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Outlines of English and American Literature by William J. Long

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Shakespeare_. In this book he saves us a deal of unprofitable reading by
gathering together the best of the Elizabethan dramas, to which he adds
some admirable notes of criticism or interpretation.

[Illustration: MARY LAMB
After the portrait by F. S. Cary]

[Sidenote: ESSAYS OF ELIA]

Most memorable of Lamb's works are the essays which he contributed for many
years to the London magazines, and which he collected under the titles
_Essays of Elia_ (1823) and _Last Essays of Elia_ (1830).
[Footnote: The name "Elia" (pronounced ee'-li-a) was a pseudonym, taken
from an old Italian clerk (Ellia) in the South Sea House. When "Elia"
appears in the _Essays_ he is Charles Lamb himself; "Cousin Bridget"
is sister Mary, and "John Elia" is a brother. The last-named was a selfish
kind of person, who seems to have lived for himself, letting Charles take
all the care of the family.] To the question, Which of these essays should
be read? the answer given must depend largely upon personal taste. They are
all good; they all contain both a reflection and a criticism of life, as
Lamb viewed it by light of his personal experience. A good way to read the
essays, therefore, is to consider them as somewhat autobiographical, and to
use them for making acquaintance with the author at various periods of his

For example, "My Relations" and "Mackery End" acquaint us with Lamb's
family and descent; "Old Benchers of the Inner Temple" with his early
surroundings; "Witches and Other Night-fears" with his sensitive childhood;
"Recollections of Christ's Hospital" and "Christ's Hospital Five-and-thirty
Years Ago" with his school days and comradeship with Coleridge; "The South
Sea House" with his daily work; "Old China" with his home life; "The
Superannuated Man" with his feelings when he was retired on a pension; and
finally, "Character of the Late Elia," in which Lamb whimsically writes his
own obituary.

If these call for too much reading at first, then one may select three or
four typical essays: "Dream Children," notable for its exquisite pathos;
"Dissertation on Roast Pig," famous for its peculiar humor; and "Praise of
Chimney Sweepers," of which it is enough to say that it is just like
Charles Lamb. To these one other should be added, "Imperfect Sympathies,"
or "A Chapter on Ears," or "Mrs. Battle's Opinions on Whist," in order to
appreciate how pleasantly Lamb could write on small matters of no
consequence. Still another good way of reading (which need not be
emphasized, since everybody favors it) is to open the _Essays_ here or
there till we find something that interests us,--a method which allows
every reader the explorer's joy of discovery.

To read such essays is to understand the spell they have cast on successive
generations of readers. They are, first of all, very personal; they begin,
as a rule, with some pleasant trifle that interests the author; then,
almost before we are aware, they broaden into an essay of life itself, an
essay illuminated by the steady light of Lamb's sympathy or by the flashes
of his whimsical humor. Next, we note in the _Essays_ their air of
literary culture, which is due to Lamb's wide reading, and to the excellent
taste with which he selected his old authors,--Sidney, Brown, Burton,
Fuller, Walton and Jeremy Taylor. Often it was the quaintness of these
authors, their conceits or oddities, that charmed him. These oddities
reappear in his own style to such an extent that even when he speaks a
large truth, as he often does, he is apt to give the impression of being a
little harebrained. Yet if you examine his queer idea or his merry jest,
you may find that it contains more cardinal virtue than many a sober moral


On the whole _Elia_ is the quintessence of modern essay-writing from
Addison to Stevenson. There are probably no better works of the same kind
in our literature. Some critics aver that there are none others so good.

THOMAS DE QUINCEY (1785-1859). It used to be said in a college classroom
that what De Quincey wrote was seldom important and always doubtful, but
that we ought to read him for his style; which means, as you might say,
that caviar is a stomach-upsetting food, but we ought to eat a little of it
because it comes in a pretty box.

To this criticism, which reflects a prevalent opinion, we may take some
exceptions. For example, what De Quincey has to say of Style, though it
were written in style-defying German, is of value to everyone who would
teach that impossible subject. What he says or implies in "Levana" (the
goddess who performed "the earliest office of ennobling kindness" for a
newborn child, lifting him from the ground, where he was first laid, and
presenting his forehead to the stars of heaven) has potency to awaken two
of the great faculties of humanity, the power to think and the power to
imagine. Again, many people are fascinated by dreams, those mysterious
fantasies which carry us away on swift wings to meet strange experiences;
and what De Quincey has to say of dreams, though doubtful as a dream
itself, has never been rivaled. To a few mature minds, therefore, De
Quincey is interesting entirely apart from his dazzling style and
inimitable rhetoric.

[Illustration: THOMAS DE QUINCEY From an engraving by C. H. Jeens]

To do justice to De Quincey's erratic, storm-tossed life; to record
his precocious youth, his marvelous achievements in school or
college, his wanderings amid lonely mountains or more lonely city
streets, his drug habits with their gorgeous dreams and terrible
depressions, his timidity, his courtesy, his soul-solitude, his
uncanny genius,--all that is impossible in a brief summary. Let it
suffice, then, to record: that he resembled his friend Coleridge,
both in his character and in his vast learning; that he studied in
profound seclusion for twenty years; then for forty years more,
during which time his brain was more or less beclouded by opium, he
poured out a flood of magazine articles, which he collected later
in fourteen chaotic volumes. These deal with an astonishing variety
of subjects, and cover almost every phase of mental activity from
portraying a nightmare to building a philosophical system. If he
had any dominating interest in his strange life, it was the study
of literature.


The historian can but name a few characteristic works of De Quincey,
without recommending any of them to readers. To those interested in De
Quincey's personality his _Confessions of an English Opium-Eater_ will
be illuminating. This book astonished Londoners in 1821, and may well
astonish a Bushman in the year 2000. It records his wandering life, and the
alternate transport or suffering which resulted from his drug habits. This
may be followed by his _Suspiria de Profundis_ (Sighs from the
Depths), which describes, as well as such a thing could be done, the
phantoms born of opium dreams. There are too many of the latter, and the
reader may well be satisfied with the wonderful "Dream Fugue" in _The
English Mail Coach_.

Here both Wordsworth and De Quincey resided]

As an illustration of De Quincey's review of history, one should try
_Joan of Arc_ or _The Revolt of the Tartars_, which are not
historical studies but romantic dreams inspired by reading history. In the
critical field, "The Knocking at the Gate in _Macbeth_," "Wordsworth's
Poetry" and the "Essay on Style" are immensely suggestive. As an example of
ingenious humor "Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" is often
recommended; but it has this serious fault, that it is not humorous. For a
concrete example of De Quincey's matter and manner there is nothing better
than "Levana or Our Ladies of Sorrow" (from the _Suspiria_), with its
_mater lachrymarum_ Our Lady of Tears, _mater suspiriorum_ Our
Lady of Sighs, and that strange phantom, forbidding and terrible, _mater
tenebrarum_ Our Lady of Darkness.


The style of all these works is indescribable. One may exhaust the whole
list of adjectives--chanting, rhythmic, cadenced, harmonious,
impassioned--that have been applied to it, and yet leave much to say.
Therefore we note only these prosaic elements: that the style reflects De
Quincey's powers of logical analysis and of brilliant imagination; that it
is pervaded by a tremendous mental excitement, though one does not know
what the stir is all about; and that the impression produced by this
nervous, impassioned style is usually spoiled by digressions, by
hairsplitting, and by something elusive, intangible, to which we can give
no name, but which blurs the author's vision as a drifting fog obscures a
familiar landscape.

Notwithstanding such strictures, De Quincey's style is still, as when it
first appeared, a thing to marvel at, revealing as it does the grace, the
harmony, the wide range and the minute precision of our English speech.

* * * * *

SUMMARY. The early nineteenth century is notable for the rapid
progress of democracy in English government, and for the triumph of
romanticism in English literature. The most influential factor of
the age was the French Revolution, with its watchwords of Liberty,
Equality, Fraternity. English writers felt the stir of the times,
and were inspired by the dream of a new human society ruled by
justice and love. In their writing they revolted from the formal
standards of the age of Pope, followed their own genius rather than
set rules, and wrote with feeling and imagination of the two great
subjects of nature and humanity. Such was the contrast in politics
and literature with the preceding century that the whole period is
sometimes called the age of revolution.

Our study of the literature of the period includes: (1) The poets
Wordsworth and Coleridge, who did not so much originate as give
direction to the romantic revival. (2) Byron and Shelley, often
called revolutionary poets. (3) The poet Keats, whose works are
famous for their sense of beauty and for their almost perfect
workmanship. (4) A review of the minor poets of romanticism,
Campbell, Moore, Hood, Beddoes, Hunt, and Felicia Hemans. (5) The
life and works of Walter Scott, romantic poet and novelist. (6) A
glance at the fiction writers of the period, and a study of the
works of Jane Austen. (7) The critics and essayists, of whom we
selected these two as the most typical: Charles Lamb, famous for
his _Essays of Elia_; and De Quincey, notable for his
brilliant style, his analysis of dreams, and his endeavor to make a
science of literary criticism.

SELECTIONS FOR READING. For general reference such anthologies as
Manly's English Poetry and English Prose are useful. The works of
major authors are available in various school editions, prepared
especially for class use. A few of these handy editions are named
below; others are listed in the General Bibliography.

Best poems of Wordsworth and of Coleridge in Athenaum Press Series.
Briefer selections from Wordsworth in Golden Treasury, Cassell's
National Library, Maynard's English Classics. Coleridge's Ancient
Mariner in Standard English Classics, Pocket Classics. Selections
from Coleridge and Campbell in one volume of Riverside Literature.

Scott's Lady of the Lake and Ivanhoe in Standard English Classics;
Marmion and The Talisman in Pocket Classics; Lay of the Last
Minstrel and Quentin Durward in Lake English Classics; the same and
other works of Scott in various other school editions.

Selected poems of Byron in Standard English Classics, English
Readings. Best poems of Shelley in Athenaum Press; briefer
selections in Belles Lettres, Golden Treasury, English Classics.

Selections from Keats in Athenaum Press, Muses Library, Riverside

Lamb's Essays of Elia in Lake English Classics; selected essays in
Standard English Classics, Temple Classics, Camelot Series. Tales
from Shakespeare in Ginn and Company's Classics for Children.

Selections from De Quincey, a representative collection, in
Athenaum Press; English Mail Coach and Joan of Arc in Standard
English Classics, English Readings; Confessions of an Opium Eater
in Temple Classics, Everyman's Library; Revolt of the Tartars in
Lake Classics, Silver Classics.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in Pocket Classics; the same and
other novels in Everyman's Library.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. Extended works in English history and literature are
listed in the General Bibliography. The following works are
valuable in a study of the early nineteenth century and the
romantic movement.

_HISTORY_. Morris, Age of Queen Anne and the Early
Hanoverians; McCarthy, The Epoch of Reform (Epochs of Modern
History Series); Cheyne, Industrial and Social History of England;
Hassall, Making of the British Empire; Trevelyan, Early Life of
Charles James Fox.

_LITERATURE_. Saintsbury, History of Nineteenth Century
Literature, Beers, English Romanticism in the Nineteenth Century;
Symons, The Romantic Movement in English Poetry; Dowden, French
Revolution and English Literature; Hancock, French Revolution and
The English Poets; Masson, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats and Other
Essays; De Quincey, Literary Reminiscences.

_Wordsworth_. Life, by Myers (English Men of Letters Series),
by Raleigh. Herford, The Age of Wordsworth; Rannie, Wordsworth and
his Circle; Sneath, Wordsworth, Poet of Nature and Poet of Man.
Essays, by Lowell, in Among My Books; by M. Arnold, in Essays in
Criticism; by Pater, in Appreciations; by L. Stephen, in Hours in a
Library; by Hutton, in Literary Essays; by Bagehot, in Literary

_Coleridge_. Life, by Traill (E. M. of L.), by Hall Caine
(Great Writers Series). Brandl, Coleridge and the English Romantic
Movement. Essays, by Woodberry, in Makers of Literature; by Shairp,
in Studies in Poetry and Philosophy; by Forster, in Great Teachers;
by Dowden, in New Studies.

_Scott_. Life, by Hutton (E. M. of L.), by Lockhart (5 vols.),
by Yonge (Great Writers), by Saintsbury, by Hudson, by Andrew Lang.
Jack, Essay on the Novel as Illustrated by Scott and Miss Austen.
Essays, by Stevenson, in Memories and Portraits; by Swinburne, in
Studies in Prose and Poetry; by Hazlitt, in The Spirit of the Age;
by Saintsbury, in Essays in English Literature.

_Byron_. Life, by Noel (Great Writers), by Nicol (E. M. of
L.). Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries. Essays by Macaulay,
M. Arnold, Hazlitt, Swinburne.

_Shelley_. Life, by Symonds (E. M. of L.), by Shairp, by
Dowden, by W. M. Rossetti. Salt, A Shelley Primer. Essays by
Dowden, Woodberry, M. Arnold, Bagehot, Forster, Hutton, L. Stephen.

_Keats_. Life, by Colvin (E. M. of L.), by Rossetti, by
Hancock. H. C. Shelley, Keats and his Circle; Masson, Wordsworth
and Other Essays. Essays by De Quincey, Lowell, M. Arnold,

_Charles Lamb_. Life, by Ainger (E. M. of L.), by Lucas.
Fitzgerald, Charles Lamb; Talfourd, Memoirs of Charles Lamb. Essays
by Woodberry, Pater, De Quincey.

_De Quincey_. Life, by Masson (E. M. of L.), by Page. Hogg, De
Quincey and his Friends; Findlay, Personal Recollections of De
Quincey. Essays by Saintsbury, Masson, L. Stephen.

_Jane Austen_. Life, by Malden, by Goldwin Smith, by Adams.
Austen-Leigh, Memoir of Jane Austen; Mitton, Jane Austen and her
Times; Hill, Jane Austen, her Home and her Friends; Jack, Essay on
the Novel as Illustrated by Scott and Miss Austen. Essay by
Howells, in Heroines of Fiction.



The current sweeps the Old World,
The current sweeps the New;
The wind will blow, the dawn will glow,
Ere thou hast sailed them through.

Kingsley, "A Myth"

HISTORICAL OUTLINE. Amid the many changes which make the reign of
Victoria the most progressive in English history, one may discover
three tendencies which have profoundly affected our present life
and literature. The first is political and democratic: it may be
said to have begun with the Reform Bill of 1832; it is still in
progress, and its evident end is to deliver the government of
England into the hands of the common people. In earlier ages we
witnessed a government which laid stress on royalty and class
privilege, the spirit of which was clarioned by Shakespeare in the

Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm from an anointed king.

In the Victorian or modern age the divine right of kings is as
obsolete as a suit of armor; the privileges of royalty and nobility
are either curbed or abolished, and ordinary men by their
representatives in the House of Commons are the real rulers of

With a change in government comes a corresponding change in
literature. In former ages literature was almost as exclusive as
politics; it was largely in the hands of the few; it was supported
by princely patrons; it reflected the taste of the upper classes.
Now the masses of men begin to be educated, begin to think for
themselves, and a host of periodicals appear in answer to their
demand for reading matter. Poets, novelists, essayists,
historians,--all serious writers feel the inspiration of a great
audience, and their works have a thousand readers where formerly
they had but one. In a word, English government, society and
literature have all become more democratic. This is the most
significant feature of modern history.


The second tendency may be summed up in the word "scientific." At
the basis of this tendency is man's desire to know the truth, if
possible the whole truth of life; and it sets no limits to the
exploring spirit, whether in the heavens above or the earth beneath
or the waters under the earth. From star-dust in infinite space
(which we hope to measure) to fossils on the bed of an ocean which
is no longer unfathomed, nothing is too great or too small to
attract man, to fascinate him, to influence his thought, his life,
his literature. Darwin's _Origin of Species_ (1859), which
laid the foundation for a general theory of evolution, is one of
the most famous books of the age, and of the world. Associated with
Darwin were Wallace, Lyell, Huxley, Tyndall and many others, whose
essays are, in their own way, quite as significant as the poems of
Tennyson or the novels of Dickens.

It would be quite as erroneous to allege that modern science began
with these men as to assume that it began with the Chinese or with
Roger Bacon; the most that can be said truthfully is, that the
scientific spirit which they reflected began to dominate our
thought, to influence even our poetry and fiction, even as the
voyages of Drake and Magellan furnished a mighty and mysterious
background for the play of human life on the Elizabethan stage. The
Elizabethans looked upon an enlarging visible world, and the wonder
of it is reflected in their prose and poetry; the Victorians
overran that world almost from pole to pole, then turned their
attention to an unexplored world of invisible forces, and their
best literature thrills again with the grandeur of the universe in
which men live.


A third tendency of the Victorian age in England is expressed by
the word "imperialism." In earlier ages the work of planting
English colonies had been well done; in the Victorian age the
scattered colonies increased mightily in wealth and power, and were
closely federated into a world-wide Empire of people speaking the
same noble speech, following the same high ideals of justice and

The literature of the period reflects the wide horizons of the
Empire. Among historical writers, Parkman the American was one of
the first and best to reflect the imperial spirit. In such works as
_A Half-Century of Conflict_ and _Montcalm and Wolfe_ he
portrayed the conflict not of one nation against another but rather
of two antagonistic types of civilization: the military and feudal
system of France against the democratic institutions of the
Anglo-Saxons. Among the explorers, Mungo Park had anticipated the
Victorians in his _Travels in the Interior of Africa_ (1799),
a wonderful book which set England to dreaming great dreams; but
not until the heroic Livingstone's _Missionary Travels and
Research in South Africa, The Zambesi and its Tributaries_ and
_Last Journals_ [Footnote: In connection with Livingstone's
works, Stanley's _How I Found Livingstone_ (1872) should also
be read. Livingstone died in Africa in 1873, and his
_Journals_ were edited by another hand. For a summary of his
work and its continuation see _Livingstone and the Exploration of
Central Africa_ (London, 1897).] appeared was the veil lifted
from the Dark Continent. Beside such works should be placed
numerous stirring journals of exploration in Canada, in India, in
Australia, in tropical or frozen seas,--wherever in the round world
the colonizing genius of England saw opportunity to extend the
boundaries and institutions of the Empire. Macaulay's _Warren
Hastings_, Edwin Arnold's _Indian Idylls_, Kipling's
_Soldiers Three_,--a few such works must be read if we are to
appreciate the imperial spirit of modern English history and

* * * * *



Though the Victorian age is notable for the quality and variety of its
prose works, its dominant figure for years was the poet Tennyson. He alone,
of all that brilliant group of Victorian writers, seemed to speak not for
himself but for his age and nation; and the nation, grown weary of Byronic
rebellion, and finding its joy or sorrow expressed with almost faultless
taste by one whose life was noble, gave to Tennyson a whole-souled
allegiance such as few poets have ever won. In 1850 he was made Laureate to
succeed Wordsworth, receiving, as he said,

This laurel, greener from the brow
Of him that uttered nothing base;

and from that time on he steadily adhered to his purpose, which was to know
his people and to be their spokesman. Of all the poets who have been called
to the Laureateship, he is probably the only one of whom it can truthfully
be said that he understood his high office and was worthy of it.

LIFE. When we attempt a biography of a person we assume
unconsciously that he was a public man; but that is precisely what
Tennyson refused to be. He lived a retired life of thoughtfulness,
of communion with nature, of friendships too sacred for the world's
gaze, a life blameless in conduct, unswerving in its loyalty to
noble ideals. From boyhood to old age he wrote poetry, and in that
poetry alone, not in biography or letters or essays of criticism,
do we ever touch the real man.


Tennyson was the son of a cultured clergyman, and was born in the
rectory of Somersby, Lincolnshire, in 1809, the same year that saw
the birth of Lincoln and Darwin. Like Milton he devoted himself to
poetry at an early age; in his resolve he was strengthened by his
mother; and from it he never departed. The influences of his early
life, the quiet beauty of the English landscape, the surge and
mystery of the surrounding sea, the emphasis on domestic virtues,
the pride and love of an Englishman for his country and his
country's history,--these are everywhere reflected in the poet's

His education was largely a matter of reading under his father's
direction. He had a short experience of the grammar school at
Louth, which he hated forever after. He entered Cambridge, and
formed a circle of rare friends ("apostles" they called themselves)
who afterwards became famous; but he left college without taking a
degree, probably because he was too poor to continue his course.
Not till 1850 did he earn enough by his work to establish a home of
his own. Then he leased a house at Farringford, Isle of Wight,
which we have ever since associated with Tennyson's name. But his
real place is the Heart of England.


His first book (a boyish piece of work, undertaken with his brother
Charles) appeared under the title _Poems by Two Brothers_
(1827). In 1830, and again in 1832, he published a small volume
containing such poems as "The Palace of Art," "The Lotos-Eaters,"
"The Lady of Shalott" and "The Miller's Daughter"; but the critics
of the age, overlooking the poet's youth and its promise, treated
the volumes unmercifully. Tennyson, always sensitive to criticism,
was sensible enough to see that the critics had ground for their
opinions, if not for their harshness; and for ten long years, while
he labored to perfect his art, his name did not again appear in

There was another reason for his silence. In 1833 his dearest
friend, Arthur Hallam, died suddenly in Vienna, and it was years
before Tennyson began to recover from the blow. His first
expression of grief is seen in the lyric beginning, "Break, break,
break," which contains the memorable stanza:

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Then he began that series of elegies for his friend which appeared,
seventeen years later, as _In Memoriam_.


Influenced by his friends, Tennyson broke his long silence with a
volume containing "Morte d'Arthur," "Locksley Hall," "Sir Galahad,"
"Lady Clare" and a few more poems which have never lost their power
over readers; but it must have commanded attention had it contained
only "Ulysses," that magnificent appeal to manhood, reflecting the
indomitable spirit of all those restless explorers who dared
unknown lands or seas to make wide the foundations of imperial
England. It was a wonderful volume, and almost its first effect was
to raise the hidden Tennyson to the foremost place in English

Whatever he wrote thereafter was sure of a wide reading. Critics,
workingmen, scientists, reformers, theologians,--all recognized the
power of the poet to give melodious expression to their thought or
feeling. Yet he remained averse to everything that savored of
popularity, devoting himself as in earlier days to poetry alone. As
a critic writes, "Tennyson never forgot that the poet's work was to
convince the world of love and beauty; that he was born to do that
work, and do it worthily."

There are two poems which are especially significant in view of
this steadfast purpose. The first is "Merlin and the Gleam," which
reflects Tennyson's lifelong devotion to his art; the other is
"Crossing the Bar," which was his farewell and hail to life when
the end came in 1892.

WORKS OF TENNYSON. There is a wide variety in Tennyson's work: legend,
romance, battle song, nature, classic and medieval heroes, problems of
society, questions of science, the answer of faith,--almost everything that
could interest an alert Victorian mind found some expression in his poetry.
It ranges in subject from a thrush song to a religious philosophy, in form
from the simplest love lyric to the labored historical drama.


Of the shorter poems of Tennyson there are a few which should be known to
every student: first, because they are typical of the man who stands for
modern English poetry; and second, because one is constantly meeting
references to these poems in books or magazines or even newspapers. Among
such representative poems are: "The Lotos-Eaters," a dream picture
characterized by a beauty and verbal melody that recall Spenser's work;
"Locksley Hall" and "Locksley Hall Sixty Years After," the one a romance
throbbing with youth and hope, the other representing the same hero grown
old, despondent and a little carping, but still holding fast to his ideals;
"Sir Galahad," a medieval romance of purity; "Ulysses," an epitome of
exploration in all ages; "The Revenge," a stirring war song; "Rizpah," a
dramatic portrayal of a mother's grief for a wayward son; "Romney's
Remorse," a character study of Tennyson's later years; and a few shorter
poems, such as "The Higher Pantheism," "Flower in the Crannied Wall,"
"Wages" and "The Making of Man," which reflect the poet's mood before the
problems of science and of faith.

[Illustration: ALFRED TENNYSON]

To these should be added a few typical patriotic pieces, which show
Tennyson speaking as Poet Laureate for his country: "Ode on the Death of
Wellington," "Charge of the Light Brigade," "Defense of Lucknow," "Hands
all Round," and the imperial appeal of "Britons, Hold Your Own" or, as it
is tamely called, "Opening of the Indian and Colonial Exposition." The
beginner may also be reminded of certain famous little melodies, such as
the "Bugle Song," "Sweet and Low," "Tears," "The Brook," "Far, Far, Away"
and "Crossing the Bar," which are among the most perfect that England has
produced. And, as showing Tennyson's extraordinary power of youthful
feeling, at least one lyric of his old age should be read, such as "The
Throstle" (a song that will appeal especially to all bird lovers),

"Summer is coming, summer is coming,
I know it, I know it, I know it;
Light again, leaf again, life again, love again"--
Yes, my wild little poet!

Here Tennyson is so merged in his subject as to produce the impression that
the lyric must have been written not by an aged poet but by the bird
himself. Reading the poem one seems to hear the brown thrasher on a twig of
the wild-apple tree, pouring his heart out over the thicket which his mate
has just chosen for a nesting place.


Of the longer works of Tennyson the most notable is the _Idylls of the
King_, a series of twelve poems retelling part of the story of Arthur
and his knights. Tennyson seems to have worked at this poem in haphazard
fashion, writing the end first, then a fragment here or there, at intervals
during half a century. Finally he welded his material into its present
form, making it a kind of allegory of human life, in which man's animal
nature fights with his spiritual aspirations. As Tennyson wrote, in his
"Finale" to Queen Victoria:

Accept this old, imperfect tale,
New-old, and shadowing Sense at war with Soul.

The beginner will do well to forget the allegory and read the poem for its
sustained beauty of expression and for its reflection of the modern ideal
of honor. For, though Malory and Tennyson tell the same story, there is
this significant difference between the _Morte d' Arthur_ and the
_Idylls of the King_: one is thoroughly medieval, and the other almost
as thoroughly modern. Malory in simple prose makes his story the expression
of chivalry in the Middle Ages; his heroes are true to their own time and
place. Tennyson in melodious blank verse changes his material freely so as
to make it a reflection of a nineteenth-century gentleman disguised in a
suit of armor and some old knightly raiment.

One may add that some readers cleave to Tennyson, while others greatly
prefer Malory. There is little or no comparison between the two, and
selections from both should be read, if only to understand how this old
romance of Arthur has appealed to writers of different times. In making a
selection from the _Idylls_ (the length of the poem is rather
forbidding) it is well to begin with the twelfth book, "The Passing of
Arthur," which was first to be written, and which reflects the noble spirit
of the entire work.

In _The Princess: a Medley_ the poet attempts the difficult task of
combining an old romantic story with a modern social problem; and he does
not succeed very well in harmonizing his incongruous materials.

[Sidenote: THE PRINCESS]

The story is, briefly, of a princess who in youth is betrothed to a
prince. When she reaches what is called the age of discretion
(doubtless because that age is so frequently marked by
indiscretions) she rebels against the idea of marriage, and founds
a college, herself the principal, devoted to the higher education
of women. The prince, a gallant blade, and a few of his followers
disguise themselves as girls and enter the school. When an unruly
masculine tongue betrays him he is cast out with maledictions on
his head. His father comes with an army, and makes war against the
father of the princess. The prince joins blithely in the fight, is
sore wounded, and is carried to the woman's college as to a
hospital. The princess nurses him, listens to his love tale, and
the story ends in the good old-fashioned way.

There are many beautiful passages in _The Princess_, and had Tennyson
been content to tell the romantic story his work would have had some
pleasant suggestion of Shakespeare's _As You Like It_; but the social
problem spoils the work, as a moralizing intruder spoils a bit of innocent
fun. Tennyson is either too serious or not serious enough; he does not know
the answer to his own problem, and is not quite sincere in dealing with it
or in coming to his lame and impotent conclusion. Few readers now attempt
the three thousand lines of _The Princess_, but content themselves
with a few lyrics, such as "Ask Me No More," "O Swallow Flying South,"
"Tears," "Bugle Song" and "Sweet and Low," which are familiar songs in many
households that remember not whence they came. [Footnote: The above
criticism of _The Princess_ applies, in some measure, to Tennyson's
_Maud: a Monodrama_, a story of passionate love and loss and sorrow.
Tennyson wrote also several dramatic works, such as _Harold_,
_Becket_ and _Queen Mary_, in which he attempted to fill some of
the gaps in Shakespeare's list of chronicle plays.]


More consistent than _The Princess_ is a group of poems reflecting the
life and ideals of simple people, to which Tennyson gave the general name
of _English Idyls_. The longest and in some respects the best of these
is "Enoch Arden," a romance which was once very popular, but which is now
in danger of being shelved because the modern reader prefers his romance in
prose form. Certain of the famous poems which we have already named are
classed among these English idyls; but more typical of Tennyson's purpose
in writing them are "Dora," "The Gardener's Daughter" and "Aylmer's Field,"
in which he turns from ancient heroes to sing the romance of present-day

Here Tennyson wrote "Enoch Arden"]

Among mature readers, who have met the sorrows of life or pondered its
problems, the most admired of Tennyson's work is _In Memoriam_ (1850),
an elegy inspired by the death of Arthur Hallam. As a memorial poem it
invites comparison with others, with Milton's "Lycidas," or Shelley's
"Adonais," or Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard." Without going deeply
into the comparison we may note this difference: that Tennyson's work is
more personal and sympathetic than any of the others. Milton had only a
slight acquaintance with his human subject (Edward King) and wrote his poem
as a memorial for the college rather than for the man; Shelley had never
met Keats, whose early death he commemorates; Gray voiced an impersonal
melancholy in the presence of the unknown dead; but Tennyson had lost his
dearest friend, and wrote to solace his own grief and to keep alive a
beautiful memory. Then, as he wrote, came the thought of other men and
women mourning their dead; his view broadened with his sympathy, and he
wrote other lyrics in the same strain to reflect the doubt or fear of
humanity and its deathless faith even in the shadow of death.

It is this combination of personal and universal elements which makes _In
Memoriam_ remarkable. The only other elegy to which we may liken it is
Emerson's "Threnody," written after the death of his little boy. But where
Tennyson offers an elaborate wreath and a polished monument, Emerson is
content with a rugged block of granite and a spray of nature's evergreen.

[Sidenote: PLAN OF THE POEM]

_In Memoriam_ occupied Tennyson at intervals for many years,
and though he attempted to give it unity before its publication in
1850, it is still rather fragmentary. Moreover, it is too long; for
the poet never lived who could write a hundred and thirty-one
lyrics upon the same subject, in the same manner, without growing

There are three more or less distinct parts of the work, [Footnote:
Tennyson divided _In Memoriam_ into nine sections. Various
attempts have recently been made to organize the poem and to make a
philosophy of it, but these are ingenious rather than convincing.]
corresponding to three successive Christmas seasons. The first part
(extending to poem 30) is concerned with grief and doubt; the
second (to poem 78) exhibits a calm, serious questioning of the
problem of faith; the third introduces a great hope amid tender
memories or regrets, and ends (poem 106) with that splendid outlook
on a new year and a new life, "Ring Out Wild Bells." This was
followed by a few more lyrics of mounting faith, inspired by the
thought that divine love rules the world and that our human love is
immortal and cannot die. The work ends, rather incongruously, with
a marriage hymn for Tennyson's sister.

The spirit of _In Memoriam_ is well reflected in the "Proem"
or introductory hymn, "Strong Son of God, Immortal Love"; its
message is epitomized in the last three lines:

One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event
To which the whole creation moves.

THE QUALITY OF TENNYSON. The charm of Tennyson is twofold. As the voice of
the Victorian Age, reflecting its thought or feeling or culture, its
intellectual quest, its moral endeavor, its passion for social justice, he
represents to us the spirit of modern poetry; that is, poetry which comes
close to our own life, to the aims, hopes, endeavors of the men and women
of to-day. With this modern quality Tennyson has the secret of all old
poetry, which is to be eternally young. He looked out upon a world from
which the first wonder of creation had not vanished, where the sunrise was
still "a glorious birth," and where love, truth, beauty, all inspiring
realities, were still waiting with divine patience to reveal themselves to
human eyes.

There are other charms in Tennyson: his romantic spirit, his love of
nature, his sense of verbal melody, his almost perfect workmanship; but
these the reader must find and appreciate for himself. The sum of our
criticism is that Tennyson is a poet to have handy on the table for the
pleasure of an idle hour. He is also (and this is a better test) an
excellent poet to put in your pocket when you go on a journey. So shall you
be sure of traveling in good company.

* * * * *


In their lifelong devotion to a single purpose the two chief poets of the
Victorian Age are much alike; in most other respects they are men of
contrasts. Tennyson looked like a poet, Browning like a business man.
Tennyson was a solitary singer, never in better company than when alone;
Browning was a city man, who must have the excitement of society.
Tennyson's field was the nation, its traditions, heroes, problems, ideals;
but Browning seldom went beyond the individual man, and his purpose was to
play Columbus to some obscure human soul. Tennyson was at times rather
narrowly British; Browning was a cosmopolitan who dealt broadly with
humanity. Tennyson was the poet of youth, and will always be read by the
young in heart; Browning was the philosopher, the psychologist, the poet of
mature years and of a few cultivated readers.

LIFE. Browning portrays so many different human types as to make us
marvel, but we may partly understand his wide range of
character-studies by remembering he was an Englishman with some
Celtic and German ancestors, and with a trace of Creole
(Spanish-Negro) blood. He was born and grew up at Camberwell, a
suburb of London, and the early home of Ruskin. His father was a
Bank-of-England clerk, a prosperous man and fond of books, who
encouraged his boy to read and to let education follow the lead of
fancy. Before Browning was twenty years old, father and son had a
serious talk which ended in a kind of bargain: the boy was to live
a life of culture, and the father was to take care of all financial
matters,--an arrangement which suited them both very well.

[Illustration: ROBERT BROWNING]

Since boyhood Browning had been writing romantic verses, influenced
first by Byron, then by Shelley, then by Keats. His first published
works, _Pauline_ and _Paracelsus_, were what he called
soul-studies, the one of a visionary, "a star-treader" (its hero
was Shelley), the other of a medieval astrologer somewhat like
Faust. These two works, if one had the patience of a puzzle-worker
to read them, would be found typical of all the longer poems that
Browning produced in his sixty years of writing.

These early works were not read, were not even criticized; and it
was not till 1846 that Browning became famous, not because of his
books but because he eloped with Elizabeth Barrett, who was then
the most popular poet in England. [Footnote: The fame of Miss
Barrett in mid century was above that of Tennyson or Browning. She
had been for a long time an invalid. Her father, a tyrannical kind
of person, insisted on her keeping her room, and expected her to
die properly there. He had no personal objection to Browning, but
flouted the idea of his famous daughter marrying with anybody.] The
two went to Florence, discovered that they were "made for each
other," and in mutual helpfulness did their best work. They lived
at "Casa Guidi," a house made famous by the fact that Browning's
_Men and Women_ and Mrs. Browning's _Sonnets from the
Portuguese_ were written there.



This happy period of work was broken by Mrs. Browning's death in
1861. Browning returned to England with his son, and to forget his
loss he labored with unusual care on _The Ring and the Book_
(1868), his bulkiest work. The rest of his life was spent largely
in London and in Venice. Fame came to him tardily, and with some
unfortunate results. He became known as a poet to be likened unto
Shakespeare, but more analytical, calling for a superior
intelligence on the part of his readers, and presently a multitude
of Browning clubs sprang up in England and America. Delighted with
his popularity among the elect, Browning seems to have cultivated
his talent for obscurity, or it may be that his natural
eccentricity of style increased with age, as did Wordsworth's
prosiness. Whatever the cause, his work grew steadily worse until a
succession of grammar defying volumes threatened to separate all
but a few devotees from their love of Browning. He died in Venice
in 1889. On the day of his death appeared in London his last book,
_Asolando_. The "Epilogue" to that volume is a splendid finale
to a robust life.

One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake

Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar" is a beautiful swan song; but
Browning's last poem is a bugle call, and it sounds not "taps" but
the "reveille."

BROWNING'S DRAMATIC QUALITY. Nearly all the works of Browning are dramatic
in spirit, and are commonly dramatic also in form. Sometimes he writes a
drama for the stage, such as _A Blot in the 'Scutcheon_, _Colombe's
Birthday_ and _In a Balcony_,--dramas without much action, but
packed with thought in a way that would have delighted the Schoolmen. More
often his work takes the form of a dramatic monologue, such as "My Last
Duchess" and "The Bishop Orders his Tomb," in which one person speaks and,
like Peter, his speech bewrayeth him; for he reveals very plainly the kind
of man he is. Occasionally Browning tries to sing like another poet, but
even here his dramatic instinct is strong. He takes some crisis, some
unexpected meeting or parting of the ways of life, and proceeds to show the
hero's character by the way he faces the situation, or talks about it. So
when he attempts even a love song, such as "The Last Ride Together," or a
ballad, such as "The Pied Piper," he regards his subject from an unusual
viewpoint and produces what he calls a dramatic lyric.


There are at least two ways in which Browning's work differs from that of
other dramatists. When a trained playwright produces a drama his rule is,
"Action, more action, and still more action." Moreover, he stands aside in
order to permit his characters to reveal their quality by their own speech
or action. For example, Shakespeare's plays are filled with movement, and
he never tells you what he thinks of Portia or Rosalind or Macbeth, or what
ought to become of them. He does not need to tell. But Browning often halts
his story to inform you how this or that situation should be met, or what
must come out of it. His theory is that it is not action but thought which
determines human character; for a man may be doing what appears to be a
brave or generous deed, yet be craven or selfish at heart; or he may be
engaged in some apparently sinful proceeding in obedience to a motive that
we would acclaim as noble if the whole truth were known "It is the soul and
its thoughts that make the man," says Browning, "little else is worthy of
study." So he calls most of his works soul studies. If we label them now
dramas, or dramatic monologues, or dramatic lyrics (the three
classifications of his works), we are to remember that Browning is the one
dramatist who deals with thoughts or motives rather than with action.


WHAT TO READ. One should begin with the simplest of Browning's works, and
preferably with those in which he shows some regard for verbal melody. As
romantic love is his favorite theme, it is perhaps well to begin with a few
of the love lyrics "My Star," "By the Fireside," "Evelyn Hope," and
especially "The Last Ride Together". To these may be added some of the
songs that brighten the obscurity of his longer pieces, such as "I Send my
Heart," "Oh Love--No Love" and "There's a Woman Like a Dewdrop". Next in
order are the ballads, "The Pied Piper," "Herve Riel" and "How they Brought
the Good News"; and then a few miscellaneous short poems, such as "Home
Thoughts from Abroad," "Prospice," "The Boy and the Angel" and "Up at a
Villa--Down in the City."


The above poems are named not because they are particularly fine examples
of their kind, but by way of introduction to a poet who is rather hard to
read. When these are known, and are found not so obscure as we feared, then
will be the time to attempt some of Browning's dramatic monologues. Of
these there is a large variety, portraying many different types of
character, but we shall name only a few. "Andrea del Sarto" is a study of
the great Italian painter, "the perfect painter," whose love for a pretty
but shallow woman was as a millstone about his neck. "My Last Duchess" is a
powerfully drawn outline of a vain and selfish nobleman. "Abt Vogler" is a
study of the soul of a musician. "Rabbi ben Ezra," one of the most typical
of Browning's works, is the word of an old man who faces death, as he had
faced life, with magnificent courage. "An Epistle" relates the strange
experience of Karshish, an Arab physician, as recorded in a letter to his
master Abib. Karshish meets Lazarus (him who was raised from the dead) and,
regarding him as a patient, describes his symptoms,--such symptoms as a man
might have who must live on earth after having looked on heaven. The
physician's half-scoffing words show how his habitual skepticism is shaken
by a glimpse of the unseen world. He concludes, but his doubt is stronger
than his conclusion, that Lazarus must be a madman:

"And thou must love me who have died for thee."
The madman saith He said so: it is strange!

[Sidenote: SAUL]

Another poem belonging to the same group (published under the general title
of _Men and Women_) is "Saul," which finely illustrates the method
that makes Browning different from other poets. He would select some
familiar event, the brief record of which is preserved in history, and say,
"Here we see merely the deed, the outward act or circumstance of life: now
let us get acquainted with these men or women by showing that they thought
and felt precisely as we do under similar conditions." In "Saul" he
reproduces the scene recorded in the sixteenth chapter of the first Book of
Samuel, where the king is "troubled by an evil spirit" and the young David
comes to play the harp before him. Saul is represented as the
disillusioned, the despairing man who has lost all interest in life, and
David as the embodiment of youthful enthusiasm. The poem is a remarkable
portrayal of the ancient scene and characters; but it is something greater
than that; it is a splendid song of the fullness and joy of a brave,
forward-looking life inspired by noble ideals. It is also one of the best
answers ever given to the question, Is life worth living? The length of the
poem, however, and its many difficult or digressive passages are apt to
repel the beginner unless he have the advantage of an abridged version.

[Sidenote: PIPPA PASSES]

Of the longer works of Browning, only _Pippa Passes_ can be
recommended with any confidence that it will give pleasure to the reader.
Other works, such as _The Ring and the Book_, [Footnote: _The Ring
and the Book_ is remarkable for other things than its inordinate length.
In it Browning tells how he found an old book containing the record of a
murder trial in Rome,--a horrible story of a certain Count Guido, who in a
jealous rage killed his beautiful young wife. That is the only story
element of the poem, and it is told, with many irritating digressions, at
the beginning. The rest of the work is devoted to "soul studies," the
subjects being nine different characters who rehearse the same story, each
for his own justification. Thus, Guido gives his view of the matter, and
Pompilia the wife gives hers. "Half Rome," siding with Guido, is
personified to tell one tale, and then "The Other Half" has its say. Final
judgment rests with the Pope, an impressive figure, who upholds the
decision of the civil judges. Altogether it is a remarkable piece of work;
but it would have been more remarkable, better in every way, if fifteen
thousand of its twenty thousand lines had been left in the inkpot.] are
doubtless more famous; but reading them is like solving a puzzle: a few
enjoy the matter, and therefore count it pleasure, but to the majority it
is a task to be undertaken as mental discipline.

_Pippa_ is the story of a working girl, a silk weaver of
Asolo, who has a precious holiday and goes forth to enjoy it,
wishing she could share her happiness with others, especially with
the great people of her town. But the great live in another world,
she thinks, a world far removed from that of the poor little
working girl; so she puts the wish out of her head, and goes on her
way singing:

The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn:
God's in his heaven--
All's right with the world!

It happens that her songs come, in succession, to the ears of the
four greatest people in Asolo at moments when they are facing a
terrible crisis, when a straw may turn them one way or the other,
to do evil or to do good. In each case the song and the pure heart
of the singer turn the scale in the right direction; but Pippa
knows nothing of her influence. She enjoys her holiday and goes to
bed still happy, still singing, quite ignorant of the wonder she
has accomplished.

Where Browning bought the book in which he found the story of
"The Ring and the Book"]

A mere story-teller would have brought Pippa and the rescued ones together,
making an affecting scene with rewards, in the romantic manner; but
Browning is content to depict a bit of ordinary human life, which is daily
filled with deeds worthy to be written in a book of gold, but of which only
the Recording Angel takes any notice.

A CRITICISM OF BROWNING. Comparatively few people appreciate the force, the
daring, the vitality of Browning, and those who know him best are least
inclined to formulate a favorable criticism. They know too well the faults
of their hero, his whims, crotchets, digressions, garrulity; his disjointed
ideas, like rich plums in a poor pudding; his ejaculatory style, as of a
man of second thoughts; his wing-bound fancy, which hops around his subject
like a grasshopper instead of soaring steadily over it like an eagle. Many
of his lines are rather gritty:

Irks care the crop-full bird? Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast?

and half his blank verse is neither prose nor poetry:

What, you, Sir, come too? (Just the man I'd meet.)
Be ruled by me and have a care o' the crowd:
This way, while fresh folk go and get their gaze:
I'll tell you like a book and save your shins.
Fie, what a roaring day we've had! Whose fault?
Lorenzo in Lucina,--here's a church!

Instead of criticism, therefore, his admirers offer this word of advice:
Try to like Browning; in other words, try to understand him. He is not
"easy"; he is not to be read for relaxation after dinner, but in the
morning and in a straight-backed chair, with eyes clear and intellect at
attention. If you so read him, you must soon discover that he has something
of courage and cheer which no other poet can give you in such full measure.
If you read nothing else, try at least "Rabbi ben Ezra," and after the
reading reflect that the optimism of this poem colors everything that the
author wrote. For Browning differs from all other poets in this: that they
have their moods of doubt or despondency, but he has no weary days or
melancholy hours. They sing at times in the twilight, but Browning is the
herald of the sunrise. Always and everywhere he represents "the will to
live," to live bravely, confidently here; then forward still with cheerful
hearts to immortality:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in his hand
Who saith, "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half: trust God: see all, nor be afraid!"

* * * * *


ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING (1806-1861). Among the lesser poets of the age
the most famous was Elizabeth Barrett, who eloped in romantic fashion with
Browning in 1846. Her early volumes, written while she was an invalid, seem
now a little feverish, but a few of her poems of childhood, such as
"Hector" and "Little Ellie," have still their admirers. Later she became
interested in social problems, and reflected the passion of the age for
reform in such poems as "The Cry of the Children," a protest against child
labor which once vied in interest with Hood's famous "Song of the Shirt."
Also she wrote _Aurora Leigh_, a popular novel in verse, having for
its subject a hero who was a social reformer. Then Miss Barrett married
Robert Browning after a rather emotional and sentimental courtship, as
reflected in certain extravagant pages of the Browning _Letters_.


[Sidenote: SONNETS]

In her new-found happiness she produced her most enduring work, the
_Sonnets from the Portuguese_ (1850). This is a collection of love
songs, so personal and intimate that the author thought perhaps to disguise
them by calling them "From the Portuguese." In reality their source was no
further distant than her own heart, and their hero was seen across the
breakfast table every morning. They reflect Mrs. Browning's love for her
husband, and those who read them should read also Browning's answer in "One
Word More." Some of the sonnets ("I Thought How Once" and "How Do I Love
Thee," for example) are very fine, and deserve their high place among love
poems; but others, being too intimate, raise a question of taste in showing
one's heart throbs to the public. Some readers may question whether many of
the _Sonnets_ and most of the _Letters_ had not better been left
exclusively to those for whom they were intended.

MATTHEW ARNOLD (1822-1888). The work of this poet (a son of Dr. Arnold of
Rugby, made famous by _Tom Brown's Schooldays_) is in strong contrast
to that of the Brownings, to the robust optimism of the one and to the
emotionalism of the other. He was a man of two distinct moods: in his
poetry he reflected the doubt or despair of those whose faith had been
shaken by the alleged discoveries of science; in prose he became almost
light-hearted as he bantered middle-class Englishmen for their old-fogy
prejudices, or tried to awaken them to the joys of culture. In both moods
he was coldly intellectual, appealing to the head rather than to the heart
of his readers; and it is still a question whether his poetry or his
criticism will be longest remembered.


Arnold is called the poet of Oxford, as Holmes is of Harvard, and those who
know the beautiful old college town will best appreciate certain verses in
which he reflects the quiet loveliness of a scene that has impressed so
many students, century after century. To general readers one may safely
recommend Arnold's elegies written in memory of the poet Clough, such as
"Thyrsis" and "The Scholar Gypsy"; certain poems reflecting the religious
doubts of the age, such as "Dover Beach," "Morality" and "The Future"; the
love lyrics entitled "Switzerland"; and a few miscellaneous poems, such as
"Resignation," "The Forsaken Merman," "The Last Word," and "Geist's Grave."

To these some critics would add the long narrative poem "Sohrab and
Rustum," which is one of the models set before students of "college
English." The reasons for the choice are not quite obvious; for the story,
which is taken from the Persian _Shah Namah_, or Book of Kings, is
rather coldly told, and the blank verse is far from melodious.

In reading these poems of Arnold his own motives should be borne in mind.
He tried to write on classic lines, repressing the emotions, holding to a
severe, unimpassioned style; and he proceeded on the assumption that poetry
is "a criticism of life." It is not quite clear what he meant by his
definition, but he was certainly on the wrong trail. Poetry is the natural
language of man in moments of strong or deep feeling; it is the expression
of life, of life at high tide or low tide; when it turns to criticism it
loses its chief charm, as a flower loses its beauty and fragrance in the
hands of a botanist. Some poets, however (Lucretius among the ancients,
Pope among the moderns, for example), have taken a different view of the

[Illustration: MATTHEW ARNOLD]


Arnold's chief prose works were written, curiously enough, after he was
appointed professor of poetry at Oxford. There he proceeded, in a sincere
but somewhat toplofty way to enlighten the British public on the subject of
culture. For years he was a kind of dictator of literary taste, and he is
still known as a master of criticism; but to examine his prose is to
discover that it is notable for its even style and occasional good
expressions, such as "sweetness and light," rather than for its
illuminating ideas.

For example, in _Literature and Dogma_ and other books in which Arnold
attempted to solve the problems of the age, he was apt to make large
theories from a small knowledge of his subject. So in his _Study of
Celtic Literature_ (an interesting book, by the way) he wrote with
surprising confidence for one who had no first-hand acquaintance with his
material, and led his readers pleasantly astray in the flowery fields of
Celtic poetry. Moreover, he had one favorite method of criticism, which was
to take the bad lines of one poet and compare them with the good lines of
another,--a method which would make Shakespeare a sorry figure if he
happened to be on the wrong side of the comparison.

[Sidenote: WHAT TO READ]

In brief, Arnold is always a stimulating and at times a provoking critic;
he stirs our thought, disturbs our pet prejudices, challenges our
opposition; but he is not a very reliable guide in any field. What one
should read of his prose depends largely on one's personal taste. The essay
_On Translating Homer_ is perhaps his most famous work, but few
readers are really interested in the question of hexameters. _Culture and
Anarchy_ is his best plea for a combination of the moral and
intellectual or, as he calls them, the Hebrew and Greek elements in our
human education. Among the best of the shorter works are "Emerson" in
_Discourses in America_, and "Wordsworth," "Byron" and "The Study of
Poetry" in _Essays in Criticism_.

THE PRE-RAPHAELITES. In the middle of the nineteenth century, or in 1848 to
be specific, a number of English poets and painters banded themselves
together as a Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. [Footnote: The name was used
earlier by some German artists, who worked together in Rome with the
purpose of restoring art to the medieval simplicity and purity which, as
was alleged, it possessed before the time of the Italian painter Raphael.
The most famous artists of the English brotherhood were John Everett
Millais and William Holman Hunt.] They aimed to make all art more simple,
sincere, religious, and to restore "the sense of wonder, reverence and awe"
which, they believed, had been lost since medieval times. Their sincerity
was unquestioned; their influence, though small, was almost wholly good;
but unfortunately they were, as Morris said, like men born out of due
season. They lived too much apart from their own age and from the great
stream of common life out of which superior art proceeds. For there was
never a great book or a great picture that was not in the best sense
representative, that did not draw its greatness from the common ideals of
the age in which it was produced.


[Sidenote: ROSSETTI]

The first poet among the Pre-Raphaelites was Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(1828-1882), the son of an exiled Italian writer. Like others of the group
he was both painter and poet, and seemed to be always trying to put into
his verse the rich coloring which belonged on canvas. Perhaps the most
romantic episode of his life was, that upon the death of his wife (the
beautiful model, Lizzie Siddal, who appears in Millais' picture "Ophelia")
he buried his poetry with her. After some years his friends persuaded him
that his poems belonged to the living, and he exhumed and published them
(_Poems_, 1870). His most notable volume, _Ballads and Sonnets_,
appeared eleven years later. The ballads are nearly all weird, uncanny, but
with something in them of the witchery of Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner."
The sonnets under the general title of "The House of Life" are devoted to
the poet's lost love, and rank with Mrs. Browning's _From the

[Illustration: WILLIAM MORRIS
From a photograph by Walker and Cockerell]

William Morris (1834-1896) has been called by his admirers the most Homeric
of English poets. The phrase was probably applied to him because of his
_Sigurd the Volsung_, in which he uses the material of an old
Icelandic saga. There is a captivating vigor and swing in this poem, but it
lacks the poetic imagination of an earlier work, _The Defence of
Guenevere,_ in which Morris retells in a new way some of the fading
medieval romances. His best-known work in poetry [Footnote: Some readers
will be more interested in Morris's prose romances, _The House of the
Wolfings_, _The Roots of the Mountains_ and _The Story of the
Glittering Plain_] is _The Earthly Paradise_, a collection of
twenty-four stories strung together on a plan somewhat resembling that of
the _Canterbury Tales_. A band of mariners are cast away on an island
inhabited by a superior race of men, and to while away the time the seamen
and their hosts exchange stories. Some of these are from classic sources,
others from Norse legends or hero tales. The stories are gracefully told,
in very good verse; but in reading them one has the impression that
something essential is lacking, some touch, it may be, of present life and
reality. For the island is but another Cloudland, and the characters are
shadowy creatures having souls but no bodies; or else, as some may find,
having the appearance of bodies and no souls whatever. Indeed, in reading
the greater part of Pre-Raphaelite literature, one is reminded of Morris's
estimate of himself, in the Prelude to _The Earthly Paradise_:

Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due time,
Why should I strive to set the crooked straight?
Let it suffice me that my murmuring rhyme
Beats with light wing against the ivory gate,
Telling a tale not too importunate
To those who in the sleepy region stay,
Lulled by the singer of an empty day.

ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE (1837-1909). This voluminous writer, born in the
year of Victoria's accession, is yet so close to our own day that it is
difficult to think of him as part of an age that is gone. As a poet he was
a master of verbal melody, and had such a command of verse forms that he
won his title of "inventor of harmonies." As a critic he showed a wide
knowledge of English and French literature, a discriminating taste, and an
enthusiasm which bubbled over in eulogy of those whom he liked, and which
emptied vials of wrath upon Byron, Carlyle and others who fell under his
displeasure. His criticisms are written in an extravagant, almost a
torrential, style; at times his prose falls into a chanting rhythm so
attractive in itself as to make us overlook the fact that the praise and
censure which he dispenses with prodigal liberality are too personal to be
quite trustworthy.

[Sidenote: HIS POETRY]

We are still too near Swinburne to judge him accurately, and his place in
the long history of English poetry is yet to be determined. We note here
only two characteristics which may or may not be evident to other readers.
In the first place, with his marvelous command of meter and melody,
Swinburne has a fatal fluency of speech which tends to bury his thought in
a mass of jingling verbiage. As we read we seem to hear the question, "What
readest thou, Hamlet?" and again the Dane makes answer, "Words, words,
words." Again, like the Pre-Raphaelites with whom he was at one time
associated, Swinburne lived too much apart from the tide of common life. He
wrote for the chosen few, and in the mass of his verse one must search long
for a passage of which one may say, This goes home to the hearts of men,
and abides there in the treasure-house of all good poetry.

Among the longer works of Swinburne his masterpiece is the lyrical drama
_Atalanta in Calydon_. If one would merely sample the flavor of the
poet, such minor works as "Itylus" and the fine sea pieces, "Off Shore,"
"By the North Sea" and "A Forsaken Garden" may be recommended. Nor should
we overlook what, to many, is Swinburne's best quality; namely, his love of
children, as reflected in such poems as "The Salt of the Earth" and "A
Child's Laughter." Among the best of his prose works are his _William
Blake_, _Essays and Studies_, _Miscellanies_ and _Studies in
Prose and Verse_.

SONGS IN MANY KEYS. In calling attention to the above-named poets, we have
merely indicated a few who seem to be chief; but the judgment is a personal
one, and subject to challenge. The American critic Stedman, in his
_Victorian Anthology_, recognizes two hundred and fifty singers; of
these eighty are represented by five or more poems; and of the eighty a few
are given higher places than those we have selected as typical. There are
many readers who prefer the _Goblin Market_ of Christina Rossetti to
anything produced by her gifted brother, who place Jean Ingelow above
Elizabeth Barrett, who find more pleasure in Edwin Arnold's _Light of
Asia_ than in all the poems of Matthew Arnold, and who cannot be
interested in even the best of Pre-Raphaelite verse because of its
unreality. Many men, many minds! Time has not yet recorded its verdict on
the Victorians, and until there is some settled criticism which shall
express the judgment of several generations of men, the best plan for the
beginner is to make acquaintance with all the minor poets in an anthology
or book of selections. It may even be a mistake to call any of these poets
minor; for he who has written one song that lives in the hearts of men has
produced a work more enduring than the pyramids.

* * * * *



[Illustration: CHARLES DICKENS]

Among the Victorian novelists were two men who were frequent rivals in the
race for fame and fortune. Thackeray, well born and well bred, with
artistic tastes and literary culture, looked doubtfully at the bustling
life around him, found his inspiration in a past age, and tried to uphold
the best traditions of English literature. Dickens, with little education
and less interest in literary culture, looked with joy upon the struggle
for democracy, and with an observation that was almost microscopic saw all
its picturesque details of speech and character and incident. He was the
eye of the mighty Victorian age, as Tennyson was its ear, and Browning its
psychologist, and Carlyle its chronic grumbler.

LIFE. In the childhood of Dickens one may see a forecast of his
entire career. His father, a good-natured but shiftless man
(caricatured as Mr. Micawber in _David Copperfield_), was a
clerk in the Navy Pay Office, at Portsmouth. There Dickens was born
in 1812. The father's salary was L80 per year, enough at that time
to warrant living in middle-class comfort rather than in the
poverty of the lower classes, with whom Dickens is commonly
associated. The mother was a sentimental woman, whom Dickens, with
questionable taste, has caricatured as Mrs. Micawber and again as
Mrs. Nickleby. Both parents were somewhat neglectful of their
children, and uncommonly fond of creature comforts, especially of
good dinners and a bowl of punch. Though there is nothing in such a
family to explain Dickens's character, there is much to throw light
on the characters that appear in his novels.

[Sidenote: THE STAGE]

The boy himself was far from robust. Having no taste for sports, he
amused himself by reading romances or by listening to his nurse's
tales,--beautiful tales, he thought, which "almost scared him into
fits." His elfish fancy in childhood is probably reflected in Pip,
of _Great Expectations_. He had a strong dramatic instinct to
act a story, or sing a song, or imitate a neighbor's speech, and
the father used to amuse his friends by putting little Charles on a
chair and encouraging him to mimicry,--a dangerous proceeding,
though it happened to turn out well in the case of Dickens.

This stagey tendency increased as the boy grew older. He had a
passion for private theatricals, and when he wrote a good story was
not satisfied till he had read it in public. When _Pickwick_
appeared (1837) the young man, till then an unknown reporter, was
brought before an immense audience which included a large part of
England and America. Thereafter he was never satisfied unless he
was in the public eye; his career was a succession of theatrical
incidents, of big successes, big lecture tours, big
audiences,--always the footlights, till he lay at last between the
pale wax tapers. But we are far ahead of our story.


When Dickens was nine years old his family moved to London. There
the father fell into debt, and by the brutal laws of the period was
thrown into prison. The boy went to work in the cellar of a
blacking factory, and there began that intimate acquaintance with
lowly characters which he used later to such advantage. He has
described his bitter experience so often (in _David
Copperfield_ for instance) that the biographer may well pass
over it. We note only this significant fact: that wherever Dickens
went he had an instinct for exploration like that of a farm dog,
which will not rest in a place till he has first examined all the
neighborhood, putting his nose into every likely or unlikely spot
that may shelter friend or enemy. So Dickens used his spare hours
in roaming the byways of London by night, so he gained his
marvelous knowledge of that foreign land called The Street, with
its flitting life of gamins and nondescripts, through which we pass
daily as through an unknown country.


A small inheritance brought the father from prison, the family was
again united, and for two years the boy attended the academy which
he has held up to the laughter and scorn of two continents. There
the genius of Dickens seemed suddenly to awaken. He studied little,
being given to pranks and theatricals, but he discovered within him
an immense ambition, an imperious will to win a place and a name in
the great world, and a hopeful temper that must carry him over or
under all obstacles.

The last residence of Dickens]

No sooner was his discovery made than he left school and entered a
law office, where he picked up enough knowledge to make court
practices forever ridiculous, in _Bleak House_ and other
stories. He studied shorthand and quickly mastered it; then
undertook to report parliamentary speeches (a good training in
oratory) and presently began a prosperous career as a reporter.
This had two advantages; it developed his natural taste for odd
people and picturesque incidents, and it brought him close to the
great reading public. To please that public, to humor its whims and
prejudices, its love for fun and tears and sentimentality, was
thereafter the ruling motive in Dickens's life.


His first literary success came with some short stories contributed
to the magazines, which appeared in book form as _Sketches by
Boz_ (1835). A publisher marked these sketches, engaged Dickens
to write the text or letterpress for some comic pictures, and the
result was _Pickwick_, which took England and America by
storm. Then followed _Oliver Twist_, _Nicholas Nickleby_,
_Old Curiosity Shop_,--a flood of works that made readers rub
their eyes, wondering if such a fountain of laughter and tears were

There is little else to record except this: that from the time of
his first triumph Dickens held his place as the most popular writer
in English. With his novels he was not satisfied, but wrote a
history of England, and edited various popular magazines, such as
_Household Words_. Also he gave public readings, reveling in
the applause, the lionizing, which greeted him wherever he went. He
earned much money; he bought the place "Gadshill," near Rochester,
which he had coveted since childhood; but he was a free spender,
and his great income was less than his fancied need. To increase
his revenue he "toured" the States in a series of readings from his
own works, and capitalized his experience in _American Notes_
and parts of _Martin Chuzzlewit_.

A question of taste must arise even now in connection with these
works. Dickens had gone to a foreign country for just two things,
money and applause; he received both in full measure; then he bit
the friendly hand which had given him what he wanted. [Footnote:
The chief source of Dickens's irritation was the money loss
resulting from the "pirating" of his stories. There was no
international copyright in those days; the works of any popular
writer were freely appropriated by foreign publishers. This custom
was wrong, undoubtedly, but it had been in use for centuries.
Scott's novels had been pirated the same way; and until Cooper got
to windward of the pirates (by arranging for foreign copyrights)
his work was stolen freely in England and on the Continent. But
Dickens saw only his own grievance, and even at public dinners was
apt to make his hosts uncomfortable by proclaiming his rights or
denouncing their moral standards. Moreover, he had a vast conceit
of himself, and, like most visitors of a week, thought he knew
America like a book. It was as if he looked once at the welter cast
ashore by mighty Lake Superior in a storm, and said, "What a dirty
sea!"] Thackeray, who followed him to America, had a finer sense of
the laws of hospitality and good breeding.


In 1844 Dickens resolved to make both ends meet, and carried out
his resolve with promptness and precision. To decrease expenses he
went to the Continent, and lived there, hungry for the footlights,
till a series of stories ending with _Dombey and Son_ put his
finances on a secure basis. Then he returned to London, wrote more
novels, and saved a fortune for his descendants, who promptly spent
it. Evidently it was a family trait. More and more he lived on his
nerves, grew imperious, exacting, till he separated from his wife
and made wreck of domestic happiness. The self-esteem of which he
made comedy in his novels was for him a tragedy. Also he resumed
the public readings, with their false glory and nervous wear and
tear, which finally brought him to the grave.


He died, worn out by his own exertions, in 1870. He had steadily
refused titles and decorations, but a grateful nation laid his body
to rest in the Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey. It is doubtful
whether he would have accepted this honor, which was forced upon
him, for he had declared proudly that by his works alone he would
live in the memory of his countrymen.

WORKS OF DICKENS. In the early stories of Dickens is a promise of all the
rest. His first work was called _Sketches by Boz_, and "Boz" was
invented by some little girl (was it in _The Vicar of Wakefield?_) who
could not say "Moses"; also it was a pet name for a small brother of
Dickens. There was, therefore, something childlike in this first title, and
childhood was to enter very largely into the novelist's work. He could
hardly finish a story without bringing a child into it; not an ordinary
child, to make us smile, but a wistful or pathetic child whose sorrows,
since we cannot help them, are apt to make our hearts ache.


Dickens is charged with exaggerating the woes of his children, and the
charge is true; but he had a very human reason for his method. In the first
place, the pathetic quality of his children is due to this simple fact,
that they bear the burden and the care of age. And burdens which men or
women accept for themselves without complaint seem all wrong, and are
wrong, when laid upon a child's innocent shoulders. Again, Dickens sought
to show us our error in thinking, as most grown-ups do, that childish
troubles are of small account. So they are, to us; but to the child they
are desperately real. Later in life we learn that troubles are not
permanent, and so give them their proper place; but in childhood a trouble
is the whole world; and a very hopeless world it is while it lasts. Dickens
knew and loved children, as he knew the public whom he made to cry with his
Little Nell and Tiny Tim; and he had discovered that tears are the key to
many a heart at which reason knocks in vain.


The second work, _Pickwick,_ written in a harum-scarum way, is even
more typical of Dickens in its spirit of fun and laughter. He had been
engaged, as we have noted, to furnish a text for some comic drawings, thus
reversing the usual order of illustration. The pictures were intended to
poke fun at a club of sportsmen; and Dickens, who knew nothing of sport,
bravely set out with Mr. Winkle on his rook-shooting. Then, while the story
was appearing in monthly numbers, the illustrator committed suicide;
Dickens was left with Mr. Pickwick on his hands, and that innocent old
gentleman promptly ran away with the author. Not being in the least
adventurous, Mr. Pickwick was precisely the person for whom adventures were
lying in wait; but with his chivalrous heart within him, and Sam Weller on
guard outside, he was not to be trifled with by cabman or constable. So
these two took to the open road, and to the inns where punch, good cheer
and the unexpected were awaiting them. Never was such another book! It is
not a novel; it is a medley of fun and drollery resulting from high animal


In his next novel, _Oliver Twist_, the author makes a new departure by
using the motive of horror. One of his heroes is an unfortunate child, but
when our sympathies for the little fellow are stretched to the point of
tears, Dickens turns over a page and relieves us by Pickwickian laughter.
Also he has his usual medley of picturesque characters and incidents, but
the shadow of Fagin is over them all. One cannot go into any house in the
book, and lock the door and draw the shades, without feeling that somewhere
in the outer darkness this horrible creature is prowling. The horror which
Fagin inspires is never morbid; for Dickens with his healthy spirit could
not err in this direction. It is a boyish, melodramatic horror, such as
immature minds seek in "movies," dime novels, secret societies, detective
stories and "thrillers" at the circus.

In the fourth work, _Nicholas Nickleby_, Dickens shows that he is
nearing the limit of his invention so far as plot is concerned. In this
novel he seems to rest a bit by writing an old-fashioned romance, with its
hero and villain and moral ending. But if you study this or any subsequent
work of Dickens, you are apt to find the four elements already noted;
namely, an unfortunate child, humorous interludes, a grotesque or horrible
creature who serves as a foil to virtue or innocence, and a medley of
characters good or bad that might be transferred without change to any
other story. The most interesting thing about Dickens's men and women is
that they are human enough to make themselves at home anywhere.

WHAT TO READ. Whether one wants to study the method of Dickens or to enjoy
his works, there is hardly a better plan for the beginner than to read in
succession _Pickwick_, _Oliver Twist_ and _Nicholas
Nickleby_, which are as the seed plot out of which grow all his stories.
For the rest, the reader must follow his own fancy. If one must choose a
single work, perhaps _Copperfield_ is the most typical. "Of all my
books," said Dickens, "I like this the best; like many parents I have my
favorite child, and his name is David Copperfield." Some of the heroines of
this book are rather stagey, but the Peggotys, Betsy Trotwood, Mrs.
Gummidge, the Micawbers,--all these are unrivaled. "There is no writing
against such power," said Thackeray, who was himself writing
_Pendennis_ while Dickens was at work on his masterpiece.

The scene of the races, in _Old Curiosity Shop_]


Opinion is divided on the matter of _A Tale of Two Cities_. Some
critics regard it as the finest of Dickens's work, revealing as it does his
powers of description and of character-drawing without his usual
exaggeration. Other critics, who regard the exaggeration of Dickens as his
most characteristic quality, see in _Two Cities_ only an evidence of
his weakening power. It has perhaps this advantage over other works of the
author, that of them we remember only the extraordinary scenes or
characters, while the entire story of _Two Cities_ remains with us as
a finished and impressive thing. But there is also this disadvantage, that
the story ends and is done with, while _Pickwick_ goes on forever. We
may lose sight of the heroes, but we have the conviction, as Chesterton
says, that they are still on the road of adventure, that Mr. Pickwick is
somewhere drinking punch or making a speech, and that Sam Weller may step
out from behind the next stable and ask with a droll wink what we are up to

It is hardly necessary to add that our reading of Dickens must not end
until we are familiar with some of his Yuletide stories, in which he gladly
followed the lead of Washington Irving. The best of all his short stories
is _A Christmas Carol_, which one must read but not criticize. At best
it is a farce, but a glorious, care-lifting, heart-warming farce. Would
there were more of the same kind!

A CRITICISM OF DICKENS. The first quality of Dickens is his extravagant
humor. This was due to the fact that he was alive, so thoroughly,
consciously alive that his vitality overflowed like a spring. Here, in a
word, is the secret of that bubbling spirit of prodigality which occasions
the criticism that Dickens produced not characters but caricatures.


The criticism is true; but it proclaims the strength of the novelist rather
than his weakness. Indeed, it is in the very exaggeration of Dickens that
his astonishing creative power is most clearly manifest. There is something
primal, stupendous, in his grotesque characters which reminds us of the
uncouth monsters that nature created in her sportive moods. Some readers,
meeting with Bunsby, are reminded of a walrus; and who ever saw a walrus
without thinking of the creature as nature's Bunsby? So with Quilp, Toots,
Squeers, Pumblechook; so with giraffes, baboons, dodoes, dromedaries,--all
are freaks from the asthetic viewpoint, but think of the overflowing energy
implied in creating them!

The same sense of prodigality characterized Dickens even in his sober
moods, when he portrayed hundreds of human characters, and not a dead or
dull person among them. To be sure they are all exaggerated; they weep too
copiously, eat or drink too intemperately, laugh too uproariously for
normal men; but to criticize their superabundant vitality is to criticize
Beowulf or Ulysses or Hiawatha; nay, it is to criticize life itself, which
at high tide is wont to overflow in heroics or absurdity. The exuberance of
Pickwick, Micawber, Pecksniff, Sairey Gamp, Sam Weller and a host of others
is perhaps the most normal thing about them; it is as the rattling of a
safety valve, which speaks not of stagnant water but of a full head of
steam. For Dickens deals with life, and you can exaggerate life as much as
you please, since there is no end to either its wisdom or foolishness.
Nothing but a question can be added to the silent simplicity of death.



Aside from his purpose of portraying life as he saw it, in all its strange
complexity, Dickens had a twofold object in writing. He was a radical
democrat, and he aimed to show the immense hopefulness and compassion of
Democracy on its upward way to liberty. He was also a reformer, with a
profound respect for the poor, but no respect whatever for ancient laws or
institutions that stood in the way of justice. The influence of his novels
in establishing better schools, prisons, workhouses, is beyond measure; but
we are not so much interested in his reforms as in his method, which was
unique. He aimed to make men understand the oppressed, and to make a
laughing stock of the oppressors; and he succeeded as no other had ever
done in making literature a power in the land. Thus, the man or the law
that stands defiantly against public opinion is beaten the moment you make
that man or that law look like a joke; and Dickens made a huge joke of the
parish beadle (as Mr. Bumble) and of many another meddlesome British
institution. Moreover, he was master of this paradox: that to cure misery
you must meet it with a merry heart,--this is on the principle that what
the poor need is not charity but comradeship. By showing that humble folk
might be as poor as the Cratchits and yet have the medicine of mirth, the
divine gift of laughter, he made men rejoice with the poor even while they
relieved the poverty.

[Sidenote: HIS FAULTS]

As for the shortcomings of Dickens, they are so apparent that he who runs
may read. We may say of him, as of Shakespeare, that his taste is
questionable, that he is too fond of a mere show, that his style is often
melodramatic, that there is hardly a fault in the whole critical category
of which he is not habitually guilty. But we may say of him also that he is
never petty or mean or morbid or unclean; and he could not be dull if he
tried. His faults, if you analyze them, spring from precisely the same
source as his virtues; that is, from his abundant vitality, from his excess
of life and animal spirits. So we pardon, nay, we rejoice over him as over
a boy who must throw a handspring or raise a _whillilew_ when he
breaks loose from school. For Dickens, when he started his triumphal
progress with _Pickwick_, had a glorious sense of taking his cue from
life and of breaking loose from literary traditions. In comparison with
Ruskin or Thackeray he is not a good writer, but something more--a
splendidly great writer. If you would limit or define his greatness, try
first to marshal his array of characters, characters so vital and human
that we can hardly think of them as fictitious or imaginary creatures; then
remember the millions of men and women to whom he has given pure and
lasting pleasure.

* * * * *


From a drawing by Samuel Laurence]

In fiction Thackeray stands to Dickens as Hamilton to Jefferson in the
field of politics. The radical difference between the novelists is
exemplified in their attitude toward the public. Thackeray, who lived among
the privileged classes, spoke of "this great stupid public," and thought
that the only way to get a hearing from the common people was to "take them
by the ears." He was a true Hamiltonian. Dickens had an immense sympathy
for the common people, a profound respect for their elemental virtues; and
in writing for them he was, as it were, the Jefferson, the triumphant
democrat of English letters. Thackeray was intellectual; he looked at men
with critical eyes, and was a realist and a pessimist. Dickens was
emotional; he looked at men with kindled imagination, judged them by the
dreams they cherished in their hearts, and was a romanticist and an
optimist. Both men were humorists; but where Thackeray was delicately
satirical, causing us a momentary smile, Dickens was broadly comic or
farcical, winning us by hearty laughter.

LIFE. To one who has been trained, like Dickens, in the school of
hardship it seems the most natural thing in the world to pass over
into a state of affluence. It is another matter to fare sumptuously
every day till luxurious habits are formed, and then be cast
suddenly on one's own resources, face to face with the unexpected
monster of bread and butter. This was Thackeray's experience, and
it colored all his work.

A second important matter is that Thackeray had a great tenderness
for children, a longing for home and homely comforts; but as a
child he was sent far from his home in India, and was thrown among
young barbarians in various schools, one of which, the
"Charterhouse," was called the "Slaughterhouse" in the boy's
letters to his mother. "There are three hundred and seventy boys in
this school," wrote; "I wish there were only three hundred and
sixty-nine!" He married for love, and with great joy began
housekeeping; then a terrible accident happened, his wife was taken
to an insane asylum, and for the rest of his life Thackeray was a
wanderer amid the empty splendors of clubs and hotels.

These two experiences did not break Thackeray, but they bowed him.
They help to explain the languor, the melancholy, the gentle
pessimism, as if life had no more sunrises, of which we are vaguely
conscious in reading _The Virginians_ or _The Newcomes_.

[Sidenote: EARLY YEARS]

Thackeray was born (1811) in Calcutta, of a family of English
"nabobs" who had accumulated wealth and influence as factors or
civil officers. At the death of his father, who was a judge in
Bengal, the child was sent to England to be educated. Here is a
significant incident of the journey:

"Our ship touched at an island, where my black servant took
me a walk over rocks and hills till we passed a garden,
where we saw a man walking. 'That is Bonaparte,' said the
black; 'he eats three sheep every day, and all the children
he can lay hands on.'"

Napoleon was then safely imprisoned at St. Helena; but his shadow,
as of a terrible ogre, was still dark over Europe.

Thackeray's education, at the Charterhouse School and at Cambridge,
was neither a happy nor a profitable experience, as we judge from
his unflattering picture of English school life in
_Pendennis_. He had a strongly artistic bent, and after
leaving college studied art in Germany and France. Presently he
lost his fortune by gambling and bad investments, and was
confronted by the necessity of earning his living. He tried the
law, but gave it up because, as he said, it had no soul. He tried
illustrating, having a small talent for comic drawings, and sought
various civil appointments in vain. As a last resource he turned to
the magazines, wrote satires, sketches of travel, burlesques of
popular novelists, and, fighting all the time against his habit of
idleness, slowly but surely won his way.


His first notable work, _Vanity Fair_ (1847), won a few
readers' and the critics' judgment that it was "a book written by a
gentleman for gentlemen" was the foundation of Thackeray's
reputation as a writer for the upper classes. Other notable novels
followed, _Henry Esmond_, _Pendennis_, _The
Newcomes_, _The Virginians_, and two series of literary and
historical essays called _English Humorists_ and _The Four
Georges_. The latter were delivered as lectures in a successful
tour of England and America. Needless to say, Thackeray hated
lecturing and publicity; he was driven to his "dollar-hunting" by

In 1860 his fame was firmly established, and he won his first
financial success by taking charge of the _Cornhill Magazine_,
which prospered greatly in his hands. He did not long enjoy his
new-found comfort, for he died in 1863. His early sketches had been
satirical in spirit, his first novels largely so; but his last
novels and his Cornhill essays were written in a different
spirit,--not kinder, for Thackeray's heart was always right, but
broader, wiser, more patient of human nature, and more hopeful.

In view of these later works some critics declare that Thackeray's
best novel was never written. His stories were produced not
joyously but laboriously, to earn his living; and when leisure came
at last, then came death also, and the work was over.

WORKS OF THACKERAY. It would be flying in the face of all the critics to
suggest that the beginner might do well to postpone the famous novels of
Thackeray, and to meet the author at his best, or cheerfulest, in such
forgotten works as the _Book of Ballads_ and _The Rose and the
Ring_. The latter is a kind of fairy story, with a poor little good
princess, a rich little bad princess, a witch of a godmother, and such
villainous characters as Hedzoff and Gruffanuff. It was written for some
children whom Thackeray loved, and is almost the only book of his which
leaves the impression that the author found any real pleasure in writing

[Sidenote: HENRY ESMOND]

If one must begin with a novel, then _Henry Esmond_ (1852) is the
book. This is an historical novel; the scene is laid in the eighteenth
century, during the reign of Queen Anne; and it differs from most other
historical novels in this important respect: the author knows his ground
thoroughly, is familiar not only with political events but with the
thoughts, ideals, books, even the literary style of the age which he
describes. The hero of the novel, Colonel Esmond, is represented as telling
his own story; he speaks as a gentleman spoke in those days, telling us
about the politicians, soldiers, ladies and literary men of his time, with
frank exposure of their manners or morals. As a realistic portrayal of an
age gone by, not only of its thoughts but of the very language in which
those thoughts were expressed, _Esmond_ is the most remarkable novel
of its kind in our language. It is a prodigy of realism, and it is written
in a charming prose style.

One must add frankly that _Esmond_ is not an inspiring work, that the
atmosphere is gloomy, and the plot a disappointment. The hero, after ten
years of devotion to a woman, ends his romance by happily marrying with her
mother. Any reader could have told him that this is what he ought to have
done, or tried to do, in the beginning; but Thackeray's heroes will never
take the reader's good advice. In this respect they are quite human.

[Sidenote: VANITY FAIR]

The two social satires of Thackeray are _Vanity Fair_ (1847) and
_The History of Arthur Pendennis_ (1849). The former takes its title
from that fair described in _Pilgrim's Progress_, where all sorts of
cheats are exposed for sale; and Thackeray makes his novel a moralizing
exposition of the shams of society. The slight action of the story revolves
about two unlovely heroines, the unprincipled Becky Sharp and the spineless
Amelia. We call them both unlovely, though Thackeray tries hard to make us
admire his tearful Amelia and to detest his more interesting Becky. Meeting
these two contrasting characters is a variety of fools and snobs, mostly
well-drawn, all carefully analyzed to show the weakness or villainy that is
in them.

One interesting but unnoticed thing about these minor characters is that
they all have their life-size prototypes in the novels of Dickens.
Thackeray's characters, as he explains in his preface, are "mere puppets,"
who must move when he pulls the strings. Dickens does not have to explain
that his characters are men and women who do very much as they please. That
is, perhaps, the chief difference between the two novelists.

[Sidenote: PENDENNIS]

_Pendennis_ is a more readable novel than _Vanity Fair_ in this
respect, that its interest centers in one character rather than in a
variety of knaves or fools. Thackeray takes a youthful hero, follows him
through school and later life, and shows the steady degeneration of a man
who is governed not by vicious but by selfish impulses. From beginning to
end _Pendennis_ is a penetrating ethical study (like George Eliot's
_Romola_), and the story is often interrupted while we listen to the
author's moralizing. To some readers this is an offense; to others it is a
pleasure, since it makes them better acquainted with the mind and heart of
Thackeray, the gentlest of Victorian moralists.


The last notable works of Thackeray are like afterthoughts. _The
Virginians_ continues the story of Colonel Esmond, and _The
Newcomes_ recounts the later fortunes of Arthur Pendennis. _The
Virginians_ has two or three splendid scenes, and some critics regard
_The Newcomes_ as the finest expression of the author's genius; but
both works, which appeared in the leisurely form of monthly instalments,
are too languid in action for sustained interest. We grow acquainted with
certain characters, and are heartily glad when they make their exit;
perhaps someone else will come, some adventurer from the road or the inn,
to relieve the dullness. The door opens, and in comes the bore again to
take another leave. That is realism, undoubtedly; and Laura Pendennis is as
realistic as the mumps, which one may catch a second time. The atmosphere
of both novels--indeed, of all Thackeray's greater works, with the
exception of _English Humorists_ and _The Four Georges_--is
rather depressing. One gets the impression that life among "the quality" is
a dreary experience, hardly worth the effort of living.

After a rare engraving by J. Rogers from the drawing made by Thomas H.
Shepherd at the time Thackeray was a student there]

THACKERAY: A CRITICISM. It is significant that Thackeray's first work
appeared in a college leaflet called "The Snob," and that it showed a
talent for satire. In his earlier stories he plainly followed his natural
bent, for his _Vanity Fair_, _Barry Lyndon_ (a story of a
scoundrelly adventurer) and several minor works are all satires on the
general snobbery of society. This tendency of the author reached a climax
in 1848, when he wrote _The Book of Snobs._ It is still an
entertaining book, witty, and with a kind of merciless fairness about its
cruel passages; yet some readers will remember what the author himself said
later, that he was something of a snob himself to write such a book. The
chief trouble with the half of his work is that he was so obsessed with the
idea of snobbery that he did injustice to humanity, or rather to his
countrymen; for Thackeray was very English, and interest in his characters
depends largely on familiarity with the life he describes. His pictures of
English servants, for instance, are wonderfully deft, though one might wish
that he had drawn them with a more sympathetic pencil.


In the later part of his life the essential kindness of the man came to the
surface, but still was he hampered by his experience and his philosophy.
His experience was that life is too big to be grasped, too mysterious to be
understood; therefore he faced life doubtfully, with a mixture of timidity
and respect, as in _Henry Esmond_. His philosophy was that every
person is at heart an egoist, is selfish in spite of himself; therefore is
every man or woman unhappy, because selfishness is the eternal enemy of
happiness. This is the lesson written large in _Pendennis_. He lived
in the small world of his own class, while the great world of Dickens--the
world of the common people, with their sympathy, their eternal hopefulness,
their enjoyment of whatever good they find in life--passed unnoticed
outside his club windows. He conceived it to be the business of a novelist
to view the world with his own eyes, to describe it as he saw it; and it
was not his fault that his world was a small one. Fate was answerable for
that. So far as he went, Thackeray did his work admirably, portraying the
few virtues and the many shams of his set with candor and sincerity. Though
he used satire freely (and satire is a two-edged weapon), his object was
never malicious or vindictive but corrective; he aimed to win or drive men
to virtue by exposing the native ugliness of vice.

The result of his effort may be summed up as follows: Thackeray is a
novelist for the few who can enjoy his accurate but petty views of society,
and his cultivated prose style. He is not very cheerful; he does not seek
the blue flower that grows in every field, or the gold that is at every
rainbow's end, or the romance that hides in every human heart whether of
rich or poor. Therefore are the young not conspicuous among his followers.

* * * * *


More than other Victorian story-tellers George Eliot regarded her work with
great seriousness as a means of public instruction. Her purpose was to show
that human life is effective only as it follows its sense of duty, and that
society is as much in need of the moral law as of daily bread. Other
novelists moralized more or less, Thackeray especially; but George Eliot
made the teaching of morality her chief business.

LIFE. In the work as in the face of George Eliot there is a certain
masculine quality which is apt to mislead one who reads _Adam
Bede_ or studies a portrait of the author. Even those who knew
her well, and who tried to express the charm of her personality,
seem to have overlooked the fact that they were describing a woman.
For example, a friend wrote:

"Everything in her aspect and presence was in keeping with
the bent of her soul. The deeply lined face, the too marked
and massive features, were united with an air of delicate
refinement, which in one way was the more impressive,
because it seemed to proceed so entirely from within. Nay,
the inward beauty would sometimes quite transform the
outward harshness; there would be moments when the thin
hands that entwined themselves in their eagerness, the
earnest figure that bowed forward to speak and hear, the
deep gaze moving from one face to another with a grave
appeal,--all these seemed the transparent symbols that
showed the presence of a wise, benignant soul."


That is very good, but somehow it is not feminine. So the
impression has gone forth that George Eliot was a "strong-minded"
woman; but that is far from the truth. One might emphasize her
affectionate nature, her timidity, her lack of confidence in her
own judgment; but the essence of the matter is this, that so
dependent was she on masculine support that she was always
idealizing some man, and looking up to him as a superior being. In
short, she was one of "the clinging kind." Though some may regard
this as traditional nonsense, it was nevertheless the most
characteristic quality of the woman with whom we are dealing.

[Sidenote: HER GIRLHOOD]

Mary Ann Evans, or Marian as she was called, was born (1819) and
spent her childhood in Shakespeare's county of Warwickshire. Her
father (whose portrait she has faintly drawn in the characters of
Adam Bede and Caleb Garth) was a strong, quiet man, a farmer and
land agent, who made a companion of his daughter rather than of his
son, the two being described more or less faithfully in the
characters of Maggie and Tom Tulliver in _The Mill on the
Floss_. At twelve years of age she was sent to a boarding
school; at fifteen her mother died, and she was brought home to
manage her father's house. The rest of her education--which
included music and a reading knowledge of German, Italian and
Greek--was obtained by solitary study at intervals of rest from
domestic work. That the intervals were neither long nor frequent
may be inferred from the fact that her work included not only her
father's accounts and the thousand duties of housekeeping but also
the managing of a poultry yard, the making of butter, and other
farm or dairy matters which at that time were left wholly to women.

[Illustration: GEORGE ELIOT
From a portrait painted in Rome by M. d'Albert Durade, and now in

The first marked change in her life came at the age of twenty-two,
when the household removed to Coventry, and Miss Evans was there
brought in contact with the family of a wealthy ribbon-maker named
Bray. He was a man of some culture, and the atmosphere of his
house, with its numerous guests, was decidedly skeptical. To Miss
Evans, brought up in a home ruled by early Methodist ideals of
piety, the change was a little startling. Soon she was listening to
glib evolutionary theories that settled everything from an
earthworm to a cosmos; next she was eagerly reading such unbaked
works as Bray's _Philosophy of Necessity_ and the essays of
certain young scientists who, without knowledge of either
philosophy or religion, were cocksure of their ability to provide
"modern" substitutes for both at an hour's notice.

Miss Evans went over rather impulsively to the crude skepticism of
her friends; then, finding no soul or comfort in their theories,
she invented for herself a creed of duty and morality, without
however tracing either to its origin. She was naturally a religious
woman, and there is no evidence that she found her new creed very
satisfactory. Indeed, her melancholy and the gloom of her novels
are both traceable to the loss of her early religious ideals.


A trip abroad (1849) was followed by some editorial work on _The
Westminster Review_, then the organ of the freethinkers. This in
turn led to her association with Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill
and other liberals, and to her union with George Henry Lewes in
1854. Of that union little need be said except this: though it
lacked the law and the sacrament, it seems to have been in other
respects a fair covenant which was honestly kept by both parties.
[Footnote: Lewes was separated from his first wife, from whom he
was unable to obtain a legal divorce. This was the only obstacle to
a regular marriage, and after facing the obstacle for a time the
couple decided to ignore it. The moral element in George Eliot's
works is due largely, no doubt, to her own moral sense; but it was
greatly influenced by the fact that, in her union with Lewes, she
had placed herself in a false position and was morally on the
defensive against society.]

Encouraged by Lewes she began to write fiction. Her first attempt,
"Amos Barton," was an excellent short story, and in 1859 she
produced her first novel, _Adam Bede_, being then about forty
years old. The great success of this work had the unusual effect of
discouraging the author. She despaired of her ability, and began to
agonize, as she said, over her work; but her material was not yet
exhausted, and in _The Mill on the Floss_ and _Silas
Marner_ she repeated her triumph.

[Sidenote: ON A PEDESTAL]

The rest of her life seems a matter of growth or of atrophy,
according to your point of view. She grew more scientific, as she
fancied, but she lost the freshness and inspiration of her earlier
novels. The reason seems to be that her head was turned by her fame

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