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one to take care of her.” And if she sometimes makes use of methods not quite legitimate, consider the difficulties of one who had no beaten track to walk on, but was forced to make the ladder by which she was to climb. Had she been placed in a position which afforded free play to her talents, mankind would have applauded the very character which it now condemns. There is no great queen whose actions are recorded by history, who, if she had developed in a private sphere those qualities by which she acquired glory on a throne, would not have been put under the ban of society; while a Mary Tudor is made infamous for having done what all the good womenthe Amelias and Lady Castlewoods — would have done, had they been in her place, sacrificed her own better feelings to the obligations imposed on her by the superior sex.
The picture, therefore, which Thackeray gives us of the female mind, is a correct, but, as we have already said, not a complete picture. The struggle that ends in resignation, the impatience that at length folds its wings in despair — the mind, in short, of which we obtain a glimpse in “ Jane Eyre” and “ Villette,” that, with intellect and imagination chafing beneath their trammels, is yet curbed by the pious consciousness that abnegation is the highest act of the free will — Thackeray does not attempt to exhibit. On one side, is the woman who triumphs over the prejudice of education, because she has never known the restraint of principle; and on the other, the willing slave who never questions the righteousness of her destiny, whose heart may sometimes beat a little against the bars, but whose intellect is always quiescent. But the world cries out against this representation, and finds these fond mothers and devoted wives weak and foolish. Yet this we think one of Thackeray's highest merits, that he has not, as most writers have done, put into one category the folly that springs from love, and the folly that has its source in selfish blindness; that he has shown how love and self-sacrifice are holy and beautiful things, even when they are but instincts, and receive no light from the intellect. Besides, Thackeray's aim is not to cultivate our taste for what is rare, but to quicken our appreciation of what is common; and we cannot but think that the ordinary effect of the existing
constitution of society, is to divorce the intellect from the affections. Where there is no weakness there will be no submission; where there is no folly, there will be no blindness; where there is no blindness there will be precious little love. Amelia is a fool, you say, to make an idol of Osborne, and bring her daily offering to his selfish shrine; a fool to let that boy who succeeds to his father's place in her heart, grasp its tender fibres with the same rude and heedless hand, and thus prodigally to sow where she could reap no harvest but bitter tears. We grant the folly. But ask your own heart what is its sweetest yet most painful memory. Do you never dream that you are back again in those old years, when thoughtless love was thus squandered upon you? Do you never wake with a remorseful pang, sharper than any that the ambiguous deeds of the hardened present can inflict, and think what a blessed thing it would be if you could stanch the wounds which your barbed arrow made, and expiate that ignorance and self-engrossment by watchful, tender care? And if this be so, can you now criticize the extravagant love which you abused, and sneer at it as folly, and blame the indulgence which spoilt you, and made you selfish, and tell how you would have been a wiser and a better if
you had been more wisely trained ? But you have had no such experience — you never suffered from such indiscreet affection, or you were thoughtful and grateful, and have no need to look penitently at the past? You are fortunate. But others are less so; and among these is Thackeray. For it is not the voice of a mere observer that we recognize in this reiterated tale of the fond desperation of a loving nature torn by the jagged rock to which it clings, but the trembling tones of one who speaks from the emotions of his own heart. Here, if anywhere, we get an insight into the man himself, and catch the echo of his own experience, his sufferings, and his errors, –
“ Was er irrte, was er strebte,
Was er litt, und was er lebte." However different the persons and the scene, this tale interweaves itself more or less with the action. Osborne, Pendennis, Esmond, Barry Lyndon, contrasted as they are in character and fate, —this experience is common to them all; or rather
it is the author himself whose hand, at the slightest suggestion, strikes involuntarily the mournful chords of vain regret and self-reproach.
In truth, with all his great powers of observation, Thackeray is in a remarkable degree subjective. And this is the source of the great artistic defects from which none of his works are free. He sees deep into the characters he conceives, but he never loses his own individuality in theirs, never allows them to move freely along, and pass the thread of the story from hand to hand. He is a spectator, as we have said, but a noisy one, who continually interrupts the performance by his commentaries. The persons of his drama never soliloquize, never make such reflections as the scene would naturally provoke from them. Soliloquy and reflection abound, but it all falls to the share of the author, or of his fictitious representative. Hence the failure, to a certain extent, when he adopts the autobiographical form of relation. Esmond, Barry Lyndon, even Yellowplush, talk always in the Thackerayan vein,- utter statements peculiar to him, and seldom very appropriate in them. The story does not flow with a steady current, like Fielding's; there is no succession of scenes, connected only by sufficient explanatory remarks, as in Miss Austen. Scene, narration, and remark are presented to us in bits, and so intermixed with one another as to form a quartum quid: The Aristotelian rule, that there should in every work be a beginning, a middle, and an end, was never so sinned against as by Thackeray. Except by the number of pages, you have seldom any clue by which to conjecture how far you have advanced, or when you are to expect the dénouement. Two thirds of Pendennis seems more like the prelude than the actual story; all the important action is crowded into the rapid and masterly scenes at the close. Esmond is still more tantalizing. The story is never fairly set agoing throughout the three volumes. We make several successive starts, under the guidance of a train of incidents, and in company with certain personages; but before we have got far the steam is let off, the passengers all leave, and we are obliged to take a new conveyance, with precisely the same results. If the style be the purest, the plot is the weakest, of any novel in the English language. It may be said that, as the work assumes the form of an autobiography, the features to which we object maintain the verisimilitude. But want of connection and broken threads in a narrative are endurable only when they are unavoidable; and a novelist gains no more by adopting the restrictions of biography, than a dramatist by preserving the arbitrary unities of time and place. Yet some of the scenes in Esmond are the most perfect which Thackeray has given us. The author, in the person of his hero — himself prematurely wise and observantcomes forward on the stage; and his remarks, made thus vivâ voce, as it were, are appropriate to the occasion. But these scenes are few; the principal persons in them are not always those in whom we are most interested ; and the action assigned to each character is too meagre to give vitality and strong interest to the book.
We have called these peculiarities of Thackeray defects. But the tendency from which they arise is among the inherent qualities of his mind, and the source, in no small degree, of his originality and power. It is not in his nature to content himself with the contemplation of men's actions, or with the exhibition of their characters; to be absorbed in art, and to think only of the most effective mode in which to embody his conceptions. He cannot hold up a corrupt heart or a brainless head, and call it - in anatomical phrase — "a beautiful specimen.” He cannot, like Fielding, hunt Human Nature for the mere sport of the thing; nor hide his own feelings in impenetrable reserve, or leave them to be inferred by the reader, as Miss Austen does. He copies faithfully the image painted by any object upon the retina of his imagination; but he transcribes not less minutely the emotions of his own heart. Every incident which he relates leads to some utterance of his feelings. His tone changes with the theme. His irony often reminds us of Fielding's, but it is never, like Fielding's, sustained throughout the work. From playful banter, he falls into a strain of melancholy reflection, or rises to stormy invective, and withering scorn. His works make us as well acquainted with his opinions and character as if each were a chapter of his autobiography. Hence it is that the critics have VOL. LXXVII. NO. 160.
had so much to say about Thackeray's “views of life;" hence their wise admonitions that he should alter those views, that he should see the world's affairs in a more cheerful light, in other words, that he should dance when he is inclined to weep, and, in short, be a different man from what Nature and the Fates have made him.
In range of observation, Thackeray is certainly unrivalled by any other novelist. Miss Austen's sphere, as we have already said, is an extremely limited one. Fielding is a literary vagrant, who meets indeed in his rambles with a great variety of characters, but seldom stays long enough amongst any respectable or stationary portion of society to become thoroughly acquainted with its usages. But Thackeray is familiar with the customs of every class. “ Vanity Fair” is not a “ fashionable novel," and yet in what other work shall we find so truthful a picture of what is called “high life"? As for “ Pendennis," the book should have been entitled “ London." It should be read with a map of the great metropolis spread out upon the table. The out-door and in-door life of the West-End, of the Inns of Court, and of Paternoster Row, are all represented with wonderful spirit and accuracy.
In the “ Book of Snobs," Thackeray traces the vein of vulgarity and meanness through all the strata of English society. Never was satire so keen and unflinching. It is the boldest book ever written by a man who had no personal pique to gratify. We are not surprised that the author of it should have been blackballed at the clubs; the wonder rather is, that the doors of private mansions do not "grate harsh thunder” when he stands before them, and that "Jeames" does not positively refuse to take
That private hospitality should have been so freely extended to him during his visit to this country, is a matter of less surprise ; for it is a peculiarity of the American people, arising doubtless from the strength of its patriotic feelings, that, while we cannot bear even the softest touch upon any sore spot in our national character, we are so far from any desire to conceal our individual foibles, that we thrust them, as it were, with artless unconcern, into the face of every observer. As long as Thackeray was pledged, therefore, not to write a book upon the country, he
up his name.