« ZurückWeiter »
TO NOVELISTS_AND A NOVELIST.
“To justify the ways of God to men."
THE history of a human life is a created organism which boasts the prinstrange thing. It is also a somewhat ciple of life—is as noble a being as we. serious thing—to the individual : who Now there is something in us which often feels himself
, or appears to others, will not “say Amen to that.” not unlike the elder-pith figure of an will not die—and die for ever: we will electrical experimentor-vibrating ridi- not while any good remains in us, culously and helplessly between influ- cease to believe in a God, who is all we ences alike invisible and incomprehen- know or can conceive of goodness made sible. What is Life—and what is the perfect. As utterly as we refuse to heart of its mystery? We know not; regard Him as a mere Spirit of Nature, and through Death only can we learn. unto whom our individuality is indifferNevertheless, nothing but the blindest ent and unknown, do we refuse to see in obtuseness of bigotry, the maddest in- Him a Being omniscient as omnipotent, difference of epicureanism—two states who puts us into this awful world withnot so opposite as they at first seem- out our volition, leaves us to struggle can stifle those
through it as we can, and, if we fail,
finally to drop out of it into hell-fire or "Obstinate questionings
annihilation. Is it blasphemy to assert Of sense and onward things,
that, on such a scheme of existence, the Fallings from us, vanishings,
latter only could be consistent with His Blank misgivings of a creature deity ? Moving about in worlds not realized.” No, human as
have something divine to aspire to. It And continually in our passage through is curious to trace this instinct through these “worlds not realized ” _either the all the clouded wisdoms of the wise ; world of passion, or intellect, or beauty how the materialist, who conscientiously -do we lift up our heads from the believes that he believes in nothing, will chaos, straining our eyes to discern, if
on parting bid you “good bye and God possible, where we are, why we are there, bless you !" as if there were really a what we are doing, or what is being done God to bless, that He could bless, and with us, and by whom. Then if we that He would take the trouble to bless think we have caught even the fag end
you. Stand with the most confirmed of a truth or a belief, how eagerly do we infidel by the coffin of one he loved, or sit down and write about it, or mount any coffin, and you will hear him sigh pulpits and preach about it, or get on that he would give his whole mortal life, a platform and harangue about it! with all its delights, and powers, and We feel so sure that we have something possibilities, if he could only see clearly to say; something which it must benefit
some hope of attaining the life immortal. the world to hear. Harmless delusion! What do these facts imply? That Yet not ignoble, for it is a form of the instinct which prompts us to seek that eternal aspiration after perfect good, in every way to unriddle the riddle of without which the whole fabric of exist- life, or as Milton puts it, ence, mortal and immortal, natural and supernatural, slides from us, and there “To justify the ways of God to men," remains nothing worth living for, nothing worth dying for; since the smallest ani- is as irrepressible as universal. It is at philosophies, of the solid literature which dous web of human life, so wonderful in discourses on life, and the imaginative its pattern, so mysterious in its convoluliterature which attempts to pourtray it. tions, and of which most solemn
It were idle to reason how the thing thought of all—warp, woof and loom, has come about ; but, undeniably, the are in the hands of the Maker of the modern novel is one of the most impor- universe alone. tant moral agents of the community.
Yet this the true novel-writer essays The essayist may write for his hundreds ; to do; and he has a right to do it. the preacher preach to his thousands; He is justified in weaving his imabut the novelist counts his audience ginary web side by side with that by millions. His
is three- which he sees perpetually and invisibly fold-over heart, reason, and fancy. woven around him, of which he has The orator we hear eagerly, but as his deeply studied the apparent plan, so as voice fades from us its lessons depart: to see the under threads that guide the the moral philosopher we read and di- pattern, keener perhaps than other gest, by degrees, in a serious, ponderous men. He has learned to deduce motives way: but the really good writer of from actions, and to evolve actions fiction takes us altogether by storm. from motives : he has seen that from Young and old, grave
gay, learned certain characters (and in a less degree or imaginative, who of us is safe from certain circumstances) such and such his influence? He creeps innocently on results, which appear accidental, become our family-table in the shapes of those in reality as inevitable as the laws which three well-thumbed library volumes— govern the world. Laws physical and sits for days after, invisibly at our fire- moral, with which no Deus ex machina side, a provocative of incessant discus- can interfere, else the whole working of sion : slowly but surely, either by admi- the universe would be disturbed. ration or aversion, his opinions, ideas, Enough has been said, we trust, to feelings, impress themselves upon us, indicate the serious position held by which impression remains long after we what used to be thought “a mere wrihave come to that age, if we ever reach ter of fiction." Fiction forsooth! It is it, which all good angels forbid ! when at the core of all the truths of this we “don't read novels."
world ; for it is the truth of life itself. The amount of new thoughts scattered He who dares to reproduce it is a Probroadcastover society within one month of metheus who has stolen celestial fire : the appearance of a really popular novel, let him beware that he uses it for the the innumerable discussions it creates, benefit of his fellow-mortals. Otherand the general influence which it exer- wise one can imagine no vulture fiercer cises in the public mind, form one of the than the remorse which would gnaw most remarkable facts of our day. For the heart of such a writer, on the the novelist has ceased to be a mere visioned mountain-top of life's ending, story-teller or romancist.
if he began to suspect he had written a the superior pronoun in a general sense, book which would live after him to the even as an author should be dealt with irremediable injury of the world. as a neutral being, to be judged solely by We do not refer to impure or immoral “its” work,—he buckles to his task in books. There can be - but one opinion solemn earnest. For what is it to "write concerning them-away with them to a novel ?” Something which the multi- the Gehenna from which they come. tude of young contributors to magazines, We speak of those works, blameless in or young people who happen to have plan and execution, yet which fall short nothing to do but weave stories, little ---as great works only can—of the dream of. If they did, how they would highest ideal: the moral ideal, for which, shrink from the awfulness of what they beyond any intellectual perfection, a have taken into their innocent, foolish great author ought to strive. For he is hands; even a piece out of the tremen- not like other men, or other writers.
His very power makes him the more and exacts, and here undoubtedly finds. dangerous. His uncertainties, however Ours is more an appeal than a criticisni small, shake to their ruin hundreds of -an appeal which any one of an audilesser minds, and
ence has a right to make, if he thinks
he sees what the speaker, in the midst “When he falls, he falls like Lucifer, of all his eloquence, does not see“ Never to rise again.”
“The little pitted speck in garnered If a mountebank at a fair mouths his fruit, antics of folly or foulness, we laugh, or “That, rotting inward, slowly moulpass by—he is but a mountebank: he ders all." can do little harm : but when a hierophant connives at a false miracle, or Of “The Mill on the Floss," in a an eloquent, sincere apostle goes about literary point of view, there can be preaching a bewildering lie, we shrink, but one opinion—that, as a work of' we grieve, we tremble. By and by, art, it is as perfect as the novel we take courage openly to denounce, can well be made : superior even to not the teacher but the teaching. “You
“ Adam Bede.” For the impression are an earnest man-doubtless, a true it gives of power, evenly cultivated and man—but your doctrine is not true. clear sighted,—the power of creation, We, who cannot speak, but only feel- amalgamating real materials into a forewe feel that it is not true.
planned ideal scheme; the power of treading dangerous ground. You have selection, able to distinguish at once raised a ghost you cannot lay, you have the fit and the, unfit, choosing the thrown down a city which you cannot one and rejecting the other, so as to rebuild. You are the very Prometheus, make every part not only complete as to carrying the stolen fire. See that it does itself, but as to its relation with a wellnot slip from your unwary hands, and go balanced whole—the “Mill on the Floss" blasting and devastating the world.” is one of the finest imaginative works in
Thoughts somewhat like these must our language. In its diction, too: how have passed through the mind of many magnificently rolls on that noble Saxon a reader of a novel, the readers of which English-terse and clear, yet infinitely have been millions. Probably the whole harmonious, keeping in its most simple history of fiction does not present an in- common-place flow a certain majesty and stance of two such remarkable books fol- solemnity which reminds one involuntalowing one another within so short a rily of the deep waters of the Floss.
“Adam Bede,” and “ The Mill The fatal Floss, which runs through the on the Floss." All the world has read whole story like a Greek fate or a Gothic them; and though some may prefer oné, destiny-ay, from the very second chapand some the other, and, in a moral
ter, when point of view, some may admire and
“Maggie, Maggie,” continued the mother, in some condemn—all the world grants
a tone of half-coaxing fretfulness, as this small their wonderful intellectual power, and mistake of nature entered the room, "where's is so familiar with the details of them the use o' my telling you to keep away from that literary analysis becomes unneces
the water? You'll tumble in and be drownded
some day, an' then you'll be sorry you didn't do sary.
as mother told you." Nor do we desire to attempt it. The question which these books, and especially This is a mere chance specimen of the the latter, have suggested, is quite a dif- care over small things--the exquisite ferent thing. It is a question with which polish of each part, that yet never interliterary merit has nothing to do. Nor, feres with the breadth of the wholein one sense, literary morality,—the ex- which marks this writer as one of the ternal morality which, thank heaven, truest artists, in the highest sense, of
Another impression made strongly A very simple story. A girl of remarkby the first work of “George Eliot,” able gifts—mentally, physically, and and repeated by “his" (we prefer to morally ; born, like thousands more, of respect the pseudonym) second, is the parents far inferior to herself—struggles earnestness, sincerity, and heart-nobility through a repressed childhood, a hopeof the author. Though few books are less youth : brought suddenly out of freer from that. morbid intrusion of self this darkness into the glow of a first in which many writers of fiction indulge, passion for a man who, ignoble as he may no one can lay down “The Mill on the be, is passionately in earnest with regard Floss” without a feeling of having held to her : she is tempted to treachery, and commune with a mind of rare individu- sinks into a great error, her extrication ality, with a judgment active and clear, out of which, without involving certain and with a moral nature, conscientious, misery and certain wrong to most or all generous, religious, and pure. It is to around her, is simply an impossibility. 'this moral nature, this noblest half of The author cuts the Gordian knot by all literary perfectness, in our author, as creating a flood on the Floss, which in all other authors, that we now make wafts this poor child out of her troubles appeal.
and difficulties into the other world. George Eliot,” or any other consci- Artistically speaking, this end is very entious novelist, needs not to be told fine. Towards it the tale has gradually that he who appropriates this strange climaxed. From such a childhood as phantasmagoria of human life, to re- that of Tom and Maggie Tulliver, nopaint and re-arrange by the light of his thing could have come but the youth own imagination, takes materials not his Tom and the girl Maggie, as we find own, nor yet his reader's. He deals with them throughout that marvellous third mysteries which, in their entirety, be- volume: changed indeed, but still keeplong alone to the Maker of the universe. ing the childish images of little Tom and By the force of his intellect, the quick little Maggie
, of Dorlcote Mill. Ay, even sympathies of his heart, he may pierce to the hour, when with that sense of the into them a little way-farther, perhaps, terrible exalted into the sublime, which than most people—but at best only a only genius can make us feel—we see
He will be continually them go down to the deeps of the Floss stopped by things he cannot understand “in an embrace never to be parted : —matters too hard for him, which make “ living through again, in one supreme him feel, the more deeply and humbly “moment, the days when they had as he grows more wise, how we are, at clasped their little hands in love, and best,
“roamed through the daisied fields to“Like infants crying in the dark,
“gether." “And with no language but a cry."
So far as exquisite literary skill, in
formed, and vivified by the highest order If by his dimly-beheld, one-sided, frag- of imaginative power, can go, this story mentary representations, which mimic
is perfect. But take it from another untruly the great picture of life, this point of view. Ask, what good will it cry, either in his own voice, or in the do ?—whether it will lighten any burinvoluntary utterance of his readers, dened heart, help any perplexed spirit, rises into an accusation against God, comfort the sorrowful, succour the temphow awful is his responsibility, how ted, or bring back the erring into the tremendous the evil that he may origi- way of peace; and what is the answer ? nate!
Silence. We doubt not, the author of the Let us reconsider the story, not artist“Mill on the Floss” would shudder at ically, but morally. the suspicion of this sort of involuntary Here is a human being, placed during blasphemy, and yet such is the tendency her whole brief life—her hapless nineof the book and its story.
teen years—under circunstances the
hardest and most fatal that could be- In the whole history of this fascinafal one of her temperament. She has ting Maggie there is a picturesque all the involuntary egotism and selfish- piteousness which somehow confuses ness of a nature that, while eagerly crav- one's sense of right and wrong. Yet ing for love, loves ardently and imagi-what-we cannot help asking-what is natively rather than devotedly; and the to become of the hundreds of clever only love that might have at once hum- girls, born of uncongenial parents, hembled and raised her, by showing her how med in with unsympathising kindred of far nobler it was than her own-Philip's the Dodson sort, blest with no lover on -is taken from her in early girlhood. whom to bestow their strong affections, Her instincts of right, true as they are, no friend to whom to cling for guidance have never risen into principles ; her and support? They must fight their way, temptations to vanity, and many other heaven help them ! alone and unaided, faults, are wild and fierce; yet no human through cloud and darkness, to the light. help ever comes near her to strengthen And, thank heaven, hundreds of them the one or subdue the other. This may do, and live to hold out a helping hand be true to nature, and yet we think it is afterwards to thousands more. not. Few of us, calmly reviewing our "middle-aged” (says "George Eliot,” in past, can feel that we have ever been this very book), “who have lived left so long and so utterly without either “through their strongest emotions, but outward aid, or the inner voice-never are yet in the time when memory is silent in a heart like poor Maggie's. It “still half-passionate and not merely is, in any case, a perilous doctrine to "contemplative, should surely be a sort preach—the doctrine of overpowering “of natural priesthood, whom life has circumstances.
disciplined and consecrated to be the Again, notwithstanding the author's “refuge and rescue of early stumblers evident yearning over Maggie, and dis- “and victims of self-despair." dain for Tom, we cannot but feel that if Will it help these—such a picture as people are to be judged by the only Maggie, who, with all her high aspirafair human judgment, of how far they tions and generous qualities, is, throughact up to what they believe in, Tom, so out her poor young life, a stay and comfar as his light goes, is a finer charac- fort to no human being, but, on the conter than his sister. He alone has the trary, a source of grief and injury to self-denial to do what he does not like, every one connected with her ? If we for the sake of doing right; he alone are to judge character by results—not has the self-command to smother his by grand imperfect essays, but by humhopeless love, and live on, a brave, hard- bler fulfilments—of how much more working life; he, except in his injustice use in the world were even fond, shalto poor Maggie, has at least the merit of low Lucy, and narrow-minded Tom, than having made no one else miserable. this poor Maggie, who seems only just to Perfectly true is what he says, though he have caught hold of the true meaning says it in a Pharisaical way, “Yes, I and beauty of existence in that last pa"have had feelings to struggle with, but thetic
life is to be long, "I conquered them. I have had a let me live to bless and comfort," when “harder life than you have had, but she is swept away out of our sight and “I have found my comfort in doing my love for ever. “duty." Nay, though perhaps scarcely True this is, as we have said, a magintended, Bob Jakin's picture of the soli- nificent ending for the book; but is it for tary lad, as close as an iron biler," the life-the one human life which this who “sits by himself so glumpish, a- author has created so vividly and power“knittin' his brow, an'a-lookin' at the fully, that we argue concerning it as if “fire of a night," is in its way as pa- we had actually known it? Will it inthetic as Maggie's helpless cry to Dr. fluence for good any other real lives
“ If my