disturbance comes to light. The Misses Cutbush have just entered the opposite box, with bouquets like little haystacks; and the small nosegays, which had quite satisfied their fair rivals until now, have become odious in their jealous little eyes. Such instances as this exemplify one of Thackeray's chief peculiarities. He draws our attention to some little incident, and then by innuendo, rather than explanation, points out the trait which it illustrates. This is very different from the manner of Fielding, who delights to watch a thought or an emotion as it rises in the mind, to trace it through all its eddies, and to follow it to its confluence with other feelings, or until it is absorbed into action. We shall quote a single example from Tom Jones. The gamekeeper, “ Black George,” who is under great obligations to Tom, has found and appropriated a purse containing five hundred pounds, which the heedless foundling received from Mr. Allworthy when dismissed from his house, and lost on his way across the fields. Subsequently, George is the bearer of sixteen guineas, which Sophia sends to her lover.

“ Black George, having received the purse, set forward towards the alehouse; but in the way a thought occurred to him, whether he should not detain this money likewise. His conscience, however, immediately started at this suggestion, and began to upbraid him with ingratitude to his benefactor. To this his avarice answered, that his conscience should have considered the matter before, when he deprived poor Jones of his five hundred pounds ; — that having quietly acquiesced in what was of so much greater importance, it was absurd, if not downright hypocrisy, to affect any qualms at this trifle. In return to which, Conscience, like a good lawyer, attempted to distinguish between an absolute breach of trust, as here where the goods were delivered, and a bare concealment of what was found, as in the former case. Avarice presently treated this with ridicule, called it a distinction without a difference, and absolutely insisted, that when once all pretensions of honor and virtue were given up in any one instance, that there was no precedent for resorting to them upon a second occasion. In short, poor Conscience had certainly been defeated in the argument, had not Fear stepped in to her assistance, and very strenuously urged, that the real distinction between the two actions did not lie in the different degrees of honor, but of safety; for that the secreting the five hundred pounds was a matter of very little hazard, whereas the detaining the sixteen guineas was liable to the utmost danger of discovery. By this friendly aid of Fear, Conscience obtained a complete victory in the mind of Black George; and after making him a few compliments on his honesty, forced him to deliver the money to Jones.”

Fielding, as we see, exercises over his characters an abso

lute right of property. He establishes himself in the inmost recesses of their minds, and displays the secret thoughts which no conjecture founded on action could have revealed. Thackeray takes no such unfair advantage of the offspring of his imagination. Having placed them before us, he retires among the spectators, and discovers more than the rest of us, not because his position is better, but because his sight is keener. We open one of his books, as we enter a company of strangers. What we first notice is their outward appearance — their features and dress, their occupations and their peculiarities of action; and on these observations we found our conjectures as to their characters. Major Pendennis is disclosed, seated at his breakfast-table in a club-house in Pall Mall. His boots are the best blacked in all London ; his linen is spotless; his buff waistcoat bears the crown of his sovereign on the buttons; he wears a checked cravat, which will not be rumpled till dinner time; and his coat, his white gloves, his whiskers, his very cane, are "perfect of their kind, as specimens of the costume of a military man en rétraite." At a distance you would take him to be not more than thirty years old; but, on a nearer inspection, the factitious nature of his rich brown hair appears, and you notice “ a few crows'. feet round the somewhat faded eyes of his handsome mottled face.” On that table — “by the fire and yet near the window", which by prescriptive right is now his own, his letters are laid out, the seals and franks of which excite the wonder of the younger habitués of the club. While the waiters bring him his toast and his hot newspaper, he surveys his letters through his gold double eye-glass, which he carries so gaily, you would hardly know it was spectacles in disguise. One letter, marked " Immediate,” in a pretty, delicate, female hand, he puts under the slop-basin, to be read after he has disposed of the notes of invitation from the Marquis of Steyne, the Bishop of Ealing, &c., &c. When at length the humbler epistle obtains an audience, the major's countenance assumes such an expression of rage and horror that Glowry, the surgeon, who has been watching him with ill-concealed envy while he read the letters with the large seals and the franks, thinks his respected friend is going into a fit, and

« ZurückWeiter »