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Masters of the English Novel by Richard Burton

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which carry the reader along, willy-nilly. Such a book might be
described by the advertisement of an old inn: "Here is
entertainment for man and beast." As to characterization, if a
genius for it means the creation of figures which linger in the
familiar memory of mankind, Smollett must perforce be granted
the faculty; here in his first book are Tom Bowling and Strap--to
name two--the one (like Richardson's Lovelace) naming a type:
the other standing for the country innocent, the meek fidus
Achates, both as good as anything of the same class in Fielding.
The Welsh mate, Mr. Morgan, for another of the sailor sort, is
also excellent. The judgment may be eccentric, but for myself
the character parts in Smollett's dramas seem for variety and
vividness often superior to those of Fielding. The humor at its
best is very telling. The portraits, or caricatures, of living
folk added to the story's immediate vogue, but injure it as a
permanent contribution to fiction.

A fair idea of the nature of the attractions offered (and at the
same time a clear indication of the sort of fiction manufactured
by the doughty doctor) may be gleaned from the following
precis--Smollett's own--of Chapter XXXVIII: "I get up and crawl
into a barn where I am in danger of perishing through the fear of
the country people. Their inhumanity. I am succored by a reputed
witch. Her story. Her advice. She recommends me as a valet to a
single lady whose character she explains." This promises pretty
fair reading: of course, we wish to read on and to learn more of
that single lady and the hero's relation to her. Such a motive,
which might be called, "The Mistakes of a Night," with details
too crude and physical to allow of discussion, is often
overworked by Smollett (as, in truth, it is by Fielding, to
modern taste): the eighteenth century had not yet given up the
call of the Beast in its fiction--an element of bawdry was still
welcome in the print offered reputable folk.

The style of Smollett in his first fiction, and in general, has
marked dramatic flavor: his is a gift of forthright phrase, a
plain, vernacular smack characterizes his diction. To go back to
him now is to be surprised perhaps at the racy vigor of so
faulty a writer and novelist. A page or so of Smollett, after a
course in present-day popular fiction, reads very much like a
piece of literature. In this respect, he seems full of flavor,
distinctly of the major breed: there is an effect of passing
from attenuated parlor tricks into the open, when you take him
up. Here, you can but feel, is a masculine man of letters, even
if it is his fate to play second fiddle to Fielding.

Smollett's initial story was a pronounced success with the
public--and he aired an arrogant joy and pooh-poohed
insignificant rivals like Fielding. His hand was against every
man's when it came to the question of literary prowess; and like
many authors before and since, one of his first acts upon the
kind reception of "Roderick Random," was to get published his
worthless blank-verse tragedy, "The Regicide," which, refused by
Garrick, had till then languished in manuscript and was an ugly
duckling beloved of its maker. Then came Novel number two, "The
Adventures of Peregrine Pickle," three years after the first: an
unequal book, best at its beginning and end, full of violence,
not on the whole such good art-work as the earlier fiction, yet
very fine in spots and containing such additional sea-dogs as
Commodore Trunnion and Lieutenant Hatchway, whose presence makes
one forgive much. The original preface contained a scurrilous
reference to Fielding, against whom he printed a diatribe in a
pamphlet dated the next year. The hero of the story, a handsome
ne'er-do-well who has money and position to start the world
with, encounters plenty of adventure in England and out of it,
by land and sea. There is an episodic book, "Memoirs, supposed
to be written by a lady of quality," and really giving the
checkered career of Lady Vane, a fast gentlewoman of the time,
done for pay at her request, which is illustrative of the loose
state of fictional art in its unrelated, lugged-in character:
and as well of eighteenth century morals in its drastic details.
We have seen that Fielding was frankly episodic in handling a
story; Smollett goes him one better: as may most notoriously be
seen also in the unmentionable Miss Williams' story in "Roderick
Random"--in fact, throughout his novels. Pickle, to put it
mildly, is not an admirable young man. An author's conception of
his hero is always in some sort a give-away: it expresses his
ideals; that Smollett's are sufficiently low-pitched, may be
seen here. Plainly, to, he likes Peregrine, and not so much
excuses his failings as overlooks them entirely.

After a two years' interval came "The Adventures of Ferdinand,
Count Fathom," which was not liked by his contemporaries and is
now seen to be definitely the poorest of the quartette. It is
enough to say of it that Fathom is an unmitigable scoundrel and
the story, mixed romance and melodrama, offers the reader dust
and ashes instead of good red blood. It lacks the comic verve of
Smollett's typical fiction and manipulates virtue and vice in
the cut-and-dried style of the penny-dreadful. Even its attempts
at the sensational leave the modern reader, bred on such
heavenly fare as is proffered by Stevenson and others,

It is a pleasure to turn from it to what is generally conceded
to be the best novel he wrote, as it is his last: "The
Expedition of Humphrey Clinker," which appeared nearly twenty
years later, when the author was fifty years old. "The
Adventures of Sir Launcelot Graves," written in prison a decade
earlier, and a poor satire in the vein of Cervantes, can be
ignored, it falls so much below Smollett's main fiction. He had
gone for his health's sake to Italy and wrote "Humphrey Clinker"
at Leghorn, completing it only within a few weeks of his death.
For years he had been degenerating as a writer, his physical
condition was of the worst: it looked as if his life was quite
over. Yet, by a sort of leaping-up of the creative flame out of
the dying embers of the hearth, he wrought his masterpiece.

It was thrown into letter form, Richardson's framework, and has
all of Smollett's earlier power of characterization and brusque
wit, together with a more genial, mellower tone, that of an
older man not soured but ripened by the years. Some of its main
scenes are enacted in his native Scotland and possibly this
meant strength for another Scot, as it did for Sir Walter and
Stevenson. The kinder interpretation of humanity in itself makes
the novel better reading to later taste; so much can not
honestly be said for its plain speaking, for as Henley says in
language which sounds as if it were borrowed from the writer he
is describing, "the stinks and nastinesses are done with
peculiar gusto." The idea of the story, as usual a pivot around
which to revolve a series of adventures, is to narrate how a
certain bachelor, country gentleman, Matthew Bramble, a malade
imaginaire, yet good-hearted and capable of big laughter--"the
most risible misanthrope ever met with," as he is limned by one
of the persons of the story--travels in England, Wales and
Scotland in pursuit of health, taking with him his family, of
whom the main members include his sister, Tabitha (and her maid,
Jenkins), and his nephew, not overlooking the dog, Chowder.
Clinker, who names the book, is a subsidiary character, merely a
servant in Bramble's establishment. The crotchety Bramble and
his acidulous sister, who is a forerunner of Mrs. Malaprop in
the unreliability of her spelling, and Lieutenant Lishmahago,
who has been complimented as the first successful Scotchman in
fiction--all these are sketched with a verity and in a vein of
genuine comic invention which have made them remembered.
Violence, rage, filth--Smollett's besetting sins--are forgotten
or forgiven in a book which has so much of the flavor and
movement of life, The author's medical lore is made good use of
in the humorous descriptions of poor Bramble's ailments.
Incidentally, the story defends the Scotch against the English
in such a pronounced way that Walpole calls it a "part novel";
and there is, moreover, a pleasant love story interwoven with
the comedy and burlesque. One feels in leaving this fiction that
with all allowance for his defects, there is more danger of
undervaluing the author's powers and place in the modern Novel
than the reverse.

Fielding and Smollett together set the pace for the Novel of
blended incident and character: both were, as sturdy realists,
reactionary from the sentimental analysis of Richardson and
express an instinct contrary to the self-conscious pathos of a
Sterne or the idyllic romanticism of a Goldsmith. Both were
directly of influence upon the Novel's growth in the nineteenth
century: Fielding especially upon Thackeray, Smollett upon
Dickens. If Smollett had served the cause in no other way than
in his strong effect upon the author of "The Pickwick Papers,"
he would deserve well of all critics: how the little Copperfield
delighted in that scant collection of books on his father's
bookshelf, where were "Roderick Random," "Peregrine Pickle" and
"Humphrey Clinker," along with "Tom Jones," "The Vicar of
Wakefield," "Gil Blas" and "Robinson Crusoe"--"a glorious host,"
says he, "to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy and my
hope of something beyond that time and place." And of Smollett's
characters, who seem to have charmed him more than Fielding's,
he declares: "I have seen Tom Pipes go clambering up the
church-steeple: I have watched Strap with the knapsack on his back
stopping to rest himself upon the wicket gate: and I know that
Commodore Trunnion held that Club with Mr. Pickle in the parlor
of our little village ale house." Children are shrewd critics,
in their way, and what an embryo Charles Dickens likes in
fiction is not to be slighted. But as we have seen, Smollett can
base his claims to our sufferance not by indirection through
Dickens, but upon his worth; many besides the later and greater
novelist have a liking for this racy writer of adventure, and
creator of English types, who was recognized by Walter Scott as
of kin to the great in fiction.


In the fast-developing fiction of the late eighteenth century,
the possible ramifications of the Novel from the parent tree of
Richardson enriched it with the work of Sterne, Swift and
Goldsmith. They added imaginative narratives of one sort or
another, which increased the content of the form by famous
things and exercised some influence in shaping it. The remark
has in mind "Tristram Shandy," "Gulliver's Travels" and "The
Vicar of Wakefield." And yet, no one of the three was a Novel in
the sense in which the evolution of the word has been traced,
nor yet are the authors strictly novelists.

Laurence Sterne, at once man of the world and clergyman, with
Rabelais as a model, and himself a master of prose, possessing
command of humor and pathos, skilled in character sketch and
essay-philosophy, is not a novelist at all. His aim Is not to
depict the traits or events of contemporary society, but to put
forth the views of the Reverend Laurence Sterne, Yorkshire
parson, with many a quaint turn and whimsical situation under a
thin disguise of story-form. Of his two books, "Tristram Shandy"
and "The Sentimental Journey," unquestionable classics, both, in
their field, there is no thought of plot or growth or objective
realization: the former is a delightful tour de force in which a
born essayist deals with the imaginary fortunes of a person he
makes as interesting before his birth as after it, and in
passing, sketches some characters dear to posterity: first and
foremost, Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim. It is all pure play of
wit, fancy and wisdom, beneath the comic mask--a very frolic of
the mind. In the second book the framework is that of the
travel-sketch and the treatment more objective: a fact which,
along with its dubious propriety, may account for its greater
popularity. But much of the charm comes, as before, from the
writer's touch, his gift of style and ability to unloose in the
essay manner a unique individuality.

In his life Sterne, like Swift, exhibited most un-clerical
traits of worldliness and in his work there is the refined,
suggestive indelicacy, not to say indecency, which we are in the
habit nowadays of charging against the French, and which is so
much worse than the bluff, outspoken coarseness of a Fielding or
a Smollett. At times the line between Sterne and Charles Lamb is
not so easy to draw in that, from first to last, the elder is an
essayist and humorist, while the younger has so much of the
eighteenth century in his feeling and manner. In these modern
times, when so many essayists appear in the guise of fiction-makers,
we can see that Sterne is really the leader of the
tribe: and it is not hard to show how neither he nor they are
novelists divinely called. They (and he) may be great, but it is
another greatness. The point is strikingly illustrated by the
statement that Sterne was eight years publishing the various
parts of "Tristram Shandy," and a man of forty-six when he began
to do so. Bona fide novels are not thus written. Constructively,
the work is a mad farrago; but the end quite justifies the
means. Thus, while his place in letters is assured, and the
touch of the cad in him (Goldsmith called him "the blackguard
parson") should never blind us to his prime merits, his
significance for our particular study--the study of the modern
Novel in its development--is comparatively slight. Like all
essayists of rank he left memorable passages: the world never
tires of "God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb," and pays it
the high compliment of ascribing it to holy writ: nor will the
scene where the recording angel blots out Uncle Toby's generous
oath with a tear, fade from the mind; nor that of the same
kindly gentleman letting go the big fly which has, to his
discomfiture, been buzzing about his nose at dinner: "'Go,' says
he, lifting up the latch and opening his hand as he spoke to let
it escape. 'Go, poor devil, get thee gone, why should I hurt
thee? The world surely is wide enough to hold both thee and
me'"--a touch so modern as to make Sterne seem a century later
than Fielding. These are among the precious places of
literature. This eighteenth century divine has in advance of his
day the subtler sensibility which was to grow so strong in later
fiction: and if he be sentimental too, he gives us a
sentimentality unlike the solemn article of Richardson, because
of its French grace and its relief of delicious humor.


Swift chronologically precedes Sterne, for in 1726, shortly
after "Robinson Crusoe" and a good fifteen years before
"Pamela," he gave the world that unique lucubration, "Gulliver's
Travels," allegory, satire and fairy story all in one. It is
certainly anything but a novel. One of the giants of English
letters, doing many things and exhibiting a sardonic personality
that seems to peer through all his work, Swift's contribution to
the coming Novel was above all the use of a certain grave,
realistic manner of treating the impossible: a service, however,
shared with Defoe. He gives us in a matter-of-fact chronicle
style the marvelous happenings of Gulliver in Lilliputian land
or in that of the Brobdingnagians. He and Defoe are to be
regarded as pioneers who suggested to the literary world, just
before the Novel's advent, that the attraction of a new form and
a new method, the exploitation of the truth that, "The proper
study of mankind is man," could not (and should not) kill the
love of romance, for the good and sufficient reason that romance
meant imagination, illusion, charm, poetry. And in due season,
after the long innings enjoyed by realism with its triumphs of
analysis and superfaithful transcriptions of the average life of
man, we shall behold the change of mood which welcomes back the
older appeal of fiction.


It was the enlargement of this sense of romance which Oliver
Goldsmith gave his time in that masterpiece in small, "The Vicar
of Wakefield": his special contribution to the plastic
variations connected with the growing pains of the Novel.
Whether regarded as poet, essayist, dramatist or story-maker,
Dr. Goldsmith is one of the best-loved figures of English
letters, as Swift is one of the most terrible. And these lovable
qualities are nowhere more conspicuous than in the idyllic
sketch of the country clergyman and his family. Romance it
deserves to be called, because of the delicate idealization in
the setting and in the portrayal of the Vicar himself--a man who
not only preached God's love, "but first he followed it
himself." And yet the book--which, by the bye, was published in
1766 just as the last parts of "Tristram Shandy" were appearing
in print--offers a good example of the way in which the more
romantic depiction of life, in the hands of a master, inevitably
blends with realistic details, even with a winning truthfulness
of effect. Some of the romantic charm of "The Vicar of
Wakefield," we must remember, inheres in its sympathetic
reproduction of vanished manners, etiquette and social grace; a
sweet old-time grace, a fragrance out of the past, emanates from
the memory of it if read half a lifetime ago. An elder age is
rehabilitated for us by its pages, even as it is by the canvases
of Romney and Sir Joshua. And with this more obvious romanticism
goes the deeper romanticism that comes from the interpretation
of humanity, which assumes it to be kindly and gentle and noble
in the main. Life, made up of good and evil as it is, is,
nevertheless, seen through this affectionate time-haze, worth
the living. Whatever their individual traits, an air of country
peace and innocence hovers over the Primrose household: the
father and mother, the girls, Olivia and Sophia, and the two
sons, George and Moses, they all seem equally generous,
credulous and good. We feel that the author is living up to a
announcement in the opening chapter which of itself is a sort of
promise of the idealized treatment of poor human nature. But
into this pretty and perfect scene of domestic felicity come
trouble and disgrace: the serpent creeps into the unsullied
nest, the villain, Thorn-hill, ruins Olivia, their house burns,
and the softhearted, honorable father is haled to prison. There
is no blinking the darker side of mortal experience. And the
prison scenes, with their noble teaching with regard to penal
punishment, showing Goldsmith far in advance of his age, add
still further to the shadows. Yet the idealization is there,
like an atmosphere, and through it all, shining and serene, is
Dr. Primrose to draw the eye to the eternal good. We smile
mayhap at his simplicity but note at the same time that his
psychology is sound: the influence of his sermonizing upon the
jailbirds is true to experience often since tested. Nor are
satiric side-strokes in the realistic vein wanting--as in the
drawing of such a high lady of quality as Miss Carolina
Wilhelmina Amelia Skeggs--the very name sending our thoughts
forward to Thackeray. In the final analysis it will be found
that what makes the work a romance is its power to quicken the
sense of the attraction, the beauty of simple goodness through
the portrait of a noble man whose environment is such as best to
bring out his qualities. Dr. Primrose is humanity, if not
actual, potential: he can be, if he never was. A helpful
comparison might be instituted between Goldsmith's country
clergyman and Balzac's country doctor in the novel of that name;
another notable attempt at the idealization of a typical man of
one of the professions. It would bring out the difference
between the late eighteenth and the middle nineteenth centuries,
as well as that between a great novelist, Balzac, and a great
English writer, Goldsmith, who yet is not a novelist at all. It
should detract no whit from one's delight in such a work as "The
Vicar of Wakefield" to acknowledge that its aim is not to depict
society as it then existed, but to give a pleasurable abstract
of human nature for the purpose of reconciling us through art
with life, when lived so sanely, simply and sweetly as by
Primrose of gentle memory. Seldom has the divine quality of the
forgiveness of sins been portrayed with more salutary effect
than in the scene where the erring and errant Olivia is taken
back to the heart of her father--just as the hard-headed
landlady would drive her forth with the words:

"'Out I say! Pack out this moment! tramp, thou impudent
strumpet, or I'll give thee a mark that won't be better for
this three months. What! you trumpery, to come and take up
an honest house without cross or coin to bless yourself
with! Come along, I say.'

"I flew to her rescue while the woman was dragging her along
by her hair, and I caught the dear forlorn wretch in my
arms. 'Welcome, anyway welcome, my dearest lost one, my
treasure, to your poor old father's bosom. Though the
vicious forsake thee, there is yet one in the world who
will never forsake thee; though thou hadst ten thousand
crimes to answer for, he will forget them all!'"

Set beside this father the fathers of Clarissa and Sophia
Western, and you have the difference between the romance and
realism that express opposite moods; the mood that shows the
average and the mood that shows the best. For portraiture, then,
rather than plot, for felicity of manner and sweetness of
interpretation we praise such a work;--qualities no less
precious though not so distinctively appertaining to the Novel.

It may be added, for a minor point, that the Novel type as
already developed had assumed a conventional length which would
preclude "The Vicar of Wakefield" from its category, making it a
sketch or novelette. The fiction-makers rapidly came to realize
that for their particular purpose--to portray a complicated
piece of contemporary life--more leisurely movement and hence
greater space are necessary to the best result. To-day any
fiction under fifty thousand words would hardly be called a
novel in the proper sense,--except in publishers'
advertisements. Goldsmith's story does not exceed such limits.

Therefore, although we may like it all the more because it is a
romantic sketch rather than a novel proper, we must grant that
its share in the eighteenth century shaping of the form is but
ancillary. The fact that the book upon its appearance awakened
no such interest as waited upon the fiction of Richardson or
Fielding a few years before, may be taken to mean that the taste
was still towards the more photographic portrayals of average
contemporary humanity. Several editions, to be sure, were issued
the year of its publication, but without much financial success,
and contemporary criticism found little remarkable in this
permanent contribution to English literature. Later, it was
beloved both of the elect and the general. Goethe's testimony to
the strong and wholesome effect of the book upon him in his
formative period, is remembered. Dear old Dr. Johnson too
believed in the story, for, summoned to Goldsmith's lodging by
his friend's piteous appeal for help, he sends a guinea in
advance and on arrival there, finds his colleague in high choler
because, forsooth, his landlady has arrested him for his rent:
whereupon Goldsmith (who had already expended part of the guinea
in a bottle of Madeira) displays a manuscript,--"a novel ready
for the press," as we read in Boswell; and Johnson--"I looked
into it and saw its merit," says he--goes out and sells it for
sixty pounds, whereupon Goldsmith paid off his obligation, and
with his mercurial Irish nature had a happy evening, no doubt,
with his chosen cronies! It is a sordid, humorous-tragic Grub
Street beginning for one of the little immortals of letters--so
many of which, alack! have a similar birth.

Certain other authors less distinguished than these, produced
fiction of various kinds which also had some influence in the
development, and further illustrate the tendency of the Novel to
become a pliable medium for literary expression; a sort of net
wherein divers fish might be caught. Dr. Johnson, essayist,
critic, coffee-house dictator, published the same year that
Sterne's "Tristram Shandy" began to appear, his "Rasselas,
Prince of Abyssinia"; a stately elegiac on the vanity of human
pleasures, in which the Prince leaves his idyllic home and goes
into the world to test its shams, only to return to his kingdom
with the sad knowledge that it is the better part of wisdom in
this vale of tears to prepare for heaven. Of course this is
fiction only in seeming and by courtesy, almost as far removed
from the Novel as the same author's mammoth dictionary or Lives
of the Poets. It has Richardson's method of moralizing, while
lacking that writer's power of studying humanity in its social
relations. The sturdy genius of Dr. Johnson lay in quite other

Richardson's sentimentality, too, was carried on by MacKenzie in
his "Man of Feeling" already mentioned as the favorite
tear-begetter of its time, the novel which made the most prolonged
attack upon the lachrymosal gland. But it is only fair to this
author to add that there was a welcome note of philanthropy in
his story--in spite of its mawkishness; his appeal for the under
dog in great cities is a forecast of the humanitarianism to
become rampant in later fiction.

Again, the seriousness which has always, in one guise or the
other, underlain English fiction, soon crystalized in the
contemporary eighteenth century novelists into an attempt to
preach this or that by propaganda in story-form. William Godwin,
whose relations as father-in-law to Shelley gives him a not
altogether agreeable place in our memory, was a leader in this
tendency with several fictions, the best known and most readable
being "Caleb Williams": radical ideas, social, political and
religious, were mooted by half a dozen earnest-souled authors
whose works are now regarded as links in the chain of
development--missing links for most readers of fiction, since
their literary quality is small. In later days, this kind of
production was to be called purpose fiction and condemned or
applauded according to individual taste and the esthetic and
vital value of the book. When the moralizing overpowered all
else, we get a book like that friend of childhood, "Sanford and
Merton," which Thomas Day perpetrated in the year of grace 1783.
Few properly reared boys of a generation ago escaped this
literary indiscretion: its Sunday School solemnity, its
distribution of life's prizes according to the strictest moral
tests, had a sort of bogey fascination; it was much in vogue
long after Day's time, indeed down to within our own memories.
Perhaps it is still read and relished in innocent corners of the
earth.. In any case it is one of the outcomes of the movement
just touched upon.

At present, being more ennuye in our tastes for fiction than
were our forefathers, and the pretence of piety being less a
convention, we incline to insist more firmly that the pill at
least be sugar-coated,--if indeed we submit to physic at all.

There was also a tendency during the second half of the
eighteenth century--very likely only half serious and hardly
more than a literary fad--toward the romance of mystery and
horror. Horace Walpole, the last man on earth from whom one
would expect the romantic and sentimental, produced in his
"Castle of Otranto" such a book; and Mrs. Radcliffe's "The
Mystery of Udolpho" (standing for numerous others) manipulated
the stage machinery of this pseudo-romantic revival and
reaction; moonlit castles, medieval accessories, weird sounds
and lights at the dread midnight hour,--an attack upon the
reader's nerves rather than his sensibilities, much the sort of
paraphernalia employed with a more spiritual purpose and effect
in our own day by the dramatist, Maeterlinck. Beckford's
"Vathek" and Lewis' "The Monk" are variations upon this theme,
which for a while was very popular and is decidedly to be seen
in the work of the first novelist upon American soil, Charles
Brockden Brown, whose somber "Wieland," read with the Radcliffe
school in mind, will reveal its probable parentage. We have seen
how the movement was happily satirized by its natural enemy,
Jane Austen. Few more enjoyable things can be quoted than this
conversation from "Northanger Abbey" between two typical young
ladies of the time:--

'But, my dearest Catherine, what have you been doing with
yourself all this morning? Have you gone on with Udolpho?'

'Yes, I have been reading it ever since I woke; and I am
got to the black veil.'

'Are you, indeed? How delightful! Oh! I would not tell you
what is behind the black veil for the world! Are you not
wild to know?'

'Oh! yes, quite; what can it be? But do not tell me; I
would not be told upon any account. I know it must be a
skeleton; I am sure it is Laurentina's skeleton. Oh! I am
delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole
life in reading it, I assure you; if it had not been to
meet you, I would not have come away from it for all the

'Dear creature! how much I am obliged to you; and when you
have finished Udolpho, we will read the Italian together;
and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the
same kind for you.'

'Have you, indeed! How glad I am! What are they all?'

'I will read you their names directly; here they are in my
pocket-book. "Castle of Wolfenbach," "Clermont,"
"Mysterious Warnings," "Necromancer of the Black Forest,"
"Midnight Bell," "Orphan of the Rhine," and "Horrid Mysteries."
Those will last us some time.'

'Yes; pretty well; but are they all horrid? Are you sure
they are all horrid?'

'Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss
Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the
world, has read every one of them.'

After all, human nature is constant, independent of time; and
fashions social, mental, literary, return like fashions in
feminine headgear! Two club women were coming from a city play
house after hearing a particularly lugubrious drama of Ibsen's,
and one was overheard exclaiming to the other: "O isn't Ibsen
just lovely! He does so take the hope out of life!"

Yet the tendency of eighteenth century fiction, with its
handling of the bizarre and sensational, its use of occult
effects of the Past and Present, was but an eddy in a current
which was setting strong and steadily toward the realistic
portrayal of contemporary society.

One other tendency, expressive of a lighter mood, an attempt to
represent society a la mode, is also to be noted during this
half century so crowded with interesting manifestations of a new
spirit; and they who wrote it were mostly women. It is a
remarkable fact that for the fifty years between Sterne and
Scott, the leading novelists were of that sex, four of whom at
least, Burney, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Austen, were of
importance. Of this group the lively Fanny Burney is the
prophet; she is the first woman novelist of rank. Her "Evelina,"
with its somewhat starched gentility and simpering sensibility,
was once a book to conjure with; it fluttered the literary
dovecotes in a way not so easy to comprehend to-day. Yet Dr.
Johnson loved his "little Burney" and greatly admired her work,
and there are entertaining and without question accurate
pictures of the fashionable London at the time of the American
Revolution drawn by an observer of the inner circle, in her
"Evelina" and "Cecilia"; one treasures them for their fresh
spirit and lively humor, nor looks in them for the more serious
elements of good fiction. She contributes, modestly, to that
fiction to which we go for human documents. No one who has been
admitted to the privileges of Miss Burney's Diary can fail to
feel that a woman who commands such idiom is easily an adept in
the realistic dialogue of the novel. Here, even more than in her
own novels or those of Richardson and Fielding, we hear the
exact syllable and intonation of contemporary speech. "Mr.
Cholmondeley is a clergyman," she writes, "nothing shining
either in person or manners but rather somewhat grim in the
first and glum in the last." And again: "Our confab was
interrupted by the entrance of Mr. King," or yet again: "The
joke is, the people speak as if they were afraid of me, instead
of my being afraid of them.... Next morning, Mrs. Thrale asked
me if I did not want to see Mrs. Montagu? I truly said I should
be the most insensible of animals not to like to see our sex's
glory." It is hard to realize that this was penned in the
neighborhood of one hundred and fifty years ago, so modern is
its sound.

A great writer, with a wider scope and a more incisive satire,
is Maria Edgeworth, whose books take us over into the nineteenth
century. The lighter, more frivolous aspects of English high
society are admirably portrayed in her "Belinda" and eight or
ten other tales: and she makes a still stronger claim to
permanent remembrance in such studies of Irish types, whether in
England or on the native soil, as "The Absentee" and "Castle
Rackrent." I venture the statement that even the jaded novel
reader of to-day will find on a perusal of either of these
capital stories that Miss Edgeworth makes literature, and that a
pleasure not a penance is in store. She first in English fiction
exploited the better-class Irishman at home and her scenes have
historic value. Some years later, Susan Ferrier, who enjoyed the
friendship of Scott, wrote under the stimulus of Maria
Edgeworth's example a series of clever studies of Scotch life,
dashed with decided humor and done with true observation.

These women, with their quick eye and facile ability to report
what they saw, and also their ease of manner which of itself
seems like a social gift, were but the prelude to the work so
varied, gifted and vastly influential, which the sex was to do
in the modern Novel; so that, at present, in an open field and
no favors given, they are honorable rivals of men, securing
their full share of public favor. And the English Novel, written
by so many tentatively during these fifty years when the form
was a-shaping, culminates at the turn of the century in two
contrasted authors compared with whom all that went before seems
but preparatory; one a man, the other a woman, who together
express and illustrate most conveniently for this study the main
movements of modern fiction,--romance and realism,--the instinct
for truth and the instinct for beauty; not necessarily an
antagonism, as we shall have ample occasion to see, since truth,
rightly defined, is only "beauty seen from another side." It
hardly needs to add that these two novelists are Jane Austen and
Walter Scott.



It has been said that Miss Austen came nearer to showing life as
it is,--the life she knew and chose to depict,--than any other
novelist of English race. In other words, she is a princess
among the truth-tellers. Whether or not this claim can be
substantiated, it is sure that, writing practically half a
century after Richardson and Fielding, she far surpassed those
pioneers in the exquisite and easy verisimilitude of her art.
Nay, we can go further and say that nobody has reproduced life
with a more faithful accuracy, that yet was not photography
because it gave the pleasure proper to art, than this same Jane
Austen, spinster, well-born and well-bred: in her own phrase, an
"elegant female" of the English past. Scott's famous remark can
not be too often quoted: "That young lady had a talent for
describing the movements and feelings of characters of ordinary
life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with."

If you look on the map at the small Southern county of
Hampshire, you will see that the town of Steventon lies hard by
Selborne, another name which the naturalist White has made
pleasant to the ear. Throughout her forty-two years of life--she
was born the year of American revolution and died shortly after
Scott had begun his Waverley series--she was a country-woman in
the best sense: a clergyman's daughter identified with her
neighborhood, dignified and private in her manner of existence,
her one sensational outing being a four years' residence in the
fashionable watering-place of Bath, where Beau Nash once reigned
supreme and in our day, Beaucaire has been made to rebuke Lady
Mary Carlisle for her cold patrician pride. Quiet she lived and
died, nor was she reckoned great in letters by her
contemporaries. She wrote on her lap with others in the room,
refused to take herself seriously and in no respect was like the
authoress who is kodaked at the writing-desk and chronicled in
her movements by land and sea. She was not the least bit
"literary." Fanny Burney, who had talent to Jane Austen's
genius, was in a blaze of social recognition, a petted darling
of the town, where the other walked in rural ways and unnoted of
the world, wrote novels that were to make literary history. Such
are the revenges of the whirligig, Time.

Austen's indestructible reputation is founded on half a dozen
pieces of fiction: the best, and best known, "Sense and
Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice," although "Mansfield
Park," "Emma," "Northanger Abbey" and "Persuasion" (in order of
publication but not of actual composition) are all of importance
to the understanding and enjoyment of her, and her evenness of
performance, on the whole, is remarkable. The earlier three of
these books were written by Miss Austen when a young woman In
the twenties, but published much later, and were anonymous--an
indication of her tendency to take her authorship as an aside.
Two of them appeared posthumously. Curiously, "Northanger
Abbey," that capital hit at the Radcliffe romanticism, and first
written of her stories, was disposed of to a publisher when the
writer was but three and twenty, yet was not printed until she
had passed away nearly twenty years later,--a sufficient proof
of her unpopularity from the mercantile point of view.

Here is one of the paradoxes of literature: this gentlewoman
dabbling in a seemingly amateur fashion in letters, turns out to
be the ablest novelist of her sex and race, one of the very few
great craftsmen, one may say, since art is no respector of sex.
Jane Austen is the best example in the whole range of English
literature of the wisdom of knowing your limitations and
cultivating your own special plot of ground. She offers a
permanent rebuke to those who (because of youth or a failure to
grasp the meaning of life) fancy that the only thing worth while
lies on the other side of the Pyrenees; when all the while at
one's own back-door blooms the miracle. She had a clear-eyed
comprehension of her own restrictions; and possessed that power
of self-criticism which some truly great authors lack. She has
herself given us the aptest comment ever made on her books:
speaking of the "little bit of ivory two inches wide on which
she worked with a brush so fine as to produce little effect
after much labor";--a judgment hardly fair as to the interest
she arouses, but nevertheless absolutely descriptive of the plus
and minus of her gift.

Miss Austen knew the genteel life of the upper middle class
Hampshire folk, "the Squirearchy and the upper professional
class," as Professor Saintsbury expresses it, down to the
ground--knew it as a sympathetic onlooker slightly detached (she
never married), yet not coldly aloof but a part of it as devoted
sister and maiden aunt, and friend-in-general to the community.
She could do two things which John Ruskin so often lauded as
both rare and difficult: see straight and then report
accurately; a literary Pre-Raphaelite, be it noted, before the
term was coined. It not only came natural to her to tell the
truth about average humanity as she saw it; she could not be
deflected from her calling. Winning no general recognition
during her life-time, she was not subjected to the temptations
of the popular novelist; but she had her chance to go wrong, for
it is recorded how that the Librarian to King George the Third,
an absurd creature yclept Clark, informed the authoress that his
Highness admired her works, and suggested that in view of the
fact that Prince Leonard was to marry the Princess Charlotte,
Miss Austen should indite "An historical romance illustrative of
the august house of Coburg." To which, Miss Jane, with a humor
and good-sense quite in character (and, it may be feared, not
appreciated by the recipient): "I could not sit down to write a
serious romance under any other motive than amusement to save my
life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up, and
never relax into laughter at myself and other people, I am sure
I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I
must keep to my own style and go on in my own way."

There is scarce a clearer proof of genius than this ability to
strike out a path and keep to it: in striking contrast with the
weak wobbling so often shown in the desire to follow literary
fashion or be complaisant before the suggestion of the merchants
of letters.

All her novels are prophetic of what was long to rule, in their
slight framework of fable; the handling of the scenes by the
way, the characterization, the natural dialogue, the
vraisemblance of setting, the witty irony of observation, these
are the elements of interest. Jane Austen's plots are mere
tempests in tea-pots; yet she does not go to the extreme of the
plotless fiction of the present. She has a story to tell, as
Trollope would say, and knows how to tell it in such a way as to
subtract from it every ounce of value. There is a clear kernel
of idea in each and every one of her tales. Thus, in "Sense and
Sensibility," we meet two sisters who stand for the
characteristics contrasted in the title, and in the fortunes of
Mariane, whose flighty romanticism is cured so that she makes a
sensible marriage after learning the villainy of her earlier
lover and finding that foolish sentimentalism may well give way
to the informing experiences of life,--the thesis, satirically
conveyed though with more subtlety than in the earlier
"Northanger Abbey," proclaims the folly of young-girl
sentimentality and hysteria. In "Pride and Prejudice," ranked by
many as her masterpiece, Darcy, with his foolish hauteur, his
self-consciousness of superior birth, is temporarily blind to
the worth of Elizabeth, who, on her part, does not see the good
in him through her sensitiveness to his patronizing attitude; as
the course of development brings them together in a happy union,
the lesson of toleration, of mutual comprehension, sinks into
the mind. The reader realizes the pettiness of the worldly
wisdom which blocks the way of joy. As we have said, "Northanger
Abbey" speaks a wise word against the abuse of emotionalism; it
tells of the experiences of a flighty Miss, bred on the
"Mysteries of Udolpho" style of literature, during a visit to a
country house where she imagined all the medieval romanticism
incident to that school of fiction,--aided and abetted by such
innocuous helps as a storm without and a lonesome chamber within
doors. Of the later stories, "Mansfield Park" asks us to
remember what it is to be poor and reared among rich relations;
"Emma" displays a reverse misery: the rich young woman whose
character is exposed to the adulations and shams incident upon
her position; while in "Persuasion," there is yet another idea
expressed by and through another type of girl; she who has
fallen into the habit of allowing herself to be over-ridden and
used by friends and family.--There is something all but
Shaksperian in that story's illustration of "the uncertainty of
all human events and calculations," as she herself expresses it:
Anne Eliot's radical victory is a moral triumph yet a warning
withal. And in each book, the lesson has been conveyed with the
unobtrusive indirection of fine art; the story is ever first, we
are getting fiction not lectures. These novels adorn truth; they
show what literature can effect by the method of much-in-little.

There is nothing sensational in incident or complication: as
with Richardson, an elopement is the highest stretch of external
excitement Miss Austen vouchsafes. Yet all is drawn so
beautifully to scale, as in such a scene as that of the quarrel
and estrangement of Elizabeth and Darcy in "Pride and
Prejudice," that the effect is greater than in the case of many
a misused opportunity where the events are earth-shaking in
import. The situation means so much to the participants, that
the reader becomes sympathetically involved. After all,
importance in fiction is exactly like importance in life;
important to whom? the philosopher asks. The relativity of
things human is a wholesome theory for the artist to bear in
mind. Even as the most terrific cataclysm on this third planet
from the sun in a minor system, makes not a ripple upon Mars, so
the most infinitesimal occurrence in eighteenth century
Hampshire may seem of account,--if only a master draws the

Not alone by making her characters thoroughly alive and
interesting does Miss Austen effect this result: but by her way
of telling the tale as well; by a preponderance of dialogue
along with clear portraiture she actually gets an effect that is
dramatic. Scenes from her books are staged even to the present
day. She found this manner of dialogue with comparative
parsimony of description and narration, to be her true method as
she grew as a fiction-maker: the early unpublished story
"Susan," and the first draught of "Sense and Sensibility," had
the epistolary form of Richardson, the more undramatic nature of
which is self-evident. As for characterization itself, she is
with the few: she has added famous specimens--men and women
both--to the natural history of fiction. To think of but one
book, "Pride and Prejudice," what an inimitable study of a
foolish woman is Mrs. Bennett! Who has drawn the insufferable
patroness more vividly than in a Lady Catherine de Bourgh! And
is not the sycophant clergyman hit off to the life in Mr.
Collins! Looking to the stories as a group, are not her
heroines, with Anne Eliot perhaps at their head, wonderful for
quiet attraction and truth, for distinctness, charm and variety?
Her personages are all observed; she had the admirable good
sense not to go beyond her last. She had every opportunity to
see the county squire, the baronet puffed up with a sense of his
own importance, the rattle and rake of her day, the tuft hunter,
the gentleman scholar, and the retired admiral (her two brothers
had that rank)--and she wisely decided to exhibit these and
other types familiar to her locality and class, instead of
drawing on her imagination or trying to extend by guess-work her
social purview. Her women in general, whether satiric and
unpleasant like Mrs. Norris in "Mansfield Park" or full of
winning qualities like Catherine Moreland and Anne Eliot, are
drawn with a sureness of hand, an insight, a complete
comprehension that cannot be over-praised. Jane Austen's
heroines are not only superior to her heroes (some of whom do
not get off scot-free from the charge of priggishness) but they
excel the female characterization of all English novelists save
only two or three,--one of them being Hardy. Her characters were
so real to herself, that she made statements about them to her
family as if they were actual,--a habit which reminds of Balzac.

The particular angle from which she looked on life was the
satirical: therefore, her danger is exaggeration, caricature.
Yet she yielded surprisingly little, and her reputation for
faithful transcripts from reality, can not now be assailed. Her
detached, whimsical attitude of scrutinizing the little cross-section
of life she has in hand, is of the very essence of her
charm: hers is that wit which is the humor of the mind:
something for inward smiling, though the features may not
change. Her comedy has in this way the unerring thrust and the
amused tolerance of a Moliere whom her admirer Macaulay should
have named rather than Shakspere when wishing to compliment her
by a comparison; with her manner of representation and her view
of life in mind, one reverts to Meredith's acute description of
the spirit that inheres in true comedy. "That slim, feasting
smile, shaped like the longbow, was once a big round satyr's
laugh, that flung up the brows like a fortress lifted by
gunpowder. The laugh will come again, but it will be of the
order of the smile, finely tempered, showing sunlight of the
mind, mental richness rather than noisy enormity. Its common
aspect is one of unsolicitous observation, as if surveying a
full field and having leisure to dart on its chosen morsels,
without any flattering eagerness. Men's future upon earth does
not attract it; their honesty and shapeliness in the present
does; and whenever they were out of proportion, overthrown,
affected, pretentious, bombastical, hypocritical, pedantic,
fantastically delicate; whenever it sees them self-deceived or
hoodwinked, given to run riot in idolatries, drifting into
vanities, congregating in absurdities, planning shortsightedly,
plotting dementedly; whenever they are at variance with their
professions, and violate the unwritten but perceptible laws
binding them in consideration one to another; whenever they
offend sound reason, fair justice; are false in humility or
mined with conceit, individually or in the bulk--the Spirit
overhead will look humanly malign and cast an oblique light on
them, followed by volleys of silvery laughter. That is the Comic

If the "silvery laughter" betimes sounds a bit sharp and thinly
feminine, what would you have? Even genius must be subject to
the defect of its quality. Still, it must be confessed that this
attitude of the artist observer is broken in upon a little in
the later novels, beginning with "Mansfield Park," by a growing
tendency to moral on the time, a tendency that points ominously
to didacticism. There is something of the difference in Jane
Austen between early and late, that we shall afterwards meet in
that other great woman novelist, George Eliot. One might push
the point too far, but it is fair to make it.

We may also inquire--trying to see the thing freshly, with
independence, and to get away from the mere handing-on of a
traditional opinion--if Jane Austen's character-drawing, so far-famed
for its truth, does not at times o'erstep the modesty of
Nature. Goldwin Smith, in his biography of her, is quite right
in pointing out that she unquestionably overdraws her types: Mr.
Collins is at moments almost a reminder of Uriah Heap for oily
submissiveness: Sir Walter Eliot's conceit goes so far he seems
a theory more than a man, a "humor" in the Ben Jonson sense. So,
too, the valetudinarianism of Mr. Wood-house, like that of
Smollett's Bramble, is something strained; so is Lady de
Bourgh's pride and General Tilney's tyranny. Critics are fond of
violent contrasts and to set over against one another authors so
unlike, for example, as Miss Austen and Dickens is a favorite
occupation. Also is it convenient to put a tag on every author:
a mask reading realist, romanticist, psychologue, sensation-monger,
or some such designation, and then hold him to the name.
Thus, in the case of Austen it is a temptation to call her the
greatest truth-teller among novelists, and so leave her. But, as
a matter of fact, great as realist and artist as she was, she
does not hesitate at that heightening of effect which insures
clearer seeing, longer remembering and a keener pleasure.
Perhaps she is in the broad view all the better artist because
of this: a thought sadly forgotten by the extreme veritists of
our day. It is the business of art to improve upon Nature.

Again the reader of Jane Austen must expect to find her with the
limitation of her time and place: it is, frankly, a dreadfully
contracted view of the world she represents, just for the reason
that it is the view of her Hampshire gentry in the day of the
third George. The ideals seem low, narrow; they lack air and
light. Woman's only role is marriage; female propriety chokes
originality; money talks, family places individuals, and the
estimate of sex-relations is intricately involved with these
eidola. There is little sense of the higher and broader issues:
the spiritual restrictions are as definite as the social and
geographical: the insularity is magnificent. It all makes you
think of Tennyson's lines:

"They take the rustic cackle of their burg
For the great wave that echoes round the world!"

Hence, one of the bye-products of Miss Austen's books is their
revelation of hide-bound class-distinction, the not seldom ugly
parochialism--the utilitarian aims of a circle of highly
respectable English country folk during the closing years of the
eighteenth century. The opening sentence of her masterpiece
reads: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man
in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
Needless to say that "universally" here is applicable to a tiny
area of earth observed by a most charming spinster, at a certain
period of society now fast fading into a dim past. But the
sentence might serve fairly well as a motto for all her work:
every plot she conceived is firm-based upon this as a major
premise, and the particular feminine deduction from those words
may be found in the following taken from another work,
"Mansfield Park": "Being now in her twenty-first year, Maria
Bertram was beginning to think marriage a duty; and as a
marriage with Mr. Rushford would give her the enjoyment of a
larger income than her father's, as well as insure her the house
in town, which was now a prime object, it became by the same
rule of moral obligation, her evident duty to marry Mr. Rushford
if she could." The egocentric worldliness of this is superb. The
author, it may be granted, has a certain playful satire in her
manner here and elsewhere, when setting forth such views: yet it
seems to be fair to her to say that, taking her fiction as a
whole, she contentedly accepts this order of things and builds
upon it. She and her world exhibit not only worldliness but that
"other-worldliness" which is equally self-centered and
materialistic. Jane Austen is a highly enjoyable mondaine. To
compare her gamut with that of George Eliot or George Meredith
is to appreciate how much has happened since in social and
individual evolution. The wide social sympathy that throbs in
modern fiction is hardly born.

In spite, too, of the thorough good breeding of this woman
writer, the primness even of her outlook upon the world, there
is plain speaking in her books, even touches of coarseness that
are but the echo of the rankness which abounds in the
Fielding-Smollett school. Happily, it is a faint one.

Granting the slightness of her plots and their family likeness,
warm praise is due for the skill with which they are conducted;
they are neatly articulated, the climactic effect is, as a rule,
beautifully graduated and sure in its final force: the multitude
of littles which go to make up the story are, upon examination,
seen to be not irrelevant but members of the one body, working
together towards a common end. It is a puzzling question how
this firm art was secured: since technique does not mean so much
a gift from heaven as the taking of forethought, the self-conscious
skill of a practitioner. Miss Austen, setting down her
thoughts of an evening in a copybook in her lap, interrupted by
conversations and at the beck and call of household duties, does
not seem as one who was acquiring the mastery of a difficult
art-form. But the wind bloweth where it listeth--and the
evidences of skill are there; we can but chronicle the fact, and
welcome the result.

She was old-fashioned in her adherence to the "pleasant ending";
realist though she was, she could not go to the lengths either
of theme or interpretation in the portrayal of life which later
novelists have so sturdily ventured. It is easy to understand
that with her avowed dislike of tragedy, living in a time when
it was regarded as the business of fiction to be amusing--when,
in short, it was not fashionable to be disagreeable, as it has
since become--Jane Austen should have preferred to round out her
stories with a "curtain" that sends the audience home content.
She treats this desire in herself with a gentle cynicism which,
read to-day, detracts somewhat perhaps from the verity of her
pictures. She steps out from the picture at the close of her
book to say a word in proper person. Thus, in "Mansfield Park,"
in bringing Fanny Price into the arms of her early lover,
Edmund, she says: "I purposely abstain from dates on this
occasion, that every one may be at liberty to fix their own,
aware that the cure of unconquerable passions and the transfer
of unchanging attachments must vary much as to time in different
people. I only entreat everybody to believe that exactly at the
time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a
week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford and
became as anxious to marry Fanny as Fanny herself could desire."

But it cannot be urged against her that it was her habit to
effect these agreeable conclusions to her social histories by
tampering with probability or violently wresting events from
their proper sequence. Life is neither comedy nor tragedy--it is
tragi-comedy, or, if you prefer the graver emphasis, comi-tragedy.
Miss Austen, truth-lover, has as good a right to leave
her lovers at the juncture when we see them happily mated, as at
those more grievous junctures so much affected by later fiction.
Both representations may be true or false in effect, according
as the fictionist throws emphasis and manages light-and-shade. A
final page whereon all is couleur de rose has, no doubt, an
artificial look to us now: a writer of Miss Austen's school or
her kind of genius for reporting fact, could not have finished
her fictions in just the same way. There is no blame properly,
since the phenomenon has to do with the growth of human thought,
the change of ideals reflected in literature.

For one more point: Miss Austen only knew, or anyhow, only cared
to write, one sort of Novel--the love story. With her, a young
man and woman (or two couples having similar relations) are
interested in each other and after various complications arising
from their personal characteristics, from family interference or
other criss-cross of events, misplacement of affection being a
trump card, are united in the end. The formula is of primitive
simplicity. The wonder is that so much of involvement and
genuine human interest can be got out of such scant use of the
possible permutations of plot. It is all in the way it is done.

Love stories are still written in profusion, and we imagine that
so compelling a motive for fiction will still be vital (in some
one of its innumerable phases) in the twenty-fifth century. Yet
it is true that novelists now point with pride to the work of
the last generation of their art, in that it has so often made
sex love subsidiary to other appeals, or even eliminated it
altogether from their books. Some even boast of the fact that
not a woman is to be found in the pages of their latest
creation. Nearly one hundred years ago, Defoe showed the
possibility (if you happen to have genius) of making a powerful
story without the introduction of the eternal feminine: Crusoe
could not declare with Cyrano de Bergerac:

"Je vous dois d'avoir eu tout au moins, une amie;
Grace a vous, une robe a passe dans ma vie."

It is but natural that, immensely powerful as it is, such a
motive should have been over-worked: the gamut of variations has
been run from love licit to love illicit, and love degenerate
and abnormal to no-love-at-all. But any publisher will assure
you that still "love conquers all"; and in the early nineteenth
century any novelist who did not write tales of amatory interest
was a fool: the time was not ripe to consider an extension of
the theme nor a shifted point of view. For the earlier
story-tellers, in the language of Browning's lyric,

"Love is best."

Jane Austen's diction--or better, her style, which is more than
diction--in writing her series of social studies, affords a fine
example of the adaptation of means to end. Given the work to be
accomplished, the tools are perfect instruments for the purpose.
The student of English style in its evolution must marvel at the
idiom of Austen, so strangely modern is it, so little has time
been able to make it passe. From her first book, her manner
seems to be easy, adequate, unforced, with nothing about it
self-conscious or gauche. In the development of some great
writers the change from unsureness and vulgarity to the mastery
of mature years can be traced: Dickens is one such. But nothing
of the sort can be found in Austen. She has in "Northanger
Abbey" and "Pride and Prejudice"--early works--a power in
idiomatic English which enables her reader to see her thought
through its limpid medium of language, giving, it may be, as
little attention to the form of expression as a man uninstructed
in the niceties of a woman's dress gives to those details which
none the less in their totality produce on him a most formidable
effect. Miss Austen's is not the style of startling tricks: nor
has she the flashing felicities of a Stevenson which lead one to
return to a passage for re-gustation. Her manner rarely if ever
takes the attention from her matter. But her words and their
marshaling (always bearing in her mind her unambitious purpose)
make as fit a garment for her thought as was ever devised upon
English looms. If this is style, then Jane Austen possesses it,
as have very few of the race. There is just a touch of the
archaic in it, enough to give a quaintness that has charm
without being precious in the French sense; hers are breeding
and dignity without distance or stiffness. Now and again the
life-likeness is accentuated by a sort of undress which goes to
the verge of the slip-shod--as if a gentlewoman should not be
too particular, lest she seem professional; the sort of liberty
with the starched proprieties of English which Thackeray later
took with such delightful results. Of her style as a whole,
then, we may say that it is good literature for the very reason
that it is not literary; neither mannered nor mincing nor
affectedly plain. The style is the woman--and the woman wrote as
a lady should who is portraying genteel society; very much as
she would talk--with the difference the artist will always make
between life and its expression in letters.

Miss Austen's place was won slowly but surely, unlike those
authors whose works spring into instantaneous popularity, to be
forgotten with equal promptness, or others who like Mrs. Stowe
write a book which, for historical reasons, gains immediate
vogue and yet retains a certain reputation. The author of "Pride
and Prejudice" gains in position with the passing of the years.
She is one of the select company of English writers who after a
century are really read, really of more than historical
significance. New and attractive editions of her books are
frequent: she not only holds critical regard (and to criticism
her importance is permanent) but is read by an appreciable
number of the lovers of sound literature; read far more
generally, we feel sure, than Disraeli or Bulwer or Charles
Kingsley, who are so much nearer our own day and who filled so
large a place in their respective times. Compared with them,
Jane Austen appears a serene classic. When all is said, the
test, the supreme test, is to be read: that means that an author
is vitally alive, not dead on the shelves of a library where he
has been placed out of deference to the literary Mrs. Grundy.
Lessing felt this when he wrote his brilliant quatrain:

Wer wird nicht einen Klopstock loben,
Doch wird ihn jeder lesen? Nein!
Wir wollen weniger erhoben
Und fleissiger gelesen sein,

So was the century which was to be conspicuous for its
development of fiction that should portray the social relations
of contemporary life with fine and ever-increasing truth, most
happily inaugurated by a woman who founded its traditions and
was a wonderful example of its method. She is the literary
godmother of Trollope and Howells, and of all other novelists
since who prefer to the most spectacular uses of the imagination
the unsensational chronicling of life.



The year after the appearance of "Pride and Prejudice" there
began to be published in England a series of anonymous
historical stories to which the name of Waverley Novels came to
be affixed, the title of the first volume. It was not until the
writer had produced for more than a decade a splendid list of
fictions familiar to all lovers of literature, that his name--by
that time guessed by many and admitted to some--was publicly
announced as that of Walter Scott--a man who, before he had
printed a single romance, had won more than national importance
by a succession of narrative poems beginning with "The Lay of
the Last Minstrel."

Few careers, personal and professional, in letters, are more
stimulating and attractive than that of Scott. His life was
winsome, his work of that large and noble order that implies a
worthy personality behind it. Scott, the man, as he is portrayed
in Lockhart's Life and the ever-delightful Letters, is as
suitable an object of admiration as Scott the author of "Guy
Mannering" and "Old Mortality." And when we reflect that by the
might of his genius he set his seal on the historical romance,
that the modern romance derives from Scott, and that, moreover,
in spite of the remarkable achievements in this order of fiction
during almost a century, he remains not only its founder but its
chief ornament, his contribution to modern fiction begins to be

The characteristics of the Novel proper as a specific kind of
fiction have been already indicated and illustrated in this
study: we have seen that it is a picture of real life in a
setting of to-day: the romance, which is Scott's business, is
distinguished from this in its use of past time and historic
personages, its heightening of effect by the introducing of the
exceptional in scene and character, its general higher color in
the conductment of the narrative: and above all, its emphasis
upon the larger, nobler, more inspiring aspects of humanity.
This, be it understood, is the romance of modern times, not the
elder romance which was irresponsible in its picture of life,
falsely idealistic. When Sir Walter began his fiction, the trend
of the English Novel inheriting the method and purpose of
Richardson, was away from the romantic in this sense. The
analysis given has, it may be hoped, made this plain. It was by
the sheer force of his creative gift, therefore, that Scott set
the fashion for the romance in fiction: aided though he
doubtless was by the general romanticism introduced by the
greater English poets and expressive of the movement in
literature towards freedom, which followed the French
Revolution. That Scott at this time gave the fiction an impulse
not in the central flow of development is shown in the fact of
its rapid decadence after he passed away. While the romance is
thus a different thing from the Novel, modern fiction is close
woven of the two strands of realism and romance, and a
comprehensive study must have both in mind. Even authors like
Dickens, Thackeray and Eliot, who are to be regarded as stalwart
realists, could not avoid a single sally each into romance, with
"A Tale of Two Cities," "Henry Osmond" and "Romola"; and on the
other hand, romanticists like Hawthorne and Stevenson have used
the methods and manner of the realist, giving their loftiest
flights the most solid groundwork of psychologic reality. It
must always be borne in mind that there is a romantic way of
dealing with fact: that a novel of contemporary society which
implies its more exceptional possibilities and gives due regard
to the symbol behind every so-called fact, can be, in a good
sense, romantic. Surely, that is a more acceptable use of the
realistic formula which, by the exercise of an imaginative grasp
of history, makes alive and veritable for us some hitherto
unrealized person or by-gone epoch. Scott is thus a romanticist
because he gave the romantic implications of reality: and is a
novelist in that broader, better definition of the word which
admits it to be the novelist's business to portray social
humanity, past or present, by means of a unified, progressive
prose narrative. Scott, although he takes advantage of the
romancer's privilege of a free use of the historic past, the
presentation of its heroic episodes and spectacular events, is a
novelist, after all, because he deals with the recognizably
human, not with the grotesque, supernatural, impossible. He
imparts a vivid sense of the social interrelations, for the most
part in a medieval environment, but in any case in an
environment which one recognizes as controlled by human laws;
not the brain-freak of a pseudo-idealist. Scott's Novels, judged
broadly, make an impression of unity, movement and climax. To
put it tersely: he painted manners, interpreted character in an
historic setting and furnished story for story's sake. Nor was
his genius helpless without the historic prop. Certain of his
major successes are hardly historical narratives at all; the
scene of "Guy Mannering," for example, and of "The Antiquary,"
is laid in a time but little before that which was known
personally to the romancer in his young manhood.

It will be seen in this theory of realism and romance that so
far from antagonists are the story of truth and the story of
poetry, they merely stand for diverging preferences in handling
material. Nobody has stated this distinction better than
America's greatest romancer, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Having "The
House of the Seven Gables" in mind, he says:

When a writer calls his work a romance, it need hardly be
observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude both as
to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt
himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing
a novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim
at a very minute fidelity, not only to the possible, but to
the probable and ordinary course of man's experience. The
former, while as a work of art it must rigidly subject
itself to laws and while it sins unpardonably so far as it
may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart, has
fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances to
a great extent of the author's own choosing or creation. If
he think fit, also, he may so manage his atmospherical
medium as to bring out or mellow the lights and deepen and
enrich the shadows of the picture. He will be wise, no
doubt, to make a very moderate use of the privileges here
stated, and, especially, to mingle the marvelous rather as
a slight, delicate and evanescent flavor than as any
portion of the actual substance of the dish offered to the
public. The point of view in which this tale comes under
the romantic definition lies in the attempt to connect a
by-gone time with the very present that is flitting away
from us. It is a legend, prolonging itself from an epoch
now gray in the distance, down into our own broad daylight,
and bringing along with it some of its legendary mist,
which the reader may either disregard or allow it to float
almost imperceptibly about the characters and events for
the sake of a picturesque effect. The narrative, it may be,
is woven of so humble a texture, as to require this
advantage and at the same time to render it the more
difficult of attainment.

These words may be taken as the modern announcement of Romance,
as distinguished from that of elder times.

The many romantic Novels written by Scott can be separated into
two groups, marked by a cleavage of time: the year being 1819,
the date of the publication of "Ivanhoe." In the earlier group,
containing the fiction which appeared during the five years from
1814 to 1819, we find world-welcomed masterpieces which are an
expression of the unforced first fruits of his genius: the three
series of "Tales of My Landlord," "Guy Mannering," "Rob Roy,"
"The Heart of Midlothian" and "Old Mortality," to mention the
most conspicuous. To the second division belong stories equally
well known, many of them impressive: "The Monastery,"
"Kenilworth," "Quentin Durward," and "Red Gauntlet" among them,
but as a whole marking a falling off of power as increasing
years and killing cares made what was at first hardly more than
a sportive effort, a burden under which a man, at last broken,
staggered toward the desired goal. There is no manlier, more
gallant spectacle offered in the annals of literature than this
of Walter Scott, silent partner in a publishing house and ruined
by its failure after he has set up country gentleman and
gratified his expensive taste for baronial life, as he buckles
to, and for weary years strives to pay off by the product of his
pen the obligations incurred; his executors were able to clear
his estate of debt. It was an immense drudgery (with all
allowance for its moments of creative joy) accomplished with
high spirits and a kind of French gayety. Nor, though the best
quality of the work was injured towards the end of the long
task, and Scott died too soon at sixty-one, was the born
raconteur in him choked by this grim necessity of grind. There
have been in modern fiction a few masters, and but a few, who
were natural improvisatori: conspicuous among them are Dumas the
elder and Walter Scott. Such writers pour forth from a very
spring of effortless power invention after invention, born of
the impulse of a rich imagination, a mind stored with bountiful
material for such shaping, and a nature soaked with the
humanities. They are great lovers of life, great personalities,
gifted, resourceful, unstinted in their giving, ever with
something of the boy in them, the careless prodigals of
literature. Often it seems as if they toiled not to acquire the
craft of the writer, nor do they lose time over the labor of the
file. To the end, they seem in a way like glorious amateurs.
They are at the antipodes of those careful craftsmen with whom
all is forethought, plan and revision. Scott, fired by a period,
a character or scene, commonly sat down without seeing his way
through and wrote currente calamo, letting creation take care of
its own. The description of him by a contemporary is familiar
where he was observed at a window, reeling off the manuscript
sheets of his first romance.

Since we sat down I have been watching that confounded
hand--it fascinates my eye. It never stops--page after page
is finished and thrown on the heap of manuscript, and still
it goes on unwearied--and so it will be until candles are
brought in, and God knows how long after that. It is the
same every night.

The great merits of such a nature and the method that is its
outcome should not blind us to its dangers, some of which Scott
did not escape. Schoolboys to-day are able to point out defects
in his style, glibly talking of loosely-built sentences,
redundancies, diffuseness, or what not. He seems long-winded to
the rising generation, and it may be said in their defense that
there are Novels of Scott which if cut down one-third would be
improved. Critics, too, speak of his anachronisms, his huddled
endings, the stiffness of his young gentleman heroes, his
apparent indifference to the laws of good construction; as well
as of his Tory limitations, the ponderosity of his manner and
the unmodernness of his outlook on the world along with the
simple superficiality of his psychology. All this may cheerfully
be granted, and yet the Scott lover will stoutly maintain that
the spirit and the truth are here, that the Waverley books
possess the great elements of fiction-making: not without reason
did they charm Europe as well as the English-speaking lands for
twenty years. The Scott romances will always be mentioned, with
the work of Burns, Carlyle and Stevenson, when Scotland's
contribution to English letters is under discussion; his
position is fortified as he recedes into the past, which so soon
engulfs lesser men. And it is because he was one of the world's
natural storytellers: his career is an impressive object-lesson
for those who would elevate technique above all else.

He produced romances which dealt with English history centuries
before his own day, or with periods near his time: Scotch
romances of like kind which had to do with the historic past of
his native land: romances of humbler life and less stately
entourage, the scenes of which were laid nearer, sometimes
almost within his own day. He was, in instances, notably
successful in all these kinds, but perhaps most of all in the
stories falling in the two categories last-named: which, like
"Old Mortality," have the full flavor of Scotch soil.

The nature of the Novels he was to produce became evident with
the first of them all, "Waverley." Here is a border tale which
narrates the adventures of a scion of that house among the loyal
Highlanders temporarily a rebel to the reigning English
sovereign and a recruit in the interests of the young pretender:
his fortunes, in love and war, and his eventual reinstatement in
the King's service and happiness with the woman of his choice.
While it might be too sweeping to say that there was in this
first romance (which has never ranked with his best) the whole
secret of the Scott historical story, it is true that the book
is typical, that here as in the long line of brilliantly
envisaged chronicle histories that followed, some of them far
superior to this initial attempt, are to be found the
characteristic method and charm of Sir Walter. Here, as
elsewhere, the reader is offered picturesque color, ever varied
scenes, striking situations, salient characters and a certain
nobility both of theme and manner that comes from the accustomed
representation of life in which large issues of family and state
are involved--the whole merged in a mood of fealty and love. You
constantly feel in Scott that life "means intensely and means
good." A certain amount of lovable partisanship and prejudice
goes with the view, not un-welcomely; there is also some
carelessness as to the minute details of fact. But the effect of
truth, both in character and setting, is overwhelming. Scott has
vivified English and Scotch history more than all the history
books: he saw it himself--so we see it. One of the reasons his
work rings true--whereas Mrs. Radcliffe's adventure tales seem
fictitious as well as feeble--is because it is the natural
outcome of his life: all his interest, his liking, his belief
went into the Novels. When he sat down at the mature age of
forty-three to make fiction, there was behind him the large part
of a lifetime of unconscious preparation for what he had to do:
for years he had been steeped in the folk-lore and legend of his
native country; its local history had been his hobby; he had not
only read its humbler literature but wandered widely among its
people, absorbed its language and its life, felt "the very pulse
of the machine." Hence he differed toto caelo from an
archeologist turned romancer like the German Ebers: being rather
a genial traveler who, after telling tales of his experiences by
word of mouth at the tavern hearth, sets them down upon paper
for better preservation. He had been no less student than
pedestrian in the field; lame as he was, he had footed his way
to many a tall memorial of a hoary past, and when still hardly
more than a boy, burrowed among the manuscripts of the
Advocates' Library in Edinburgh, making himself an able
antiquary at a time when most youth are idling or philandering.
Moreover, he was himself the son of a border chief and knew
minstrelsy almost at his nurse's knee: and the lilt of a ballad
was always like wine to his heart. It makes you think of Sir
Philip Sidney's splendid testimony to such an influence: "I
never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas that I found not
my heart moved more than with a trumpet."

All this could not but tell; the incidents in a book like
"Waverley" are unforced: the advance of the story closely
imitates Life in its ever-shifting succession of events: the
reader soon learns to trust the author's faculty of invention.
Plot, story-interest, is it not the backbone of romantic
fiction? And Scott, though perchance he may not conduct it so
swiftly as pleases the modern taste, may be relied on to furnish

In the earlier period up to "Ivanhoe," that famous sortie into
English history, belong such masterpieces as "Guy Mannering,"
"Old Mortality," "Heart of Midlothian," "The Bride of
Lammermoor," and "Rob Roy"; a list which, had he produced
nothing else would have sufficed to place him high among the
makers of romance. It is not the intention to analyze these
great books one by one--a task more fit for a volume than a
chapter; but to bring out those qualities of his work which are
responsible for his place in fiction and influence in the Novel
of the nineteenth century.

No story of this group--nor of his career as a writer--has won
more plaudits than "The Heart of Midlothian." Indeed, were the
reader forced to the unpleasant necessity of choosing out of the
thirty stories which Scott left the world the one most deserving
of the prize, possibly the choice would fall on that superb
portrayal of Scotch life--although other fine Novels of the
quintet named would have their loyal friends. To study the
peerlessly pathetic tale of Effie and Jeanie Deans is to see
Scott at his representative best and note the headmarks of his
genius: it is safe to say that he who finds nothing in it can
never care for its author.

The first thing to notice in this novel of the ancient Edinburgh
Tolbooth, this romance of faithful sisterhood, is its essential
Scotch fiber. The fact affects the whole work. It becomes
thereby simpler, homelier, more vernacular: it is a story that
is a native emanation. The groundwork of plot too is simple,
vital: and moreover, founded on a true incident. Effie, the
younger of two sisters, is betrayed; concerning her betrayer
there is mystery: she is supposed to commit child-murder to hide
her shame: a crime then punishable by death. The story deals
with her trial, condemnation and final pardon and happy marriage
with her lover through the noble mediation of Jeanie, her elder

In the presentation of an earlier period in Scotland, the
opening of the eighteenth century, when all punitive measures
were primitive and the lawless social elements seethed with
restless discontent, Scott had a fine chance: and at the very
opening, in describing the violent putting to death of Captain
Porteous, he skilfully prepares the way for the general picture
to be given. Then, as the story progresses, to the supreme
sacrificial effort of Jeanie in behalf of her erring sister's
life, gradually, stroke upon stroke, the period with its
religious schisms, its political passions and strong family
ties, is so illuminated that while the interest is centered upon
the Deans and their homely yet tragic history, Scotch life in an
earlier century is envisaged broadly, truthfully, in a way never
to grow pale in memory. Cameraman or King's man, God-fearing
peasant, lawless ruffian or Tory gentleman, the characters are
so marshaled that without sides being taken by the writer, one
feels the complexity of the period: and its uncivil wildness is
dramatically conveyed as a central fact in the Tolbooth with its
grim concomitants of gallows and gaping crowd of sightseers and

Scott's feeling for dramatic situation is illustrated in several
scenes that stand out in high relief after a hundred details
have been forgotten: one such is the trial scene in which Effie
implores her sister to save her by a lie, and Jeanie in agony
refuses; the whole management of it is impressively pictorial.
Another is that where Jeanie, on the road to London, is detained
by the little band of gypsy-thieves and passes the night with
Madge Wildfire in the barn: it is a scene Scott much relishes
and makes his reader enjoy. And yet another, and greater, is
that meeting with Queen Caroline and Lady Suffolk when the
humble Scotch girl is conducted by the Duke of Argyll to the
country house and in the garden beseeches pardon for her sister
Effie. It is intensely picturesque, real with many homely
touches which add to the truth without cheapening the effect of
royalty. The gradual working out of the excellent plot of this
romance to a conclusion pleasing to the reader is a favorable
specimen of this romancer's method in story-telling. There is
disproportion in the movement: it is slow in the first part,
drawing together in texture and gaining in speed during its
closing portion. Scott does not hesitate here, as so often, to
interrupt the story in order to interpolate historical
information, instead of interweaving it atmospherically with the
tale itself. When Jeanie is to have her interview with the Duke
of Argyll, certain preliminary pages must be devoted to a sketch
of his career. A master of plot and construction to-day would
have made the same story, so telling in motive, so vibrant with
human interest, more effective, so far as its conductment is
concerned. Scott in his fiction felt it as part of his duty to
furnish chronicle-history, very much as Shakspere seems to have
done in his so-called chronicle-history plays; whereas at
present the skilled artist feels no such responsibility. It may
be questioned if the book's famous scenes--the attempted
breaking into the Tolbooth, or the visit of Jeanie to the Queen--would
not have gained greatly from a dramatic point of view had
they been more condensed; they are badly languaged, looking to
this result, not swift enough for the best effects of drama,
whereas conception and framework are highly dramatic. In a word,
if more carefully written, fuller justice would have been done
the superb theme.

The characters that crowd the novel (as, in truth, they teem
throughout the great romances) testify to his range and grasp:
the Dean family, naturally, in the center. The pious, sturdy
Cameronian father and the two clearly contrasted sisters:
Butler, the clergyman lover; the saddle-maker, Saddletree, for
an amusing, long-winded bore; the quaint Laird Dumbledikes; the
soldiers of fortune, George Wilson and his mate; that other
soldier, Porteous; the gang of evildoers with Madge in the van--a
wonderful creation, she, only surpassed by the better known
Meg--the high personages clustered about the Queen: loquacious
Mrs. Glass, the Dean's kinswoman--one has to go back to Chaucer
or Shakspere for a companion picture so firmly painted in and
composed on such a generous scale.

Contention arises in a discussion of a mortal so good as Jeanie:
it would hardly be in the artistic temper of our time to draw a
peasant girl so well-nigh superhuman in her traits; Balzac's
"Eugenie Grandet" (the book appeared only fifteen years later),
is much nearer our time in its conception of the possibilities
of human nature: Eugenie does not strain credence, while
Jeanie's pious tone at times seems out of character, if not out
of humanity. The striking contrast with Effie is in a way to her
advantage: the weaker damsel appears more natural, more like
flesh and blood. But the final scene when, after fleeing with
her high-born lover, she returns to her simple sister as a wife
in a higher grade of society and the sister agrees that their
ways henceforth must be apart--that scene for truth and power is
one of the master-strokes. The reader finds that Jeanie Deans
somehow grows steadily in his belief and affection: quietly but
surely, a sense of her comeliness, her truthful love, her quaint
touch of Scotch canniness, her daughterly duteousness and her
stanch principle intensifies until it is a pang to bid her
farewell, and the mind harks back to her with a fond
recollection. Take her for all in all, Jeanie Deans ranks high
in Scott's female portraiture: with Meg Merillies in her own
station, and with Lucy Ashton and Di Vernon among those of
higher social place. In her class she is perhaps unparalleled in
all his fiction. The whole treatment of Effie's irregular love
is a fine example of Scott's kindly tolerance (tempered to a
certain extent by the social convention of his time) in dealing
with the sins of human beings. He is plainly glad to leave Effie
an honestly married woman with the right to look forward to
happy, useful years. The story breeds generous thoughts on the
theme of young womanhood: it handled the problem neither from
the superior altitude of the conventional moralist nor the cold
aloofness of the latter-day realist--Flaubert's attitude in
"Madame Bovary."

"A big, imperfect, noble Novel," the thoughtful reader concludes
as he closes it, and thinking back to an earlier impression,
finds that time has not loosened its hold.

And to repeat the previous statement: what is true of this is
true of all Scott's romances. The theme varies, the setting with
its wealth of local color may change, the period or party differ
with the demands of fact. Scotch and English history are widely
invoked: now it is the time of the Georges, now of the Stuarts,
now Elizabethan, again back to the Crusades. Scott, in fact,
ranges from Rufus the Red to the year 1800, and many are the
complications he considers within that ample sweep. It would be
untrue to say that his plots imitate each other or lack in
invention: we have seen that invention is one of his virtues.
Nevertheless, the motives are few when disencumbered of their
stately historical trappings: hunger, ambition, love, hate,
patriotism, religion, the primary passions and bosom interests
of mankind are those he depicts, because they are universal. It
is his gift for giving them a particular dress in romance after
romance which makes the result so often satisfactory, even
splendid. Yet, despite the range of time and grasp of Life's
essentials, there is in Scott's interpretation of humanity a
certain lack which one feels in comparing him with the finest
modern masters: with a Meredith, a Turgeneff or a Balzac. It is
a difference not only of viewpoint but of synthetic
comprehension and philosophic penetration. It means that he
mirrored a day less complex, less subtle and thoughtful. This
may be dwelt upon and illustrated a little in some further
considerations on his main qualities.

Scott, like the earlier novelists in general, was content to
depict character from without rather than from within: to
display it through act and scene instead of by the probing
analysis so characteristically modern. This meant inevitable
limitations in dealing with an historical character or time. A
high-church Tory himself, a frank Jacobite in his leanings--Taine
declared he had a feudal mind--he naturally so composed a
picture as to reflect this predilection, making effects of
picturesqueness accordingly. The idea given of Mary Queen of
Scots from "The Abbot" is one example of what is meant; that of
Prince Charley in "Waverley" is another. In a sense, however,
the stories are all the better for this obvious bias. Where a
masculine imagination moved by warm affection seizes on an
historic figure the result is sure to be vivid, at least; and
let it be repeated that Scott has in this way re-created history
for the many. He shows a sound artistic instinct in his handling
of historic personages relative to those imaginary: rarely
letting them occupy the center of interest, but giving that
place to the creatures of his fancy, thereby avoiding the
hampering restriction of a too close following of fact. The
manipulation of Richard Coeur de Lion in "Ivanhoe" is
instructive with this in mind.

While the lights and shadows of human life are duly blended in
his romances, Scott had a preference for the delineation of the
gentle, the grand (or grandiose), the noble and the beautiful:
loving the medieval, desiring to reproduce the age of chivalry,
he was naturally aristocratic in taste, as in intellect, though
democratic by the dictates of a thoroughly good heart. He liked
a pleasant ending--or, at least, believed in mitigating tragedy
by a checker of sunlight at the close. He had little use for the
degenerate types of mankind: certainly none for degeneracy for
its own sake, or because of a kind of scientific interest in its
workings. Nor did he conceive of the mission of fiction as being
primarily instructional: nor set too high a value on a novel as
a lesson in life--although at times (read the moral tag to "The
Heart of Midlothian") he speaks in quite the preacher's tone of
the improvement to be got from the teaching of the tale. Critics
to-day are, I think, inclined to place undue emphasis upon what
they regard as Scott's failure to take the moral obligations of
fiction seriously: they confuse his preaching and his practice.
Whatever he declared in his letters or Journal, the novels
themselves, read in the light of current methods, certainly
leave an old-fashioned taste on the palate, because of their
moralizings and avowments of didactic purpose. The advantages
and disadvantages of this general attitude can be easily
understood: the loss in philosophic grasp is made up in
healthiness of tone and pleasantness of appeal. One recognizes
such an author as, above all, human and hearty. The reserves and
delicacies of Anglo-Saxon fiction are here, of course, in full
force: and a doctored view of the Middle Ages is the result, as
it is in Tennyson's "Idylls of the King." A sufficient answer is
that it is not Scott's business to set us right as to
medievalism, but rather to use it for the imaginative purposes
of pleasure. The frank intrusion of the author himself into the
body of the page o in the way of footnotes is also disturbing,
judged by our later standards: but was carried on with much
charm by Thackeray in the mid-century, to reappear at its end in
the pages of Du Maurier.

In the more technical qualifications of the story-maker's art,
Scott compensated in the more masculine virtues for what he
lacked in the feminine. Possessing less of finesse, subtlety and
painstaking than some who were to come, he excelled in sweep,
movement and variety, as well as in a kind of largeness of
effect: "the big bow-wow business," to use his own humorously
descriptive phrase when he was comparing himself with Jane
Austen, to his own disadvantage. And it is these very qualities
that endear him to the general and keep his memories green;
making "Ivanhoe" and "Kenilworth" still useful for school
texts--unhappy fate! Still, this means that he always had a story to
tell and told it with the flow and fervor and the instinctive
coherence of the story-teller born, not made.

When the fortunes of his fictive folk were settled, this
novelist, always more interested in characters than in the plot
which must conduct them, often loses interest and his books end
more or less lamely, or with obvious conventionality. Anything
to close it up, you feel. But of action and incident, scenes
that live and situations with stage value, one of Scott's
typical fictions has enough to furnish the stock in trade for
life of many later-day romanticists who feebly follow in his
wake. He has a special skill in connecting the comparatively
small private involvement, which is the kernel of a story, with
important public matters, so that they seem part of the larger
movements or historic occurrences of the world. Dignity and body
are gained for the tale thereby.

In the all-important matter of characterization, Scott yields
the palm to very few modern masters. Merely to think of the
range, variety and actuality of his creations is to feel the
blood move quicker. From figures of historic and regal
importance--Richard, Elizabeth, Mary--to the pure coinage of
imagination--Dandy Dinmont, Dugald Dalgetty, Dominie Sampson,
Rebecca, Lucy, Di Vernon and Jeanie--how the names begin to
throng and what a motley yet welcome company is assembled in the
assizes where this romancer sits to mete out fate to those
within the wide bailiwick of his imagination! This central gift
he possessed with the princes of story-making. It is also
probable that of the imaginative writers of English speech,
nobody but Shakspere and Dickens--and Dickens alone among fellow
fiction-makers--has enriched the workaday world with so many
people, men and women, whose speech, doings and fates are
familiar and matter for common reference. And this is the gift
of gifts. It is sometimes said that Scott's heroes and heroines
(especially, perhaps, the former) are lay figures, not
convincing, vital creations. There is a touch of truth in it.
His striking and successful figures are not walking gentlemen
and leading ladies. When, for example, you recall "Guy
Mannering," you do not think of the young gentleman of that
name, but of Meg Merillies as she stands in the night in high
relief on a bank, weather-beaten of face and wild of dress,
hurling her anathema: "Ride your ways, Ellangowan!" In
characters rather of humble pathos like Jeanie Deans or of
eccentric humor like Dominie Sampson, Scott is at his best. He
confessed to mis-liking his heroes and only warming up to full
creative activity over his more unconventional types: border
chiefs, buccaneers, freebooters and smugglers. "My rogue always,
in spite of me, turns out my hero," is his whimsical complaint.

But this does not apply in full force to his women. Di Vernon--who
does not recall that scene where from horseback in the
moonlight she bends to her lover, parting from him with the
words: "Farewell, Frank, forever! There is a gulf between us--a
gulf of absolute perdition. Where we go, you must not follow;
what we do, you must not share in--farewell, be happy!" That is
the very accent of Romance, in its true and proper setting: not
to be staled by time nor custom.

Nor will it do to claim that he succeeds with his Deans and
fails with women of regal type: his Marys and Elizabeth Tudors.
In such portrayals it seems to me he is pre-eminently fine: one
cannot understand the critics who see in such creations mere
stock figures supplied by history not breathed upon with the
breath of life. Scott had a definite talent for the stage-setting
of royalty: that is one of the reasons for the
popularity of "Kenilworth." It is, however, a true
discrimination which finds more of life and variety in Scott's
principal women than in his men of like position. But his Rob
Roys, Hatteraicks and Dalgettys justify all praise and help to
explain that title of Wizard of the North which he won and wore.

In nothing is Scott stronger than in his environments, his
devices for atmosphere. This he largely secures by means of
description and with his wealth of material, does not hesitate
to take his time in building up his effects. Perhaps the most
common criticism of him heard to-day refers to his slow
movement. Superabundance of matter is accompanied by prolixity
of style, with a result of breeding impatience in the reader,
particularly the young. Boys and girls at present do not offer
Scott the unreserved affection once his own, because he now
seems an author upon whom to exercise the gentle art of
skipping. Enough has been said as to Scott's lack of modern
economy of means. It is not necessary to declare that this
juvenile reluctance to his leisurely manner stands for total
depravity. The young reader of the present time (to say nothing
of the reader more mature) is trained to swifter methods, and
demands them. At the same time, it needs to be asserted that
much of the impressiveness of Scott would be lost were his
method and manner other than they are: nor will it do harm to
remind ourselves that we all are in danger of losing our power
of sustained and consecutive attention in relation to
literature, because of the scrap-book tendency of so much modern
reading. On the center-table, cheap magazines; on the stage,
vaudeville--these are habits that sap the ability for slow,
ruminative pleasure in the arts. Luckily, they are not the only
modern manifestation, else were we in a parlous state, indeed!
The trouble with Scott, then, may be resolved in part into a
trouble with the modern folk who read him.

When one undertakes the thankless task of analyzing coldly and
critically the style of Scott, the faults are plain enough. He
constantly uses two adjectives or three in parallel construction
where one would do the work better. The construction of his
sentences loses largely the pleasing variation of a richly
articulated system by careless punctuation and a tendency to
make parallel clauses where subordinate relations should be
expressed. The unnecessary copula stars his pages. Although his
manner in narration rises with his subject and he may be justly
called a picturesque and forceful writer, he is seldom a
distinguished one. One does not turn to him for the inevitable
word or phrase, or for those that startle by reason of felicity
and fitness. These strictures apply to his descriptive and
narrative parts, not to the dialogue: for there, albeit sins of
diffuseness and verbosity are to be noted--and these are
modified by the genial humanity they embody--he is one of the
great masters. His use of the Scotch dialect adds indefinitely
to his attraction and native smack: racy humor, sly wit, canny
logic, heartful sympathy--all are conveyed by the folk medium.
All subsequent users of the people-speech pay toll to Walter
Scott. Small courtesy should be extended to those who complain
that these idioms make hard reading. Never does Scott give us
dialect for its own sake, but always for the sake of a closer
revelation of the human heart--dialect's one justification.

At its worst, Scott's style may fairly be called ponderous,
loose, monotonous: at its finest, the adequate instrument of a
natural story-teller who is most at home when, emerging from his
longueur, he writes of grand things in the grand manner.

Thus, Sir Walter Scott defined the Romance for modern fiction,
gave it the authority of his genius and extended the gamut of
the Novel by showing that the method of the realist, the
awakening of interest in the actualities of familiar character
and life, could be more broadly applied. He opposed the realist
in no true sense: but indicated how, without a lapse of art or
return to outworn machinery, justice might yet be done to the
more stirring, large, heroic aspects of the world of men: a
world which exists and clamors to be expressed: a world which
readers of healthy taste are perennially interested in, nay,
sooner or later, demand to be shown. His fiction, whether we
award it the somewhat grudging recognition of Carlyle or with
Ruskin regard its maker as the one great novelist of English
race, must be deemed a precious legacy, one of literature's most
honorable ornaments--especially desirable in a day so apparently
plain and utilitarian as our own, eschewing ornament and
perchance for that reason needing it all the more.



In the first third of the nineteenth century English fiction
stood at the parting of the ways. Should it follow Scott and the
romance, or Jane Austen and the Novel of everyday life? Should
it adopt that form of story-making which puts stress on action
and plot and is objective in its method, roaming all lands and
times for its material; or, dealing with the familiar average of
contemporary society, should it emphasize character analysis and
choose the subjective realm of psychology for its peculiar
domain? The pen dropped from the stricken hand of Scott in 1832;
in that year a young parliamentary reporter in London was
already writing certain lively, closely observed sketches of the
town, and four years later they were to be collected and
published under the title of "Sketches by Boz," while the next
year that incomparable extravaganza, "The Pickwick Papers," was
to go to an eager public. English fiction had decided: the Novel
was to conquer the romance for nearly a century. It was a
victory which to the present day has been a dominant influence
in story-making; establishing a tendency which, until Stevenson
a few years since, with the gaiety of the inveterate boy, cried
up Romance once more, bade fair to sweep all before it.

Before tracing this vigorous development of the Novel of Reality
with Dickens, Thackeray and Eliot (to name three great leaders),
it is important to get an idea of the growth on French soil
which was so deeply influential upon English as well as upon
other modern fiction. Nothing is more certain in literary
evolution than the fact that the French Novel in the nineteenth
century has molded and defined modern fiction, thus repaying an
earlier debt owed the English pioneers, Richardson and Fielding.
English fiction of our own generation may be described as a
native variation on a French model: in fact, the fictionists of
Europe and the English-speaking lands, with whatever
divergencies personal or national, have derived in large measure
from the Gaul the technique, the point of view and the choice of
theme which characterizes the French Novel from Stendhal to
Balzac, from Zola to Guy de Maupassant.


The name of Henri Beyle, known to literature under the sobriquet
of Stendhal, has a meaning in the development of the modern type
of fiction out of proportion to the intrinsic value of his

He was, of course, far surpassed by mightier followers like
Balzac, Flaubert and Zola; yet his significance lies in the very
fact that they were followers. His is all the merit pertaining
to the feat of introducing the Novel of psychic analysis: of
that persistent and increasingly unpleasant bearing-down upon
the darker facts of personality. Hence his "Rouge et Noir,"
dated 1830 and typical of his aim and method, is in a sense an
epoch-making book.

Balzac was at the same time producing the earlier studies to
culminate in that Human Comedy which was to stand as the chief
accomplishment of his nation in the literature of fiction. But
Stendhal, sixteen years older, began to print first and to him
falls the glory of innovation. Balzac gives full praise to his
predecessor in his essay on Beyle, and his letters contain
frequent references to the debt he owed that curious bundle of
fatuities, inconsistencies and brilliancies, the author of "The
Chartreuse de Parme." Later, Zola calls him "the father of us
all," meaning of the naturalistic school of which Zola himself
was High Priest. Beyle's business was the analysis of soul
states: an occupation familiar enough in these times of Hardy,
Meredith and Henry James. He held several posts of importance
under Napoleon, worshiped that leader, loved Italy as his
birthplace, loved England too, and tried to show in his novels
the result of the inactive Restoration upon a generation trained
by Napoleon to action, violence, ambition and passion.

Read to-day, "Le Rouge et Noir," which it is sufficient to
consider for our purposes, seems somewhat slow in movement,
struggling in construction, meticulous in manner. At times, its
interminability recalls "Clarissa Harlowe," but it possesses the
traits' which were to mark the coming school of novel-writing in
France and hence in the modern world: to wit, freedom in dealing
with love in its irregular relation, the tendency towards
tragedy, and that subtlety of handling which makes the main
interest to depend upon motive and thought rather than upon the
external action itself. "Thus conscience doth make cowards of us
all,"--that might be the motto. The young quasi-hero is Julian,
an ambitious worldling of no family, and his use of the Church
as a means of promotion, his amours with several women and his
death because of his love for one of them, are traced with a
kind of tortuous revelation of the inner workings of the human
heart which in its way declares genius in the writer: and which
certainly makes a work disillusioning of human nature. Its more
external aspect of a study of the politic Church and State, of
the rivalry between the reds and the blacks of the state
religion, is entirely secondary to this greater purpose and
result: here, for the first time at full length, a writer shows
the possibility of that realistic portrayal sternly carried
through, no matter how destructive of romantic preconceptions of
men and women. It is the method of Richardson flowering in a
time of greater freedom and more cynical questioning of the


But giving Stendhal his full mint and cummin of praise, he yet
was but the forerunner of a mightier man. Undoubtedly, he
prepared the soil and was a necessary link in the chain of
development wherewith fiction was to forge itself an unbreakable
sequence of strength. Balzac was to put out his lesser light, as
indeed the refulgence of his genius was to overshine all French
fiction, before and since. It would be an exaggeration to say
that the major English novelists of the middle nineteenth
century were consciously disciples of Balzac--for something
greater even than he moved them; the spirit of the Time. But it
is quite within bounds to say that of all modern fiction he is
the leader and shaper. Without him, his greatest native
follower, Zola, is inconceivable. He gathers up into himself and
expresses at its fullest all that was latent in the striking
modern growth whose banner-cry was Truth, and whose method was
that of the social scientist. Here was a man who, early in his
career, for the first time in the history of the Novel,
deliberately planned to constitute himself the social historian
of his epoch and race: and who, in upwards of a hundred
remarkable pieces of fiction in Novel form executed that plan in
such fulness that his completed work stands not only as a
monument of industry, but as perhaps the most inspiring example
of literary synthesis in the history of letters. In bigness of
conception and of construction--let alone the way in which the
work was performed--the Human Comedy is awe-begetting; it drives
one to Shakspere for like largeness of scale. Such a
performance, ordered and directed to a foreseen end, is unique
in literature.

As Balzac thus gave birth, with a fiery fecundity of invention,
to book after book of the long list of Novels that make up his
story of life, there took shape in his mind a definite
intention: to become the Secretary of an Age of which he
declared society to be the historian. He wished to exhibit man
in his species as he was to be seen in the France of the
novelist's era, just as a naturalist aims to study beast-kind,
segregating them into classes for zoological investigation.
Later, Balzac's great successor (as we shall see) applied this
analogy with more rigid insistence upon the scientific method
which should obtain in all literary study. The survey proposed
covered a period of about half a century and included the
Republic, the Empire and the Restoration: it ranged through all
classes and conditions of men with no appearance of prejudice,
preference or parti-pris (this is one of the marvels of Balzac),
thus gaining the immense advantage of an apparently complete and
catholic comprehension of the human show. Of all modern
novelists, Balzac is the one whose work seems like life instead
of an opinion of life; he has the objectivity of Shakspere. Even
a Tolstoy set beside him seems limited.

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