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Masters of the English Novel by Richard Burton

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kind, a distinct, often able, sympathetic kind of fiction of our
race: its worth as a social document (to use the convenient term
once more) is likely to be high. It lacks the close-knit plot,
the feeling for stage effect, the swift progression and the
sense of completed action which another and more favored sort of
Novel exhibits. Yet it may have as much chance of permanence in
the hands of a master. The proper question, then, seems to be
whether it most fitly expresses the genius of an author.

Perhaps there will never be general agreement as to this in the
case of "Middlemarch." The book is drawn from wells of
experience not so deep in Eliot's nature as those which went to
the making of "Adam Bede" and "The Mill on the Floss," It is
life with which the author became familiar in London and about
the world during her later literary days. She knows it well, and
paints it with her usual noble insistence upon truth. But she
knows it with her brain; whereas, she knows "The Mill on the
Floss" with her blood. There is surely that difference. Hence,
the latter work has, it would seem, a better chance for long
life; for, without losing the author's characteristic
interpretation, it has more story-value, is richer in humor
(that alleviating ingredient of all fiction) and is a better
work of art. It shows George Eliot absorbed in story-telling:
"Middlemarch" is George Eliot using a slight framework of story
for the sake of talking about life and illustrating by
character. Those who call it her masterpiece are not judging it
primarily as art-work: any more than those who call Whitman the
greatest American poet are judging him as artist. While it seems
necessary to make this distinction, it is quite as necessary to
bear down on the attraction of the character-drawing. That is a
truly wonderful portrait of the unconsciously selfish scholar in
Casaubon. Dorothea's noble naturalness, Will Ladislaw's fiery
truth, the verity of Rosamond's bovine mediocrity, the fine
reality of Lydgate's situation, so portentous in its demand upon
the moral nature--all this, and more than this, is admirable and
authoritative. The predominant thought in closing such a study
is that of the tremendous complexity of human fate, influenced
as it is by heredity, environment and the personal equation, and
not without melioristic hope, if we but live up to our best. The
tone is grave, but not hopeless. The quiet, hesitant movement
helps the sense of this slow sureness in the working of the
social law:

"Though the mills of God grind slowly,
Yet they grind exceeding small."

In her final novel, "Daniel Deronda," between which and
"Middlemarch" there were six years, so that it was published
when the author was nearly sixty years old, we have another
large canvas upon which, in great detail and with admirable
variety, is displayed a composition that does not aim at
complete unity--or at any rate, does not accomplish it, for the
motive is double: to present the Jew so that Judenhetze may be
diminished: and to exhibit the spiritual evolution through a
succession of emotional experiences of the girl Gwendolen. This
phase of the story offers an instructive parallel with
Meredith's "Diana of the Crossways." If the Jew theme had been
made secondary artistically to the Gwendolen study, the novel
would have secured a greater degree of constructive success; but
there's the rub. Now it seems the main issue; again, Gwendolen
holds the center of the stage. The result is a suspicion of
patchwork; nor is this changed by the fact that both parts are
brilliantly done--to which consideration may be added the well-known
antipathy of many Gentile readers to any treatment of the
Jew in fiction, if an explanation be sought of the relative
slighting of a very noble book.

For it has virtues, many and large. Its spirit is broad,
tolerant, wide and loving. In no previous Eliot fiction are
there finer single effects: no one is likely to forget the scene
in which Gwendolen and Harcourt come to a rupture; or the scene
of Deronda's dismissal. And in the way of character portrayal,
nothing is keener and truer than the heroine of this book, whose
unawakened, seemingly light, nature is chastened and deepened as
she slowly learns the meaning of life. The lesson is sound and
salutary: it is set forth so vividly as to be immensely
impressive. Mordecai, against the background necessary to show
him, is sketched with splendid power. And the percentage of
quotable sayings, sword-thrusts, many of them, into the vitals
of life, is as high perhaps as in any other of the Novels,
unless it be "Middlemarch." Nevertheless those who point to
"Deronda" as illustrating the novelist's decadence--although
they use too harsh a word--have some right on their side. For,
viewed as story, it is not so successful as the books of the
first half of George Eliot's career. It all depends whether a
vital problem Novel is given preference over a Novel which does
not obtrude message, if it have any at all. And if fiction be a
fine art, it must be confessed that this latter sort is
superior. But we have perfect liberty to admire the elevation,
earnestness and skill en detail that denote such a work. Nay, we
may go further and say that the woman who wrote it is greater
than she who wrote "The Mill on the Floss."

With a backward glance now at the list, it may be said in
summary that the earlier fiction constitutes George Eliot's most
authoritative contribution to English novel-making, since the
thinking about life so characteristic of her is kept within the
bounds of good story-telling. And the compensation for this
artistic loss in her later fiction is found in its wider
intellectual outlook, its deeper sympathy, the more profound
humanity of the message.

But what of her philosophy? She was not a pessimist, since the
pessimist is one who despairs of human virtue and regards the
world as paralyzing the will nobly to achieve. She was, rather,
a meliorist who hoped for better things, though tardy to come;
who believed, in her own pungent phrase, "in the slow contagion
of good." Of human happiness she did in one of her latest moods
despair: going so far in a dark moment as to declare that the
only ideal left her was duty. In a way, she grew sadder as she
grew older. By intellect she was a positivist who has given up
any definite hope of personal immortality--save that which by a
metaphor is applied to one's influence upon the life of the
world here upon earth. And in her own career, by her
unconventional union with Lewes, she made a questionable choice
of action, though from the highest motives; a choice which I
believe rasped her sensitive soul because of the way it was
regarded by many whom she respected and whose good opinion she
coveted. But she remained splendidly wholesome and inspiring in
her fiction, because she clung to her faith in spiritual
self-development, tested all life by the test of duty, felt the
pathos and the preciousness of inconspicuous lives, and devoted
herself through a most exceptional career to loving service for
others. She was therefore not only a novelist of genius, but a
profoundly good woman. She had an ample practical credo for
living and will always be, for those who read with their mind
and soul as well as their eyes, anything but a depressing
writer. For them, on the contrary, she will be a tonic force, a
seer using fiction as a means to an end--and that end the
betterment of mankind.

CHAPTER XI

TROLLOPE AND OTHERS

Five or six writers of fiction, none of whom has attained a
position like that of the three great Victorians already
considered, yet all of whom loomed large in their day, have met
with unequal treatment at the hands of time: Bulwer Lytton,
Disraeli, Reade, Trollope, Kingsley. And the Brontes might well
be added to the list. The men are mentioned in the order of
their birth; yet it seems more natural to place Trollope last,
not at all because he lived to 1882, while Kingsley died seven
years earlier. Reade lived two years after Trollope, but seems
chronologically far before him as a novelist. In the same way,
Disraeli and Bulwer Lytton, as we now look back upon them,
appear to be figures of another age; though the former lived to
within a few years of Trollope, and the latter died but two
years before Kingsley. Of course, the reason that Disraeli
impresses us as antiquated where Trollope looks thoroughly
modern, is because the latter is nearest our own day in method,
temper and aim. And this is the main reason why he has best
survived the shocks of time and is seen to be the most
significant figure of an able and interesting group. Before he
is examined, something may be said of the others.

In a measure, the great reputation enjoyed by the remaining
writers was secured in divisions of literature other than
fiction; or derived from activities not literary at all. Thus
Beaconsfield was Premier, Bulwer was noted as poet and
dramatist, and eminent in diplomacy; Kingsley a leader in Church
and State. They were men with many irons in the fire: naturally,
it took some years to separate their literary importance pure
and simple from the other accomplishments that swelled their
fame. Reade stood somewhat more definitely for literature; and
Trollope, although his living was gained for years as a public
servant, set his all of reputation on the single throw of
letters. He is Anthony Trollope, Novelist, or he is nothing.

I

Thinking of Disraeli as a maker of stories, one reads of his
immense vogue about the middle of the last century and reflects
sagely upon the change of literary fashions. The magic is gone
for the reader now. Such claim as he can still make is most
favorably estimated by "Coningsby," "Sybil" and "Tancred," all
published within four years, and constituting a trilogy of books
in which the follies of polite society and the intimacies of
politics are portrayed with fertility and facility. The earlier
"Henrietta Temple" and "Venetia," however fervid in feeling and
valuable for the delineation of contemporary character, are not
so characteristic. Nor are the novels of his last years,
"Lothair" and "Endymion," in any way better than those of his
younger days. That the political trilogy have still a certain
value as studies of the time is beyond argument. Also, they have
wit, invention and a richly pictorial sense for setting,
together with flamboyant attraction of style and a solid
substratum of thought. One recognizes often that an athletic
mind is at play in them. But they do not now take hold, whatever
they once did; an air of the false-literary is over them, it is
not easy to read them as true transcripts from life. To get a
full sense of this, turn to literally contemporaneous books like
Dickens' "David Copperfield" and "Hard Times"; compared with
such, Disraeli and all his world seem clever pastiche. Personal
taste may modify this statement: it can hardly reverse it. It
would be futile to explain the difference by saying that
Disraeli was some eight years before Dickens or that he dealt
with another and higher class of society. The difference goes
deeper: it is due to the fact that one writer was writing in the
spirit of the age with his face to the future and so giving a
creative representation of its life; whereas the other was
painting its manners and only half in earnest: playing with
literature, in sooth. A man like Dickens is married to his art;
Disraeli indulges in a temporary liaison with letters. There is,
too, in the Lothair-Endymion kind of literature a fatal
resemblance to the older sentimental and grandiose fiction of
the eighteenth century: an effect of plush and padding, an
atmosphere of patchouli and sachet powder. It has the limitation
that fashion ever sets; it is boudoir novel-writing: cabinet
literature in both the social and political sense. As Agnes
Repplier has it: "Lothair is beloved by the female aristocracy
of Great Britain; and mysterious ladies, whose lofty souls stoop
to no conventionalities, die happy with his kisses on their
lips." It would be going too far perhaps to say that this type
never existed in life, for Richardson seems to have had a model
in mind in drawing Grandison; but it hardly survives in letters,
unless we include "St. Elmo" and "Under Two Flags" in that
denomination.

To sum it all up: For most of us Disraeli has become hard
reading. This is not to say that he cannot still be read with
profit as one who gives us insight concerning his day; but his
gorgeous pictures and personages have faded woefully, where
Trollope's are as bright as ever; and the latter is right when
he said that Lord Beaconsfield's creatures "have a flavor of
paint and unreality."

II

Bulwer Lytton has likewise lost ground greatly: but read to-day
he has much more to offer. In him, too, may be seen an
imperfectly blent mixture of by-gone sentimentality and modern
truth: yet whether in the romance of historic setting, "The Last
Days of Pompeii," or in the satiric study of realism, like "My
Novel," Bulwer is much nearer to us, and holds out vital
literature for our appreciation. It is easy to name faults both
in romance and realism of his making: but the important thing to
acknowledge is that he still appeals, can be read with a certain
pleasure. His most mature work, moreover, bears testimony to the
coming creed of fiction, as Disraeli's never does. There are
moments with Bulwer when he almost seems a fellow of Meredith's.
I recall with amusement the classroom remark of a college
professor to the effect that "My Novel" was the greatest fiction
in English literature. While the freshmen to whom this was
addressed did not appreciate the generous erraticism of the
judgment, even now one of them sees that, coming as it did from
a clergyman of genial culture, a true lover of literature and
one to inspire that love in others--even in freshmen!--it could
hardly have been spoken concerning a mere man-milliner of
letters. Bulwer produced too much and in too many kinds to do
his best in all--or in any one. But most of us sooner or later
have been in thrall to "Kenelm Chillingly" or thrilled to that
masterly horror story, "The House and the Brain." There is
pinchbeck with the gold, but the shining true metal is there.

III

To pass to Kingsley, is like turning from the world to the
kingdom of God: all is religious fervor, humanitarian purpose.
Here again the activity is multiple but the dominant spirit is
that of militant Christianity. Outside of the Novel, Kingsley
has left in "Water Babies" a book deserving the name of modern
classic, unless the phrase be a contradiction in terms. "Alton
Locke," read to-day, is felt to be too much the tract to bear
favorable comparison with Eliot's "Felix Holt"; but it has
literary power and noble sincerity. Kingsley is one of the first
to feel the ground-swell of social democracy which was to sweep
later fiction on its mighty tide. "Westward Ho!" is a sterling
historical romance, one of the more successful books in a select
list which embraces "The Cloister and the Hearth," "Lorna
Doone," and "John Inglesant." "Hypatia," examined
dispassionately, may be described as an historical romance with
elements of greatness rather than a great historical romance.
But it shed its glamour over our youth and there is affectionate
dread in the thought of a more critical re-reading.

In truth, Kingsley, viewed in all his literary work, stands out
as an athlete of the intellect and the emotions, doing much and
doing it remarkably well--a power for righteousness in his day
and generation, but for this very reason less a professional
novelist of assured standing. His gifted, erratic brother Henry,
in the striking series of stories dealing prevailingly with the
Australian life he so well knew, makes a stronger impression of
singleness of power and may last longer, one suspects, than the
better-known, more successful Charles, whose significance for
the later generation is, as we have hinted, in his sensitiveness
to the new spirit of social revolt,--an isolated voice where
there is now full chorus.

IV

An even more virile figure and one to whom the attribution of
genius need not be grudged, is the strong, pugnacious, eminently
picturesque Charles Reade. It is a temptation to say that but
for his use of a method and a technique hopelessly old-fashioned,
he might claim close fellowship for gift and influence with
Dickens. But he lacked art as it is now understood: balance,
restraint, the impersonal view were not his. He is a glorious
but imperfect phenomenon, back there in the middle century.
He worked in a way deserving of the descriptive phrase once
applied to Macaulay--"a steam engine in breeches;" he put
enough belief and heart into his fiction to float any literary
vessel upon the treacherous waters of fame. He had, of the more
specific qualities of a novelist, racy idiom, power in creating
character and a remarkable gift for plot and dramatic scene.
His frankly melodramatic novels like "A Terrible Temptation"
are among the best of their kind, and in "The Cloister and
the Hearth" he performed the major literary feat of
reconstructing, with the large imagination and humanity
which obliterate any effect of archeology and worked-up
background, a period long past. And what reader of English
fiction does not harbor more than kindly sentiments for those
very different yet equally lovable women, Christie Johnstone and
Peg Woffington? To run over his contributions thus is to feel
the heart grow warm towards the sturdy story-teller. Reade also
played a part, as did Kingsley, in the movement for recognition
of the socially unfit and those unfairly treated. "Put Yourself
in His Place," with its early word on the readjustment of labor
troubles, is typical of much that he strove to do. Superb
partisan that he was, it is probable that had he cared less for
polemics and more for his art, he would have secured a safer
position in the annals of fiction. He can always be taken up and
enjoyed for his earnest conviction or his story for the story's
sake, even if on more critical evaluations he comes out not so
well as men of lesser caliber.

V

The writer of the group who has consistently gained ground and
has come to be generally recognized as a great artist, a force
in English fiction both for influence and pleasure-giving power,
is Anthony Trollope. He is vital to-day and strengthening his
hold upon the readers of fiction. The quiet, cultivated folk in
whose good opinion lies the destiny of really worthy literature,
are, as a rule, friendly to Trollope; not seldom they are
devoted to him. Such people peruse him in an enjoyably
ruminative way at their meals, or read him in the neglige of
retirement. He is that cosy, enviable thing, a bedside author.
He is above all a story-teller for the middle-aged and it is his
good fortune to be able to sit and wait for us at that half-way
house,--since we all arrive. Of course, to say this is to
acknowledge his limitations. He does not appeal strongly to the
young, though he never forgets to tell a love story; but he is
too placid, matter-of-fact, unromantic for them. But if he do
not shake us with lyric passion, he is always interesting and he
wears uncommonly well. That his popularity is extending is
testified to by new editions and publishers' hullabaloo over his
work.

Such a fate is deserved by him, for Trollope is one of the most
consummate masters of that commonplace which has become the
modern fashion--and fascination. He has a wonderful power in the
realism which means getting close to the fact and the average
without making them uninteresting. So, naturally, as realism has
gained he has gained. No one except Jane Austen has surpassed
him in this power of truthful portrayal, and he has the
advantage of being practically of our own day. He insisted that
fiction should be objective, and refused to intrude himself into
the story, showing himself in this respect a better artist than
Thackeray, whom he much admired but frankly criticized. He was
unwilling to pause and harangue his audience in rotund voice
after the manner of Dickens, First among modern novelists,
Trollope stands invisible behind his characters, and this, as we
have seen, was to become one of the articles of the modern creed
of fiction. He affords us that peculiar pleasure which is
derived from seeing in a book what we instantly recognize as
familiar to us in life. Just why the pleasure, may be left to
the psychologists; but it is of indisputable charm, and Trollope
possesses it. We may talk wisely and at length of his
commonplaceness, lack of spice, philistinism; he can be counted
on to amuse us. He lived valiantly up to his own injunction: "Of
all the needs a book has, the chief need is that it is
readable." A simple test, this, but a terrible one that has
slain its thousands. No nineteenth century maker of stories is
safer in the matter of keeping the attention. If the book can be
easily laid down, it is always agreeable to take it up again.

Trollope set out in the most systematic way to produce a series
of novels illustrating certain sections of England, certain
types of English society; steadily, for a life-time, with the
artisan's skilful hand, he labored at the craft. He is the very
antithesis of the erraticisms and irregularities of genius. He
went to his daily stint of work, by night and day, on sea or
land, exactly as the merchant goes to his office, the mechanic
to his shop. He wrote with a watch before him, two hundred and
fifty words to fifteen minutes. But he had the most unusual
faculty of direct, unprejudiced, clear observation; he trained
himself to set down what he saw and to remember it. And he also
had the constructive ability to shape and carry on his story so
as to create the effect of growth, along with an equally
valuable power of sympathetic characterization, so that you know
and understand his folk. Add to this a style perfectly accordant
with the unobtrusive harmony of the picture, and the main
elements of Trollope's appeal have been enumerated. Yet has he
not been entirely explained. His art--meaning the skilled
handling of his material--can hardly be praised too much; it is
so easy to underestimate because it is so unshowy. Few had a
nicer sense of scale and tone; he gets his effects often because
of this harmony of adjustment. For one example, "The Warden" is
a relatively short piece of fiction which opens the famous
Chronicles of Barset series. Its interest culminates in the
going of the Reverend Septimus Harding to London from his quiet
country home, in order to prevent a young couple from marrying.
The whole situation is tiny, a mere corner flurry. But so
admirably has the climax been prepared, so organic is it to all
that went before in the way of preparation, that the result is
positively thrilling: a wonderful example of the principle of
key and relation.

Or again, in that scene which is a favorite with all Trollope's
readers, where the arrogant Mrs. Proudie is rebuked by the gaunt
Mr. Crawley, the effect of his famous "Peace, woman!" is
tremendous only because it is a dash of vivid red in a
composition where the general color scheme is low and subdued.

In view of this faculty, it will not do to regard Trollope as a
kind of mechanic who began one novel the day he finished another
and often carried on two or three at the same time, like a
juggler with his balls, with no conception of them as artistic
wholes. He says himself that he began a piece of fiction with no
full plan. But, with his very obvious skill prodigally proved
from his work, we may beg leave to take all such statements in a
qualified sense: for the kind of fiction he aimed at he surely
developed a technique not only adequate but of very unusual
excellence.

Trollope was a voluminous writer: he gives in his delightful
autobiography the list of his own works and it numbers upwards
of sixty titles, of which over forty are fiction. His capacity
for writing, judged by mere bulk, appears to have been
inherited; for his mother, turning authoress at fifty years of
age, produced no less than one hundred and fourteen volumes!
There is inferior work, and plenty of it, among the sum-total of
his activity, but two series, amounting to about twenty books,
include the fiction upon which his fame so solidly rests: the
Cathedral series and the Parliamentary series. In the former,
choosing the southern-western counties of Wiltshire and Hants as
Hardy chose Wessex for his peculiar venue, he described the
clerical life of his land as it had never been described before,
showing the type as made up of men like unto other men,
unromantic, often this-worldly and smug, yet varying the type,
making room for such an idealist as Crawley as well as for sleek
bishops and ecclesiastical wire-pullers. Neither his young women
nor his holy men are overdrawn a jot: they have the continence
of Nature. But they are not cynically presented. You like them
and take pleasure in their society; they are so beautifully
true! The inspiration of these studies came to him as he walked
under the shadow of Salisbury Cathedral; and one is never far
away from the influence of the cathedral class. The life is the
worldy-godly life of that microcosm, a small, genteel,
conventional urban society; in sharp contrast with the life
depicted by Hardy in the same part of the land,--but like
another world, because his portraiture finds its subjects among
peasant-folk and yeoman--the true primitive types whose speech
is slow and their roots deep down in the soil.

The realism of Trollope was not confined to the mere
reproduction of externals; he gave the illusion of character,
without departing from what can be verified by what men know.
His photographs were largely imaginary, as all artistic work
must be; he constructed his stories out of his own mind. But all
is based on what may be called a splendidly reasoned and
reasonable experience with Life. His especial service was thus
to instruct us about English society, without tedium, within a
domain which was voluntarily selected for his own. In this he
was also a pioneer in that local fiction which is a geographical
effect of realism. And to help him in this setting down of what
he believed to be true of humanity, was a style so lucid and
simple as perfectly to serve his purpose. For unobtrusive ease,
idiomatic naturalness and that familiarity which escapes
vulgarity and retains a quiet distinction, no one has excelled
him. It is one reason why we feel an intimate knowledge of his
characters. Mr. Howells declares it is Trollope who is most like
Austen "in simple honesty and instinctive truth, as
unphilosophized as the light of common day"--though he goes on
to deplore that he too often preferred to be "like the
caricaturist Thackeray"--a somewhat hard saying. It is a
particular comfort to read such a writer when intensely personal
psychology is the order of the day and neither style nor
interpretation in fiction is simple.

If Trollope can be said to be derivative at all, it is Thackeray
who most influenced him. He avows his admiration, wrote the
other's life, and deemed him one who advanced truth-telling in
the Novel. Yet, as was stated, he did not altogether approve of
the Master, thinking his satire too steady a view instead of an
occasional weapon. Indeed his strictures in the biography have
at times a cool, almost hostile sound. He may or may not have
taken a hint from Thackeray on the re-introduction of characters
in other books--a pleasant device long antedating the nineteenth
century, since one finds it in Lyly's "Euphues." Trollope also
disliked Dickens' habit of exaggeration (as he thought it) even
when it was used in the interests of reform, and satirized the
tendency in the person of Mr. Popular Sentiment in "The Warden."

The more one studies Trollope and the farther he recedes into
the past, the firmer grows the conviction that he is a very
distinctive figure of Victorian fiction, a pioneer who led the
way and was to be followed by a horde of secondary realistic
novelists who could imitate his methods but not reproduce his
pleasant effect.

VI

The Brontes, coming when they did, before 1850, are a curious
study. Realism was growing daily and destined to be the fashion
of the literary to-morrow. But "Jane Eyre" is the product of
Charlotte Bronte's isolation, her morbidly introspective nature,
her painful sense of personal duty, the inextinguishable romance
that was hers as the leal descendant of a race of Irish story-tellers.
She looked up to and worshipped Thackeray, but produced
fiction that was like something from another world. She and her
sisters, especially Emily, whose vivid "Wuthering Heights" has
all the effect of a visitant from a remote planet, are strangely
unrelated to the general course of the nineteenth century. They
seem born out of time; they would have left a more lasting
impress upon English fiction had they come before--or after.
There are unquestionable qualities of realism in "Jane Eyre,"
but it is romantic to the core, sentimental, melodramatic.
Rochester is an elder St. Elmo--hardly truer as a human being;
Jane's sacrificial worship goes back to the eighteenth century;
and that famous mad-woman's shriek in the night is a moment to
be boasted of on the Bowery. And this was her most typical book,
that which gave her fame. The others, "Villette" and the rest,
are more truly representative of the realistic trend of the day,
but withal though interesting, less characteristic, less liked.
In proportion as she is romantic is she remembered. The streak
of genius in these gifted women must not blind us to the
isolation, the unrelated nature of their work to the main course
of the Novel. They are exceptions to the rule.

VII

This group then of novelists, sinking all individual
differences, marks the progress of the method of realism over
the romance. Scarcely one is conspicuous for achievement in the
latter, while almost all of them did yeoman service in the
former. In some cases--those of Disraeli and Bulwer--the
transition is seen where their earlier and later work is
contrasted; with a writer like Trollope, the newer method
completely triumphs. Even in so confirmed a romance-maker as
Wilkie Collins, to whom plot was everything and whose cunning of
hand in this is notorious, there is a concession to the new
ideal of Truth. He was touched by his time in the matter of
naturalness of dialogue, though not of event. Wildly improbable
and wooden as his themes may now seem, their manner is
realistic, realism of speech, in fact, being an element in his
effectivism. Even the author of "The Moonstone" is scotched by
the spirit of the age, and in the preface to "Armsdale" declares
for a greater freedom of theme--one of the first announcements
of that desire for an extension of the subject-matter which was
in the next generation to bring such a change.

It seems just to represent all these secondary novelists as
subsidiary to Dickens, Thackeray and Eliot. Fascinating isolated
figures like Borrow, who will always be cherished by the few,
are perforce passed by. We are trying to keep both quality and
influence in mind, with the desire to show the writers not by
themselves alone but as part of a stream of tendency which has
made the English Novel the distinct form it is to-day. Even a
resounding genius, in this view, may have less meaning than an
apparent plodder like Trollope, who, as time goes by, is seen
more clearly to be one of the shaping forces in the development
of a literary form.

CHAPTER XII

HARDY AND MEREDITH

We have seen in chapter seventh, how the influence of Balzac
introduced to modern fiction that extension of subject and that
preference for the external fact widely productive of change in
the novel-making of the continent and of English-speaking lands.
As the year 1830 was given significance by him, so, a generation
later, the year 1870 was given significance by Zola. England,
like other lands cultivating the Novel, felt the influence.
Balzac brought to fiction a greater franchise of theme: Zola
taught it to regard a human being--individual or collectively
social--as primarily animal: that is, he explains action on this
hypothesis. And as an inevitable consequence, realism passed to
the so-called naturalism. Zola believed in this view as a theory
and his practice, not always consistent with it, was
sufficiently so in the famous Rougon-Macquart series of novels
begun the year of the Franco-Prussian war, to establish it as a
method, and a school of fiction. Naturalism, linking hands with
l'art pour art--"a fine phrase is a moral action--there is no
other morality in literature," cried Zola--became a banner-cry,
with "the flesh is all" its chief article of belief. No study of
the growth of English fiction can ignore this typical modern
movement, however unpleasant it may be to follow it. The baser
and more brutal phases of the Novel continental and insular look
to this derivation. Zola's remarkable pronunciamento "The
Experimental Novel," proves how honestly he espoused the
doctrine of the realist, how blind he is to its partial view.
His attempt to subject the art of fiction to the exact laws of
science, is an illustration of the influence of scientific
thought upon a mind not broadly cultured, though of unusual
native quality. Realism of the modern kind--the kind for which
Zola stands--is the result in a form of literature of the
necessary intellectual unrest following on the abandonment of
older religious ideals. Science had forced men to give up
certain theological conceptions; death, immorality, God, Man,--these
were all differently understood, and a period of
readjustment, doubt and negation, of misery and despair, was the
natural issue. Man, being naturally religious, was sure sooner
or later to secure a new and more hopeful faith: it was a matter
of spiritual self-preservation. But realism in letters, for the
moment, before a new theory had been formulated, was a kind of
pis aller by which literature could be produced and attention
given to the tangible things of this earth, many of them not
before thoroughly exploited; the things of the mind, of the
Spirit, were certain to be exploited later, when a broader creed
should come. The new romanticism and idealism of our day marks
this return. Zola's theory is now seen to be wrong, and there
has followed a violent reaction from the realistic tenets, even
in Paris, its citadel. But for some years, it held tyrannous
sway and its leader was a man of genius, his work distinctive,
remarkable; at its best, great,--in spite of, rather than
because of, his principles. It was in the later Trilogy of the
cities that, using a broader formula, he came into full
expression of what was in him; during the last years of his life
he was moving, both as man and artist, in the right direction.
Yet naturally it was novels like "Nana" and "L'Assomoir" that
gave him his vogue; and their obsession with the fleshly gave
them for the moment a strange distinction: for years their
author was regarded as the founder of a school and its most
formidable exponent. He wielded an influence that rarely falls
to a maker of stories. And although realism in its extreme
manifestations no longer holds exclusive sway, Zola's impulse is
still at work in the modern Novel. Historically, his name will
always be of interest.

I

Thomas Hardy is a realist in a sense true of no English novelist
of anything like equal rank preceding him: his literary
genealogy is French, for his "Jude The Obscure" has no English
prototype, except the earlier work of George Moore, whose
inspiration is even more definitely Paris. To study Hardy's
development for a period of about twenty-five years from "Under
the Greenwood Tree" to "Jude," is to review, as they are
expressed in the work of one great English novelist, the
literary ideals before and after Zola. Few will cavil at the
inclusion in our study of a living author like Hardy. His work
ranks with the most influential of our time; so much may be seen
already. His writing of fiction, moreover, or at least of
Novels, seems to be finished. And like Meredith, he is a man of
genius and, strictly speaking, a finer artist than the elder
author. For quality, then, and significance of accomplishment,
Hardy may well be examined with the masters whose record is
rounded out by death. He offers a fine example of the logic of
modern realism, as it has been applied by a first-class mind to
the art of fiction. In Meredith, on the contrary, is shown a
sort of synthesis of the realistic and poetic-philosophic
interpretation. Hardy is for this reason easier to understand
and explain; Meredith refuses classification.

The elements of strength in Thomas Hardy can be made out
clearly; they are not elusive. Wisely, he has chosen to do a
very definite thing and, with rare perseverance and skill, he
has done it. He selected as setting the south-western part of
England--Wessex, is the ancient name he gave it--that embraces
Somersetshire and contiguous counties, because he felt that the
types of humanity and the view of life he wished to show could
best be thrown out against the primitive background. Certain
elemental truths about men and women, he believed, lost sight of
in the kaleidoscopic attritions of the town, might there be
clearly seen. The choice of locale was thus part of an attitude
toward life. That attitude or view may be described fairly well
as one of philosophic fatalism.

It has not the cold removedness of the stoic: it has pity in it,
even love. But it is deeply sad, sometimes bitter. In Hardy's
presentation of Nature (a remark applying to some extent to a
younger novelist who shows his influence, Phillpotts), she is
displayed as an ironic expression, with even malignant moods, of
a supreme cosmic indifference to the petty fate of that
animalcule, man. And this, in spite of a curious power she
possesses of consoling him and of charming him by blandishments
that cheat the loneliness of his soul. There is no purer example
of tragedy in modern literature than Mr. Hardy's strongest, most
mature stories. A mind deeply serious and honest, interprets the
human case in this wise and conceives that the underlying
pitilessness can most graphically be conveyed in a setting like
that of Egdon Heath, where the great silent forces of Nature
somberly interblend with the forces set in motion by the human
will, both futile to produce happiness. Even the attempt to be
virtuous fails in "Jude": as the attempt to be happy does in
"Tess." That sardonic, final thought in the last-named book will
not out of our ears: Fate had played its last little jest with
poor Tess.

But there are mitigations, many and welcome. Hardy has the most
delightful humor. His peasants and simple middle-class folk are
as distinctive and enjoyable as anything since Shakspere. He
also has a more sophisticated, cutting humor--tipped with irony
and tart to the taste--which he uses in those stories or scenes
where urbanites mingle with his country folk. But his humorous
triumphs are bucolic. And for another source of keenest
pleasure, there is his style, ennobling all his work. Whether
for the plastic manipulation of dialogue or the eloquencies and
exactitudes of description, he is emphatically a master. His
mind, pagan in its bent, is splendidly broad in its
comprehension of the arcana of Nature and that of a poet
sensitive to all the witchery of a world which at core is
inscrutably dark and mysterious. He knows, none better, of the
comfort to be got even from the sad when its beauty is made
palpitating. No one before him, not Meredith himself, has so
interfused Nature with man as to bring out the thought of man's
ancient origin in the earth, his birth-ties, and her claims on
his allegiance. This gives a rare savor to his handling of what
with most novelists is often mere background. Egdon Heath was
mentioned; the setting in "The Return of the Native" is not
background in the usual sense; that mighty stretch of moorland
is almost like the central actor of the drama, so potent is its
influence upon the fate of the other characters. So with "The
Woodlanders" and still other stories. Take away this subtle and
vital relation of man to Nature, and the whole organism
collapses. Environment with Hardy is atmosphere, influence,
often fate itself. Being a scientist in the cast of his
intellect, although by temperament a poet, he believes in
environment as the shaping power conceived of by Taine and Zola.
It is this use of Nature as a power upon people of deep, strong,
simple character, showing the sweep of forces far more potent
than the conventions of the polite world, which distinguishes
Hardy's fiction. Fate with him being so largely that impersonal
thing, environment; allied with temperament (for which he is not
responsible), and with opportunity--another element of luck--it
follows logically that man is the sport of the gods. Hardy is
unable, like other determinists, to escape the dilemma of free-will
versus predestination, and that other crux, the imputation
of personality to the workings of so-called natural laws. Indeed
curiously, in his gigantic poem-cycle, "the Dynasts," the
culmination of his life-work, he seems to hint at a plan of the
universe which may be beneficial.

To name another quality that gives distinction to Hardy's work:
his fiction is notably well-built, and he is a resourceful
technician. Often, the way he seizes a plot and gives it
proportionate progress to an end that is inevitable, exhibits a
well-nigh perfect art. Hardy's novels, for architectural
excellence, are really wonderful and will richly repay careful
study in this respect. It has been suggested that because his
original profession was that of an architect, his constructive
ability may have been carried over to another craft. This may be
fantastic; but the fact remains that for the handling of
material in such a manner as to eliminate the unnecessary, and
move steadily toward the climax, while ever imitating though not
reproducing, the unartificial gait of life, Hardy has no
superior in English fiction and very few beyond it. These
ameliorations of humor and pity, these virtues of style and
architectural handling make the reading of Thomas Hardy a
literary experience, and very far from an undiluted course in
Pessimism. A sane, vigorous, masculine mind is at work in all
his fiction up to its very latest. Yet it were idle to deny the
main trend of his teaching. It will be well to trace with some
care the change which has crept gradually over his view of the
world. As his development of thought is studied in the
successive novels he produced between 1871 and 1898, it may
appear that there is little fundamental change in outlook: the
tragic note, and the dark theory of existence, explicit in
"Tess" and "Jude," is more or less implicit in "Desperate
Remedies." But change there is, to be found in the deepening of
the feeling, the pushing of a theory to its logical extreme.
This opening tale, read in the light of what he was to do,
strikes one as un-Hardy-like in its rather complex plot, with
its melodramatic tinge of incident.

The second book, "Under the Greenwood Tree," is a blithe, bright
woodland comedy and it would have been convenient for a cut-and-dried
theory of Hardy's growth from lightness to gravity, had it
come first. It is, rather, a happy interlude, hardly
representative of his main interest, save for its clear-cut
characterizations of country life and its idyllic flavor. The
novel that trod on its heels, "A Pair of Blue Eyes," maugre its
innocently Delia Cruscan title,--it sounds like a typical effort
of "The Duchess,"--has the tragic end which light-minded readers
have come to dread in this author. He showed his hand thus
comparatively early and henceforth was to have the courage of
his convictions in depicting human fate as he saw it--not as the
reader wished it.

In considering the books that subsequently appeared, to
strengthen Hardy's place with those who know fine fiction, they
are seen to have his genuine hall-mark, just in proportion as
they are Wessex through and through: in the interplay of
character and environment there, we get his deepest expression
as artist and interpreter. The really great novels are "Far From
the Madding Crowd," "The Return of the Native," "The Mayor of
Casterbridge" and "Tess of the D'Urbervilles": when he shifts
the scene to London, as in "The Hand of Ethelberta" or
introduces sophisticated types as in the dull "Laodicean," it
means comparative failure. Mother soil (he is by birth a
Dorchester man and lives there still) gives him idiosyncrasy,
flavor, strength. That the best, most representative work of
Hardy is to be seen in two novels of his middle career, "Far
From the Madding Crowd" and "The Return of the Native" rather
than in the later stories, "Tess" and "Jude," can be
established, I think, purely on the ground of art, without
dragging cheap charges of immorality into the discussion. In the
last analysis, questions of art always become a question of
ethics: the separation is arbitrary and unnatural. That "Tess"
is the book into which the author has most intensely put his
mature belief, may be true: it is quiveringly alive, vital as
only that is which comes from the deeps of a man's being. But
Hardy is so much a special pleader for Tess, that the argument
suffers and a grave fault is apparent when the story's climax is
studied. There is an intrusion of what seems like factitious
melodrama instead of that tissue of events which one expects
from a stern necessitarian. Tess need not be a murderess;
therefore, the work should not so conclude, for this is an
author whose merit is that his effects of character are causal.
He is fatalistic, yes; but in general he royally disdains the
cheap tricks of plot whereby excitement is furnished at the
expense of credulity and verisimilitude. In Tess's end, there s
a suspicion of sensation for its own sake--a suggestion of
savage joy in shocking sensibilities. Of course, the result is
most powerful; but the superior power of the novel is not here
so much as in its splendid sympathy and truth. He has made this
woman's life-history deeply affecting and is right in claiming
that she is a pure soul, judged by intention.

The heart feels that she is sinned against rather than sinning
and in the spectacle of her fall finds food for thought "too
deep for tears." At the same time, it should not be forgotten
that Tess's piteous plight,--the fact that fate has proved too
strong for a soul so high in its capacity for unselfish and
noble love,--is based upon Hardy's assumption that she could not
help it. Here, as elsewhere in his philosophy, you must accept
his premise, or call Tess (whom you may still love) morally
weak. It is this reservation which will lead many to place the
book, as a work of art, and notwithstanding its noble
proportions and compelling power, below such a masterpiece as
"The Return of the Native." That it is on the whole a sane and
wholesome work, however, may be affirmed by one who finds
Hardy's last novel "Jude the Obscure" neither. For there is a
profound difference between two such creations. In the former,
there is a piquant sense of the pathos and the awesomeness of
life, but not of its unrelieved ugliness and disgust; an
impression which is received from the latter. Not only is "Jude"
"a tragedy of unfulfilled aim" as the author calls it; so is
"Tess"; but it fills the reader with a kind of sullen rage to be
an eye-witness of the foul and brutal: he is asked to see a
drama develop beside a pig-sty. It is therefore, intensely
unesthetic which, if true, is a word of condemnation for any
work of art. It is deficient in poetry, in the broad sense;
that, rather than frankness of treatment, is the trouble with
it.

And intellectually, it would seem to be the result of a bad
quarter of an hour of the author: a megrim of the soul. Elements
of greatness it has; a fine motive, too; to display the
impossibilities for evolution on the part of an aspiring soul
hampered by circumstances and weak where most humanity is Weak,
in the exercise of sex-passion. A not dissimilar theme as it is
worked out by Daudet in "Le Petite Chose" is beautiful in its
pathos; in "Jude" there is something shuddering about the
arbitrary piling-up of horror; the modesty of nature is
overstept; it is not a truly proportioned view of life, one
feels; if life were really so bad as that, no one would be
willing to live it, much less exhibit the cheerfulness which is
characteristic of the majority of human beings. It is a fair
guess that in the end it will be called the artistic mistake of
a novelist of genius. Its harsh reception by critics in England
and America was referred to by the author privately as an
example of the "crass Philistinism" of criticism in those lands:
Mr. Hardy felt that on the continent alone was the book
understood, appreciated. I imagine, however, that whatever the
limitations of the Anglo-Saxon view, it comes close to the
ultimate decision to be passed upon this work.

One of the striking things about these Novels is the sense that
they convey of the largeness of life. The action moves on a
narrow stage set with the austere simplicity of the
Elizabethans; the personages are extremely commonplace, the
incidents in the main small and unexciting. Yet the
tremendousness of human fate is constantly implied and brought
home in the most impressive way. This is because all have
spiritual value; if the survey be not wide, it sinks deep to the
psychic center; and what matters vision that circles the globe,
if it lacks grasp, penetration, uplift? These, Hardy has. When
one calls his peasants Shaksperian, one is trying to express the
strength and savor, the rich earthy quality like fresh loam that
pertains to these quaint figures, so evidently observed on the
ground, and lovingly lifted over into literature. Their speech
bewrays them and is an index of their slow, shrewd minds.

Nor is his serious characterization less fine and representative
than his humorous; especially his women. It is puzzling to say
whether Hardy's comic men, or his subtly drawn, sympathetically
visualized women are to be named first in his praise: for power
in both, and for the handling of nature, he will be long
remembered. Bathsheba, Eustacia, Tess and the rest, they take
hold on the very heart-strings and are known as we know our very
own. It is not that they are good or bad,--generally they are
both; it is that they are beautifully, terribly human. They
mostly lack the pettiness that so often fatally limits their sex
and quite as much, they lack the veneer that obscures the broad
lines of character. And it is natural to add, while thinking of
Hardy's women, that, unlike almost all the Victorian novelists,
he has insisted frankly, but in the main without offense, on
woman's involvement with sex-passion; he finds that love, in a
Wessex setting, has wider range than has been awarded it in
previous study of sex relations. And he has not hesitated to
depict its rootage in the flesh; not overlooking its rise in the
spirit to noblest heights. And it is this un-Anglo-Saxon-like
comprehension of feminine humanity that makes him so fair to the
sinning woman who trusts to her ruin or proves what is called
weak because of the generous movement of her blood. No one can
despise faithful-hearted Fannie Robin, dragging herself to the
poorhouse along Casterbridge highway; that scene, which bites
itself upon the memory, is fairly bathed in an immense,
understanding pity. Although Hardy has thus used the freedom of
France in treatment, he has, unlike so much of the Gallic
realism, remained an idealist in never denying the soul of love
while speaking more truthfully concerning its body than the
fiction-makers before him. There is no finer handling of sex-love
with due regard to its dual nature,--love that grows in
earth yet flowers until it looks into heaven--than Marty's oft-quoted
beautiful speech at her lover's grave; and Hardy's belief
rings again in the defense of that good fellowship--that
camaraderie--which can grow into "the only love which is as
strong as death--beside which the passion usually so-called by
the name is evanescent as steam." A glimpse like that of Hardy's
mind separates him at once from Maupassant's view of the world.
The traditions of English fiction, which he has insisted on
disturbing, have, after all, been strong to direct his work, as
they have that of all the writers born into the speech and
nourished on its racial ideals.

Another reason for giving the stories of the middle period, such
as "The Return of the Native," preference over those that are
later, lies in the fact that the former have no definite,
aggressive theme; whereas "Tess" announces an intention on the
title page, "Jude," in a foreword. Whatever view of life may be
expressed in "The Mayor of Casterbridge," for example, is
imbedded, as it should be, in the course of the story. This
tendency towards didacticism is a common thing in the cases of
modern writers of fiction; it spoiled a great novelist in the
case of Tolstoy, with compensatory gains in another direction;
of those of English stock, one thinks of Eliot, Howells, Mrs.
Ward and many another. But however natural this may be in an age
like ours, the art of the literary product is, as a rule,
injured by the habit of using fiction as a jumping-board for
theory. In some instances, dullness has resulted. Eliot has not
escaped scot-free. With Hardy, he is, to my taste, never dull.
Repellent as "Jude" may be, it is never that. But a hardness of
manner and an unpleasant bias are more than likely to follow
this aim, to the fiction's detriment.

It is a great temptation to deflect from the purpose of this
work in order to discuss Hardy's short stories, for a master in
this kind he is. A sketch like "The Three Strangers" is as truly
a masterpiece as Stevenson's "A Lodging for The Night." It must
suffice to say of his work in the tale that it enables the
author to give further assurance of his power of atmospheric
handling, his stippling in of a character by a few strokes, his
skill in dramatic scene, his knowledge of Wessex types, and
especially, his subdued but permeating pessimism. There is
nothing in his writings more quietly, deeply hopeless than most
of the tales in the collection "Life's Little Ironies." One
shrinks away from the truth and terror of them while lured by
their charm. The short stories increase one's admiration for the
artist, but the full, more virile message conies from the
Novels. It is matter for regret that "Jude the Obscure," unless
the signs fail, is to be his last testament in fiction. For such
a man to cease from fiction at scarce sixty can but be deplored.
The remark takes on added pertinency because the novelist has
essayed in lieu of fiction the poetic drama, a form in which he
has less ease and authority.

Coming when he did and feeling in its full measure the tidal
wave from France, Hardy was compelled both by inward and outward
pressure to see life un-romantically, so far as the human fate
is concerned: but always a poet at heart (he began with verse),
he found a vent for that side of his being in Nature, in great
cosmic realities, in the stormy, passionate heart of humanity,
so infinite in its aspirations, so doughty in its heroisms, so
pathetic in its doom. There is something noble always in the
tragic largeness of Hardy's best fiction. His grim determinism
is softened by lyric airs; and even when man is most lonesome,
he is consoled by contact with "the pure, eternal course of
things"; whose august flow comforts Arnold. Because of his art,
the representative character of his thought, reflecting in
prose, as does Matthew Arnold in verse, the deeper
thought-currents of the time; and because too of the personal
quality which for lack of a better word one still must call genius,
Thomas Hardy is sure to hold his place in the English fiction of
the closing years of the nineteenth century and is to-day the
most distinguished living novelist using that speech and one of
the few to be recognized and honored abroad. No writer of
fiction between 1875 and 1900 has more definitely had a strong
influence upon the English Novel as to content, scope and choice
of subject. If his convictions have led him to excess, they will
be forgiven and forgotten in the light of the serene mastery
shed by the half dozen great works he has contributed to English
literature.

II

Once in a while--a century or so, maybe,--comes an artist who
refuses to be classified. Rules fail to explain him: he makes
new rules in the end. He seems too big for any formula. He
impresses by the might of his personality, teaching the world
what it should have known before, that the personal is the life-blood
of all and any art. Some such effect is made upon the
critic by George Meredith, who so recently has closed his eyes
to the shows of earth. One can find in him almost all the
tendencies of English fiction. He is realist and romanticist,
frank lover of the flesh, lofty idealist, impressionist and
judge, philosopher, dramatist, essayist, master of the comic and
above all, Poet. Eloquence, finesse, strength and sweetness, the
limpid and the cryptic, are his in turn: he puts on when he
will, like a defensive armor, a style to frighten all but the
elect. And they who persist and discover the secret, swear that
it is more than worth the pains. Perhaps the lesson of it all is
that a first-class writer, creative and distinctive, is a
phenomenon transcending school, movement or period. George
Meredith is not, if we weigh words, the greatest English
novelist to-day--for both Hardy and Stevenson are his superiors
as artists; but he is the greatest man who has written fiction.

Although he was alive but yesterday, the novel frequently
awarded first position among his works, "The Ordeal of Richard
Feverel," was published a good half century ago. Go back to it,
get its meaning, then read the latest fiction he wrote--(he
ceased to produce fiction more than a decade before his death)
and you appear to be in contact with the same personality in the
substantials of story-making and of life-view. The only notable
change is to be found in the final group of three stories, "One
of Our Conquerors," "Lord Ormont and His Aminta" and "The
Amazing Marriage." The note of social protest is louder here,
the revolt against conventions more pronounced. Otherwise, the
author of "Feverel" is the author of "The Amazing Marriage."
Much has occurred in the Novel during the forty years between
the two works: realism has traveled to an extreme, neo-idealism
come by way of reaction, romanticism bloomed again, the Novel of
ingenious construction, the Novel of humanitarian meaning, the
Novel of thesis and problem and the Novel that foretells the
future like an astrologer, all these types and yet others have
been practised; but Meredith has kept tranquilly on the tenor of
his large way, uninfluenced, except as he has expressed all
these complexities in his own work. He is in literary evolution,
a sport. Critics who have tried to show how his predecessors and
contemporaries have influenced him, have come out lamely from
the attempt. He has been sensitive not to individual writers,
but to that imponderable yet potent thing, the time-tendency in
literature. He throws back to much in the past, while in the van
of modern thought. What, to illustrate, could be more of the
present intellectually than his remarkable sonnet-sequence,
"Modern Love"? And are not his women, as a type, the noblest
example of the New Woman of our day--socially, economically,
intellectually emancipated, without losing their distinctive
feminine quality? And yet, in "The Shaving of Shagpat," an early
work, we go back t the Arabian Nights for a model. The satiric
romance, "Harry Richmond," often reminds of the leisured episode
method of the eighteenth century; and while reading the unique
"Evan Harrington" we think at times of Aristophanes.

Nor is much light thrown on Meredith's path in turning to his
personal history. Little is known of this author's ancestry and
education; his environment has been so simple, his life in its
exteriors so uneventful, that we return to the work itself with
the feeling that the key to the secret room must be here if
anywhere. It is known that he was educated in youth in Germany,
which is interesting in reference to the problem of his style.
And there is more to be said concerning his parentage than the
smug propriety of print has revealed while he lived. We know,
too, that his marriage with the daughter of Thomas Love Peacock
proved unhappy, and that for many years he has resided, almost a
recluse, with his daughter, in the idyllic retirement of Surrey.
The privacy of Boxhill has been respected; next to never has
Meredith spoken in any public way and seldom visited London.
When he was, at Tennyson's death, made the President of the
British Society of Authors, the honor sought the man. The rest
is silence; what has appeared since his death has been of too
conflicting a nature for credence. We await a trustworthy
biography.

The appeal then must be to the books themselves. Exclusive of
short story, sketch and tale, they include a dozen novels of
generous girth--for Meredith is old-fashioned in his demand for
elbow-room. They are preeminently novels of character and more
than any novelist of the day the view of the world embodied in
them is that of the intellect. This does not mean that they are
wanting in emotional force or interest: merely, that in George
Meredith's fiction men and women live the life of thought as it
is acted upon by practical issues. Character seen in action is
always his prepossession; plot is naught save as it exhibits
this. The souls of men and women are his quarry, and the test of
a civilization the degree in which it has developed the mind for
an enlightened control over the emotions and the bodily
appetites. Neither does this mean, as with Henry James, the
disappearance of plot: a healthy objectivity of narrative
framework is preserved; if anything the earlier
books--"Feverel," "Evan Harrington," "Rhoda Fleming" and the duo
"Sandra Belloni" and "Vittoria"--have more of story interest
than the later novels. Meredith has never feared the use of the
episode, in this suggesting the older methods of Fielding and
Smollett. Yet the episodic in his hands has ever its use for
psychologic envisagement. Love, too, plays a large role in his
fiction; indeed, in the wider platonic sense, it is constantly
present, although he is the last man to be called a writer of
love-stories. And no man has permitted himself greater freedom
in stepping outside the story in order to explain his meaning,
comment upon character and scene, rhapsodize upon Life, or
directly harangue the reader. And this broad marginal
reservation of space, however much it is deplored in viewing his
work as novel-making, adds a peculiar tonic and is a
characteristic we could ill spare. It brings us back to the
feeling that he is a great man using the fiction form for
purposes broader than that of telling a story.

Because of this ample personal testimony in his books it should
be easy to state his Lebensanschauung, unless the opacity of his
manner blocks the way or he indulges in self-contradiction in
the manner of a Nietzsche. Such is not the case. What is the
philosophy unfolded in his representative books?

It will be convenient to choose a few of those typical for
illustration. The essence of Meredith is to be discovered in
such works as "The Ordeal of Richard Feverel," "Evan
Harrington," "Harry Richmond," "The Egoist," "Diana of the
Crossways." If you know these, you understand him. "Lord Ormont
and his Aminta" might well be added because of its teaching; but
the others will serve, with the understanding that so many-sided
a writer has in other works given further noble proof of his
powers. If I allowed personal preference to be my sole guide,
"Rhoda Fleming" would be prominent in the list; and many place
"Beauchamp's Career" high, if not first among his works;--a
novel teeming with his views, particularly valuable for its
treatment of English politics and certainly containing some of
his most striking characterization, in particular, one of his
noblest women. Still, those named will fairly reflect the
novelist and speak for all.

"Richard Feverel," which had been preceded by a book of poems,
the fantasia "The Shaving of Shagpat" and an historical
novelette "Farina," was the first book that announced the
arrival of a great novelist. It is at once a romance of the
modern type, a love-story and a problem book; the tri-statement
makes it Meredithian. It deals with the tragic union of Richard
and Lucy, in a setting that shifts from sheer idyllic, through
worldly and realistic to a culmination of dramatic grief. It
contains, in measure heaped up and running over, the poetry, the
comedy and the philosophy, the sense of Life's riddle, for which
the author is renowned. But its intellectual appeal of theme--aside
from the incidental wisdom that stars its pages--is found
in the study of the problem of education. Richard's father would
shape his career according to a preconceived idea based on
parental love and guided by an anxious, fussy consulting of the
oracles. The attempt to stretch the son upon a pedagogic
procustean bed fails disastrously, wrecking his own happiness,
and that of his sweet girl-wife. Love is stronger than aught
else and we are offered the spectacle of ruined lives hovered
over by the best intentions. The hovel is an illustration of the
author's general teaching that a human being must have
reasonable liberty of action for self-development. The heart
must be allowed fair-play, though its guidance by the intellect
is desirable.

It has been objected that this moving romance ends in
unnecessary tragedy; that the catastrophe is not inevitable. But
it may be doubted if the mistake of Sir Austin Feverel could be
so clearly indicated had not the chance bullet of the duel
killed the young wife when reconciliation with her husband
appeared probable. But a book so vital in spirit, with such
lyric interludes, lofty heights of wisdom, homeric humor,
dramatic moments and profound emotions, can well afford lapses
from perfect form, awkwardnesses of art. There are places where
philosophy checks movement or manner obscures thought; but one
overlooks all such, remembering Richard and Lucy meeting by the
river; Richard's lonesome night walk when he learns he is a
father; the marvelous parting from Bella Mount; father and son
confronted with Richard's separation from the girl-wife; the
final piteous passing of Lucy. These are among the great moments
of English fiction.

One gets a sense of Meredith's resources of breadth and variety
next in taking up "Evan Harrington." Here is a satiric character
sketch where before was romance; for broad comedy in the older
and larger sense it has no peer among modern novels. The purpose
is plain: to show the evolution of a young middle-class
Englishman, a tailor's son, through worldly experience with
polite society into true democracy. After the disillusionment of
"high life," after much yeasty juvenile foolishness and false
ideals, Evan comes back to his father's shop with his lesson
learned: it is possible (in modern England) to be both tailor
and gentleman.

In placing this picture before the spectator, an incomparable
view of genteel society with contrasted touches of low life is
offered. For pure comedy that is of the midriff as well as of
the brain, the inn scene with the astonishing Raikes as central
figure is unsurpassed in all Meredith, and only Dickens has done
the like. And to correspond in the fashionable world, there is
Harrington's sister, the Countess de Saldar, who is only second
to Becky Sharp for saliency and delight. Some find these comic
figures overdrawn, even impossible; but they stand the test
applied to Dickens: they abide in affectionate memory, vivid
evocations made for our lasting joy. As with "Feverel," the book
is a piece of life first, a lesson second; but the underlying
thesis is present, not to the injury of one who reads for
story's sake.

An extraordinary further example of resourcefulness, with a
complete change of key, is "The Adventures of Harry Richmond."
The ostensible business of the book is to depict the growth from
boyhood to manhood and through sundry experiences of love, with
the resulting effect upon his character, of the young man whose
name gives it title. It may be noted that a favorite task with
Meredith is this, to trace the development of a personality from
immaturity to a maturity gained by the hard knocks of the
master-educator, Love. But the figure really dominant is not
Harry nor any one of his sweethearts, but that of his father,
Roy Richmond. I must believe that English fiction offers nothing
more original than he. He is an indescribable compound of
brilliant swashbuckler, splendid gentleman and winning
Goodheart. Barry Lyndon, Tarascon, Don Quixote and Septimus go
into his making--and yet he is not explained;--an absolute
original. The scene where, in a German park on an occasion of
great pomp, he impersonates the statue of a Prince, is one of
the author's triumphs--never less delightful at a re-reading.

But has this amazing creation a meaning, or is Roy merely one of
the results of the sportive play of a man of genius? He is
something more, we feel, when, at the end of the romance, he
gives his life for the woman who has so faithfully loved him and
believed in his royal pretensions. He perishes in a fire,
because in saving her he would not save himself. It is as if the
author said: "Behold, a man by nature histrionic and Bohemian,
and do not make the mistake to think him incapable of nobility.
Romantic in his faults, so too he is romantic in his virtues."
"And back of this kindly treatment of the lovable rascal (who
was so ideal a father to the little Richmond!) does there not
lurk the thought that the pseudo-romantic attitude toward Life
is full of danger--in truth, out of the question in modern
society?"

"The Egoist" has long been a test volume with Meredithians. If
you like it you are of the cult; if not, merely an amateur. It
is inevitable to quote Stevenson who, when he had read it
several times, declared that at the sixth reading he would begin
to realize its greatness. Stevenson was a doughty admirer of
Meredith, finding the elder "the only man of genius of my
acquaintance," and regarding "Rhoda Fleming" as a book to send
one back to Shakspere.

That "The Egoist" is typical--in a sense, most typical of the
fictions,--is very true. That, on the other hand, it is
Meredith's best novel may be boldly denied, since it is hardly a
novel at all. It is a wonderful analytic study of the core of
self that is in humanity, Willoughby, incarnation of a
self-centeredness glossed over to others and to himself by fine
gentleman manners and instincts, is revealed stroke after stroke
until, in the supreme test of his alliance with Clara Middleton,
he is flayed alive for the reader's benefit. In this power of
exposure, by the subtlest, most unrelenting analysis, of the
very penetralia of the human soul it has no counterpart; beside
it, most of the psychology of fiction seems child's play. And
the truth of it is overwhelming. No wonder Stevenson speaks of
its "serviceable exposure of myself." Every honest man who reads
it, winces at its infallible touching of a moral sore-spot. The
inescapable ego in us all was never before portrayed by such a
master.

But because it is a study that lacks the breadth, variety,
movement and objectivity of the Novel proper, "The Egoist" is
for the confirmed Meredith lover, not for the beginner: to take
it first is perchance to go no further. Readers have been lost
to him by this course. The immense gain in depth and delicacy
acquired by English fiction since Richardson is well illustrated
by a comparison of the latter's "Sir Charles Grandison" with
Meredith's "The Egoist." One is a portrait for the time, the
other for all time. Both, superficially viewed, are the same
type: a male paragon before whom a bevy of women burn incense.
But O the difference! Grandison is serious to his author, while
Meredith, in skinning Willoughby alive like another Marsyas, is
once and for all making the worship of the ego hateful.

It is interesting that "Diana of the Crossways" was the book
first to attract American readers. It has some of the author's
eccentricities at their worst. But it was in one respect an
excellent choice: the heroine is thoroughly representative of
the author and of the age; possibly this country is sympathetic
to her for the reason that she seems indigenous. Diana furnishes
a text for a dissertation on Meredith's limning of the sex, and
of his conception of the mental relation of the sexes. She is a
modern woman, not so much that she is superior in goodness to
the ideal of woman established in the mid-Victorian period by
Thackeray and Dickens, as that she is bigger and broader. She is
the result of the process of social readjustment. Her story is
that of a woman soul experiencing a succession of unions and
through them learning the higher love. First, the marriage de
convenance of an unawakened girl; then, a marriage wherein
admiration, ambition and flattered pride play their parts;
finally, the marriage with Redbourne, a union based on tried
friendship, comradeship, respect, warming into passion that,
like the sudden up-leap of flame on the altar, lifts the spirit
onto ideal heights. Diana is an imperfect, sinning, aspiring,
splendid creature. And in the narrative that surrounds her, we
get Meredith's theory of the place of intellect in woman, and in
the development of society. He has an intense conviction that
the human mind should be so trained that woman can never fall
back upon so-called instinct; he ruthlessly attacks her
"intuition," so often lauded and made to cover a multitude of
sins. When he remarks that she will be the last thing to be
civilized by man, the satire is directed against man rather than
against woman herself, since it is man who desires to keep her a
creature of the so-called intuitions. A mighty champion of the
sex, he never tires telling it that intellectual training is the
sure way to all the equalities. This conviction makes him a
stalwart enemy of sentimentalism, which is so fiercely satirized
in "Sandra Belloni" in the persons of the Pole family. His works
abound in passages in which this view is displayed, flashed
before the reader in diamond-like epigram and aphorism. Not that
he despises the emotions: those who know him thoroughly will
recognize the absurdity of such a charge. Only he insists that
they be regulated and used aright by the master, brain. The
mishaps of his women come usually from the haphazard abeyance of
feeling or from an unthinking bowing down to the arbitrary
dictations of society. This insistence upon the application of
reason (the reasoning process dictated by an age of science) to
social situations, has led this writer to advise the setting
aside of the marriage bond in certain circumstances. In both
"Lord Ormont and his Aminta" and "One of our Conquerors" he
advocates a greater freedom in this relation, to anticipate what
time may bring to pass. It is enough here to say that this
extreme view does not represent Meredith's best fiction nor his
most fruitful period of production.

Perhaps the most original thing about Meredith as a novelist is
the daring way in which he has made an alliance between romance
and the intellect which was supposed, in an older conception, to
be its archenemy. He gives to Romance, that creature of the
emotions, the corrective and tonic of the intellect "To preserve
Romance," he declares, "we must be inside the heads of our
people as well as the hearts ... in days of a growing activity
of the head." Let us say once again that Romance means a certain
use of material as the result of an attitude toward Life; this
attitude may be temporary, a mood; or steady, a conviction. It
is the latter with George Meredith; and be it understood, his
material is always realistic, it is his interpretation that is
superbly idealistic. The occasional crabbedness of his manner
and his fiery admiration for Italy are not the only points in
which he reminds one of Browning. He is one with him in his
belief in soul, his conception of life is an arena for its
trying-out; one with him also in the robust acceptance of earth
and earth's worth, evil and all, for enjoyment and as salutary
experience. This is no fanciful parallel between Meredith and a
man who has been called (with their peculiarities of style in
mind) the Meredith of Poetry, as Meredith has been called the
Browning of Prose.

Thus, back of whatever may be the external story--the Italian
struggle for unity in "Vittoria," English radicalism in
"Beauchamp's Career," a seduction melodrama in "Rhoda Fleming"--there
is always with Meredith a steady interpretation of life, a
principle of belief. It is his crowning distinction that he can
make an intellectual appeal quite aside from the particular
story he is telling;--and it is also apparent that this is his
most vulnerable point as novelist. We get more from him just
because he shoots beyond the fiction target. He is that rare
thing in English novel-making, a notable thinker. Of all
nineteenth century novelists he leads for intellectual
stimulation. With fifty faults of manner and matter, irritating,
even outrageous in his eccentricities, he can at his best
startle with a brilliance that is alone of its kind. It is
because we hail him as philosopher, wit and poet that he fails
comparatively as artist. He shows throughout his work a sublime
carelessness of workmanship on the structural side of his craft;
but in those essentials, dialogue, character and scene, he rises
to the peaks of his profession.

Probably more readers are offended by his mannerisms of style
than by any other defect; and they are undeniable. The opening
chapter of "Diana" is a hard thing to get by; the same may be
said of the similar chapter in "Beauchamp's Career." In "One of
our Conquerors," early and late, the manner is such as to lose
for him even tried adherents. Is the trouble one of thought or
expression? And is it honest or an affectation? Meredith in some
books--and in all books more or less--adopts a strangely
indirect, over-elaborated, far-fetched and fantastic style,
which those who love him are fain to deplore. The author's
learning gets in his way and leads him into recondite allusions;
besides this, he has that quality of mind which is stimulated
into finding analogies on every side, so that image is piled on
image and side-paths of thought open up in the heat of this
mental activity. Part of the difficulty arises from surplusage
of imagination. Sometimes it is used in the service of comment
(often satirical); again in a kind of Greek chorus to the drama,
greatly to its injury; or in pure description, where it is
hardly less offensive. Thus in "The Egoist" we read: "Willoughby
shadowed a deep droop on the bend of his neck before Clara," and
reflection shows that all this absurdly acrobatic phrase means
is that the hero bowed to the lady. An utterly simple occurrence
and thus described! It is all the more strange and aggravating
in that it comes from a man who on hundreds of occasions writes
English as pungent, sonorous and sweet as any writer in the
history of the native literature. This is true both of dialogue
and narrative. He is the most quotable of authors; his Pilgrim's
Scrip is stuffed full of precious sayings, expressing many moods
of emotion and interpreting the world under its varied aspects
of romance, beauty, wit and drama. "Strength is the brute form
of truth." There is a French conciseness in such a sentence and
immense mental suggestiveness. Both his scenic and character
phrasing are memorable, as where the dyspeptic philosopher in
"Feverel" is described after dinner as "languidly twinkling
stomachic contentment." And what a scene is that where Master
Gammon replies to Mrs. Sumfit's anxious query concerning his
lingering at table with appetite apparently unappeasable:

"'When do you think you will have done, Master Gammon?'

"'When I feels my buttons, Ma'am.'"

Or hear John Thrasher in "Harry Richmond" dilate on Language:

'There's cockney, and there's country, and there's school.
Mix the three, strain and throw away the sediment. Now
yon's my view.'

Has any philologist said all that could be said, so succinctly?
His lyric outbursts in the face of Nature or better yet, where
as in the moonlight meeting of the lovers at Wllming Weir in
"Sandra Belloni," nature is interspersed with human passion in a
glorious union of music, picture and impassioned sentiment,--these
await the pleasure of the enthralled seeker in every book.
To encounter such passages (perhaps in a mood of protest over
some almost insufferable defect) is to find the reward rich
indeed. Let the cause of obscurity be what it may, we need not
doubt that with Meredith style is the man, a perfectly honest
way of expressing his personality. It is not impossible that his
unconventional education and the early influence of German upon
him, may come into the consideration. But in the main his
peculiarity is congenital.

Meredith lacked self-criticism as a writer. But it is quite
inaccurate to speak of obscure thought: it is language, the
medium, which makes the trouble when there is any. His thought,
allowing for the fantasticality of his humor in certain moods,
is never muddled or unorganized: it is sane, consistent and
worthy of attention. To say this, is still to regret the
stylistic vagaries.

One other defect must be mentioned: the characters talk like
Meredith, instead of in their own persons. This is not true
uniformly, of course, but it does mar the truth of his
presentation. Young girls show wit and wisdom quite out of
keeping; those in humble life--a bargeman, perhaps, or a
prize-fighter--speak as they would not in reality. Illusion is by
so much disturbed. It would appear in such cases that the thinker
temporarily dominated the creative artist.

When all is said, pro and con, there remains a towering
personality; a writer of unique quality; a man so stimulating
and surprising as he is, that we almost prefer him to the
perfect artist he never could be. No English maker of novels can
give us a fuller sense of life, a keener realization of the
dignity of man. It is natural to wish for more than we have--to
desire that Meredith had possessed the power of complete control
of his material and himself, had revised his work to better
advantage. But perhaps it is more commonsensible to be thankful
for him as he is.

As to influence, it would seem modest to assert that Meredith is
as bracingly wholesome morally as he is intellectually
stimulating. In a private letter to a friend who was praising
his finest book, he whimsically mourns the fact that he must
write for a living and hence feel like disowning so many of his
children when in cold blood he scrutinizes his offspring. The
letter in its entirety (it is unpublished) is proof, were any
needed, that he had a high artistic ideal which kept him nobly
dissatisfied with his endeavor. There is in him neither pose nor
complacent self-satisfaction. To an American, whom he was
bidding good-by at his own gate, he said: "If I had my books to
do over again, I should try harder to make sure their influence
was good." His aims, ethical and artistic, throughout his work,
can be relied upon as high and noble. His faults are as honest
as he himself, the inherent defects of his genius. No writer of
our day stands more sturdily for the idea that, whereas art is
precious, personality is more precious still; without which art
is a tinkling cymbal and with which even a defective art can
conquer Time, like a garment not all-seemly, that yet cannot
hide an heroic figure.

CHAPTER XIII

STEVENSON

It is too early yet to be sure that Robert Louis Stevenson will
make a more cogent appeal for a place in English letters as a
writer of fiction than as an essayist. But had he never written
essays likely to rank him with the few masters of that
delightful fireside form, he would still have an indisputable
claim as novelist. The claim in fact is a double one; it is
founded, first, on his art and power as a maker of romance, but
also upon his historical service to English fiction, as the man
most instrumental in purifying the muddy current of realism in
the late nineteenth century by a wholesome infusion,--the
romantic view of life. It is already easier to estimate his
importance and get the significance of his work than it was when
he died in 1894--stricken down on the piazza of his house at
Vailima, a Scotchman doomed to fall in a far-away, alien place.

We are better able now to separate that personal charm felt from
direct contact with the man, which almost hypnotized those who
knew him, from the more abiding charm which is in his writings:
the revelation of a character the most attractive of his
generation. Rarely, if ever before, have the qualities of
artistry and fraternal fellowship been united in a man of
letters to such a degree; most often they are found apart, the
gods choosing to award their favors less lavishly.

Because of this union of art and life, Stevenson's romances
killed two birds with one stone; boys loved his
adventuresomeness, the wholesome sensationalism of his stories
with something doing on every page, while amateurs of art
responded to his felicity of phrase, his finished technique, the
exhibition of craftsmanship conquering difficulty and danger.
Artist, lover of life, insistent truth-teller, Calvinist,
Bohemian, believer in joy, all these cohabit in his hooks. In
early masterpieces like "Treasure Island" and "The Wrecker" it
is the lover of life who conducts us, telling the story for
story's sake:

"My mistress still the open road
And the bright eyes of danger."

Such is the goddess that beckons on. The creed implicit in such
work deems that life is stirring and worth while, and that it is
a weakness to repine and waste time, to be too subjective when
so much on earth is objectively alluring. This is only a part of
Stevenson, of course, but it was that phase of him vastly liked
of the public and doubtless doing most to give him vogue.

But in later work like "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" we get quite
another thing: the skilled story-maker is still giving us
thrilling fiction, to be sure, but here it is the Scotchman of
acute conscience, writing a spiritual allegory with the healthy
instinct which insists that the lesson shall be dramatized. So,
too, in a late fiction like "Ebb Tide," apparently as picaresque
and harum-scarum as "Treasure Island," it is nevertheless the
moralist who is at work beneath the brilliantly picturesque
surface of the narrative, contrasting types subtly, showing the
gradings in moral disintegration. In the past-mastership of the
finest Scotch novels, "Kidnapped" and its sequel "David
Balfour," "The Master of Ballantrae" and the beautiful torso,
"Weir of Hermiston," we get the psychologic romance, which means
a shift of interest;--character comes first, story is secondary
to it. Here is the maturest Stevenson, the fiction most
expressive of his genius, and naturally the inspiration is
native, he looks back, as he so often did in his poetry, to the
distant gray little island which was Motherland to him, home of
his youth and of his kindred, the earth where he was fain to lie
when his time came. Stevenson, to the end, could always return
to sheer story, as in "St. Ives," but in doing so, is a little
below his best: that kind did not call on his complete powers:
in such fiction deep did not answer unto deep.

In 1883, when "Treasure Island" appeared, the public was gasping
for the oxygen that a story with outdoor movement and action
could supply: there was enough and to spare of invertebrate
subtleties, strained metaphysics and coarse naturalistic
studies. A sublimated dime novel like "Treasure Island" came at
the psychologic moment; the year before "The New Arabian Nights"
had offered the same sort of pabulum, but had been practically
overlooked. Readers were only too glad to turn from people with
a past to people of the past, or to people of the present whose
ways were ways of pleasantness. Stevenson substituted a lively,
normal interest in life for plotlessness and a surfeit of the
flesh. The public rose to the bait as the trout to a
particularly inviting fly. Once more reverting to the good old
appeal of Scott--incident, action and derring-do--he added the
attraction of his personal touch, and what was so gallantly
preferred was greedily grasped.

Although, as has been said, Stevenson passed from the primitive
romance of the Shilling Shocker to the romance of character, his
interest in character study was keen from the first: the most
plot-cunning and external of his yarns have that illuminative
exposure of human beings--in flashes at least--which mark him
off from the bluff, robust manner of a Dumas and lend an
attraction far greater than that of mere tangle of events. This
gets fullest expression in the Scotch romances.

"The Master of Ballantrae," for one illustration; the interplay
of motive and act as it affects a group of human beings is so
conducted that plot becomes a mere framework, within which we
are permitted to see a typical tragedy of kinship. This receives
curious corroboration in the fact that when, towards the close
of the story, the scene shifts to America and the main motive--the
unfolding of the fraternal fortunes of the tragic brothers,
is made minor to a series of gruesome adventures (however
entertaining and well done) the reader, even if uncritical, has
an uneasy sense of disharmony: and rightly, since the strict
character romance has changed to the romance of action.

It has been stated that the finer qualities of Stevenson are
called out by the psychological romance on native soil. He did
some brilliant and engaging work of foreign setting and motive.
"The Island Nights' Entertainments" is as good in its way as the
earlier "New Arabian Nights"--far superior to it, indeed, for
finesse and the deft command of exotic material. Judged as art,
"The Bottle Imp" and "The Beach of Falesa" are among the
triumphs of ethnic interpretation, let alone their more external
charms of story. And another masterpiece of foreign setting, "A
Lodging for The Night," is further proof of Stevenson's ability
to use other than Scotch motives for the materials of his art.
"Ebb-Tide," again, grim as it is, must always be singled out as
a marvel of tone and proportion, yet seems born out of an
existence utterly removed as to conditions and incentives from
the land of his birth. But when, in his own words:

"The tropics vanish, and meseems that I,
From Halkerside, from topmost Allermuir,
Or steep Caerketton, dreaming gaze again."

then, as if vitalized by mother-earth, Stevenson shows a
breadth, a vigor, a racy idiosyncrasy, that best justify a
comparison with Scott. It means a quality that is easier felt
than expressed; of the very warp and woof of his work. If the
elder novelist seems greater in scope, spontaneity and
substance, the younger surpasses him in the elegancies and
niceties of his art. And it is only a just recognition of the
difference of Time as well as of personality to say that the
psychology of Stevenson is far more profound and searching. Nor
may it be denied that Sir Walter nods, that there are flat,
uninteresting stretches in his heroic panorama, while of
Stevenson at the worst, we may confidently assert that he is
never tedious. He fails in the comparison if anywhere in
largeness of personality, not in the perfectness of the art of
his fiction. In the technical demands of his profession he is
never wanting. He always has a story to tell, tells it with the
skill which means constructive development and a sense of
situation; he creates characters who live, interest and do not
easily fade from memory: he has exceptional power in so filling
in backgrounds as to produce the illusion of atmosphere; and
finally, he has, whether in dialogue or description, a
wonderfully supple instrument of expression. If the style of his
essays is at times mannered, the charge can not be made against
his representative fiction: "Prince Otto" stands alone in this
respect, and that captivating, comparatively early romance,
confessedly written under the influence of Meredith, is a
delicious literary experiment rather than a deeply-felt piece of
life. Perhaps the central gift of all is that for character--is
it, in truth, not the central gift for any weaver of fiction? So
we thought in studying Dickens. Stevenson's creations wear the
habit of life, yet with more than life's grace of carriage; they
are seen picturesquely without, but also psychologically within.
In a marvelous portrayal like that of John Silver in "Treasure
Island" the result is a composite of what we see and what we
shudderingly guess: eye and mind are satisfied alike. Even in a
mere sketch, such as that of the blind beggar at the opening of
the same romance, with the tap-tap of his stick to announce his
coming, we get a remarkable example of effect secured by an
economy of details; that tap-tapping gets on your nerves, you
never forget it. It seems like the memory of a childhood terror
on the novelist's part. Throughout his fiction this chemic union
of fact and the higher fact that is of the imagination marks his
work. The smell of the heather is in our nostrils as we watch
Allan's flight, and looking on at the fight in the round-house,
there is a physical impression of the stuffiness of the place;
you smell as well as see it. Or for quite another key, take the
night duel in "The Master of Ballantrae." You cannot think of it
without feeling the bite of the bleak air; once more the twinkle
of the candles makes the scene flicker before you ere it vanish
into memory-land. Again, how you know that sea-coast site in the
opening of "The Pavilion on the Links"--shiver at the "sly
innuendoes of the place"! Think how much the map in "Treasure
Island" adds to the credibility of the thing. It is the
believableness of Stevenson's atmospheres that prepare the
reader for any marvels enacted in them. Gross, present-day,
matter-of-fact London makes Dr. Jekyll and his worser half of
flesh-and-blood credence. Few novelists of any race have beaten
this wandering Scot in the power of representing character and
envisaging it: and there can hardly be successful
characterization without this allied power of creating
atmosphere.

Nothing is falser than to find him imitative in his
representative work. There may be a suspicion of made-to-order
journalism in "The Black Arrow," and the exception of "Prince
Otto," which none the less we love for its gallant spirit and
smiling grace, has been noted. But of the Scotch romances
nothing farther from the truth could be said. They stand or fall
by themselves: they have no model--save that of sound art and a
normal conception of human life. Rarely does this man fall below
his own high level or fail to set his private remarque upon his
labor. It is in a way unfortunate that Stevenson, early in his
career, so frankly confessed to practising for his craft by the
use of the best models: it has led to the silly
misinterpretation which sees in all his literary effort nothing
but the skilful echo. Such judgments remind us that criticism,
which is intended to be a picture of another, is in reality a
picture of oneself. In his lehrjahre Stevenson "slogged at his
trade," beyond peradventure; but no man came to be more
individually and independently himself.

It has been spoken against him, too, that he could not draw
women: here again he is quoted in his own despite and we see the
possible disadvantage of a great writer's correspondence being
given to the world--though not for more worlds than one would we
miss the Letters. It is quite true that he is chary of
petticoats in his earlier work: but when he reached "David
Balfour" he drew an entrancing heroine; and the contrasted types
of young girl and middle-aged woman in "Weir of Hermiston" offer
eloquent testimonial to his increasing power in depicting the
Eternal Feminine. At the same time, it may be acknowledged that
the gallery of female portraits is not like Scott's for number
and variety, nor like Thackeray's for distinction and
charm--thick-hung with a delightful company whose eyes laugh level
with our own, or, above us on the wall, look down with a starry
challenge to our souls. But those whom Stevenson has hung there
are not to be coldly recalled.

Stevenson's work offers itself remarkably as a test for the
thought that all worthily modern romanticism must not lack in
reality, in true observation, for success in its most daring
flights. Gone forever is that abuse of the romantic which
substitutes effective lying for the vision which sees broadly
enough to find beauty. The latter-day realist will be found in
the end to have permanently contributed this, a welcome legacy
to our time, after its excesses and absurdities are forgotten.
Realism has taught romanticism to tell the truth, if it would
succeed. Stevenson is splendidly real, he loves to visualize
fact, to be true both to the appearances of things and the
thoughts of the mind. He is aware that life is more than food--that
it is a subjective state quite as much as an objective
reality. He refers to himself more than once, half humorously,
as a fellow whose forte lay in transcribing what was before him,
to be seen and felt, tasted and heard. This extremely modern
denotement was a marked feature of his genius, often overlooked.
He had a desire to know all manner of men; he had the noble
curiosity of Montaigne; this it was, along with his human
sympathy, that led him to rough it in emigrant voyages and
railroad trips across the plains. It was this characteristic,
unless I err, the lack of which in "Prince Otto" gives it a
certain rococo air: he was consciously fooling in it, and felt
the need of a solidly mundane footing. Truth to human nature in
general, and that lesser truth which means accurate photography--his
books give us both; the modern novelist, even a romancer
like Stevenson, is not permitted to slight a landscape, an idiom
nor a point of psychology: this one is never untrue to the
trust. There is in the very nature of his language a proof of
his strong hunger for the actual, the verifiable. No man of his
generation has quite such a grip on the vernacular: his speech
rejoices to disport itself in root flavors; the only younger
writer who equals him in this relish for reality of expression
is Kipling. Further back it reminds of Defoe or Swift, at their
best, Stevenson cannot abide the stock phrases with which most
of us make shift to express our thoughts instead of using first-hand
effects. There is, with all its music and suavity,
something of the masculinity of the Old English in the following
brief descriptive passage from "Ebb-Tide":

There was little or no morning bank. A brightening came in
the East; then a wash of some ineffable, faint, nameless
hue between crimson and silver; and then coals of fire.
These glimmered awhile on the sea line, and seemed to
brighten and darken and spread out; and still the night and
the stars reigned undisturbed. It was as though a spark
should catch and glow and creep along the foot of some
heavy and almost incombustible wall-hanging, and the room
itself be scarce menaced. Yet a little after, and the whole
East glowed with gold and scarlet, and the hollow of heaven
was filled with the daylight. The isle--the undiscovered,
the scarce believed in--now lay before them and close
aboard; and Herrick thought that never in his dreams had he
beheld anything more strange and delicate.

Stevenson's similes, instead of illustrating concrete things by
others less concrete, often reverse the process, as in the
following: "The isle at this hour, with its smooth floor of
sand, the pillared roof overhead and the pendant illumination of
the lamps, wore an air of unreality, like a deserted theater or
a public garden at midnight." Every image gets its foothold in
some tap-root of reality.

The place of Robert Louis Stevenson is not explained by
emphasizing the perfection of his technique. Artist he is, but
more: a vigorous modern mind with a definite and enheartening
view of things, a philosophy at once broad and convincing. He is
a psychologist intensely interested in the great questions--which,
of course, means the moral questions. Read the quaint
Fable in which two of the characters in "Treasure Island" hold
converse upon themselves, the story in which they participate
and the author who made them. It is as if Stevenson stood aside
a moment from the proper objectivity of the fictionist, to tell
us in his own person that all his story-making was but an
allegory of life, its joy, its mystery, its duty, its triumph
and its doom. Although he is too much the artist to intrude
philosophic comments upon human fate into his fiction, after the
fashion of Thackeray or Meredith, the comment is there, implicit
in his fiction, even as it is explicit in his essays, which are
for this reason a sort of complement of his fiction: a sort of
philosophical marginal note upon the stories. Stevenson was that
type of modern mind which, no longer finding it possible to hold
fast by the older, complacent cock-sureness with regard to the
theologian's heaven, is still unshaken in its conviction that
life is beneficent, the obligation of duty imperative, the
meaning of existence spiritual. Puzzlingly protean in his
expressional moods (his conversations in especial), he was
constant in this intellectual, or temperamental, attitude:
"Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him," represents his
feeling, and the strongest poem he ever wrote, "If This Were
Faith," voices his deepest conviction. Meanwhile, the
superficies of life offered a hundred consolations, a hundred
pleasures, and Stevenson would have his fellowmen enjoy them in
innocence, in kindness and good cheer. In fine, as a thinker he
was a modernized Calvinist; as an artist he saw life in terms of
action and pleasure, and by perfecting himself in the art of
communicating his view of life, he was able, in a term of years
all too short, to leave a series of books which, as we settle
down to them in the twentieth century, and try to judge them as
literature, have all the semblance of fine art. In any case,
they will have been influential in the shaping of English
fiction and will be referred to with respect by future
historians of literature. It is hard to believe that the
desiccation of Time will so dry them that they will not always
exhale a rich fragrance of personality, and tremble with a
convincing movement of life.

CHAPTER XIV

THE AMERICAN CONTRIBUTION

I

To exclude the living, as we must, in an estimate of the
American contribution to the development we have been tracing,
is especially unjust. Yet the principle must be applied. The
injustice lies in the fact that an important part of the
contribution falls on the hither side of 1870 and has to do with
authors still active. The modern realistic movement in English
fiction has been affected to some degree by the work, has
responded to the influence of the two Americans, Howells and
James. What has been accomplished during the last forty years
has been largely under their leadership. Mr. Howells, true to
his own definition, has practised the more truthful handling of
material in depicting chosen aspects of the native life. Mr.
James, becoming more interested in British types, has, after a
great deal of analysis of his own countrymen, passed by the
bridge of the international Novel to a complete absorption in
transatlantic studies, making his peculiar application of the
realistic formula to the inner life of the spirit: a curious
compound, a cosmopolitan Puritan, an urbane student of souls.
His share in the British product is perhaps appreciable; but
from the native point of view, at least, it would seem as if his
earlier work were, and would remain, most representative both
because of its motives and methods. Early or late, he has beyond
question pointed out the way to many followers in the
psychologic path: his influence, perhaps less obvious than
Howells', is none the less undisputable. The development in the
hands of writers younger than these veterans has been rich,
varied, often noteworthy in quality. But of all this it is too
soon to speak.

With regard to the fictional evolution on American soil, it is
clear that four great writers, excluding the living, separate
themselves from the crowd: Irving, Cooper, Poe and Hawthorne.
Moreover, two of these, Irving and Poe, are not novelists at
all, but masters of the sketch or short story. It will be best,
however, for our purpose to give them all some attention, for
whatever the form of fiction they used, they are all influential
in the development of the Novel.

Other authors of single great books may occur to the student,
perhaps clamoring for admission to a company so select. Yet he
is likely always to come back and draw a dividing line here.
Bret Harte, for instance, is dead, and in the short story of
western flavor he was a pioneer of mark, the founder of a genre:
probably no other writer is so significant in his field. But
here again, although he essayed full-length fiction, it was not
his forte. So, too, were it not that Mark Twain still cheers the
land of the living with his wise fun, there would be for the
critic the question, is he a novelist, humorist or essayist. Is
"Roughing It" more typical of his genius than "Tom Sawyer" or
"Huckleberry Finn"? How shall we characterize "Puddin' Head
Wilson"? Under what category shall we place "A Yankee at the
Court of King Arthur" and "Joan of Arc"? The query reminds us
once more that literature means personality as well as literary
forms and that personality is more important than are they. And
again we turn away regretfully (remembering that this is an
attempt to study not fiction in all its manifestations, but the
Novel) from the charming short stories--little classics in their
kind--bequeathed by Aldrich, and are almost sorry that our
judgment demands that we place him first as a poet. We think,
too, of that book so unique in influence, "Uncle Tom's Cabin,"
nor forget that, besides producing it, Mrs. Stowe, in such a
work as "Old Town Folks," started the long line of studies of
New England rustic life which, not confined to that section,
have become so welcome a phase of later American art in fiction.
Among younger authors called untimely from their labors, it is
hard to resist the temptation to linger over such a figure as
that of Frank Norris, whose vital way of handling realistic
material with epic breath in his unfinished trilogy, gave so
great promise for his future.

It may be conceded that nothing is more worth mention in
American fiction of the past generation than the extraordinary
cultivation of the short-story, which Mr. Brander Matthews
dignifies and unifies by a hyphen, in order to express his
conviction that it is an essentially new art form, to study
which is a fascinating quest, but aside from our main intention.

II

Having due regard then for perspective, and trying not to
confuse historical importance with the more vital interest which
implies permanent claims, it seems pretty safe to come back to
Irving and Poe, to Cooper and Hawthorne. Even as in the sketch
and tale Irving stands alone with such a masterpiece as "The
Legend of Sleepy Hollow"; and Poe equally by himself with his
tales of psychological horror and mystery, so in longer fiction,
Cooper and Hawthorne have made as distinct contributions in the
domain of Romance. Their service is as definite for the day of
the Romantic spirit, as is that of Howells and James for the
modern day of realism so-called. It is not hard to see that
Irving even in his fiction is essentially an essayist; that with
him story was not the main thing, but that atmosphere, character
and style were,--the personal comment upon life. One reads a
sketch like "The Stout Gentleman," in every way a typical work,
for anything but incident or plot. The Hudson River idyls, it
may be granted, have somewhat more of story interest, but Irving
seized them, ready-made for his use, because of their value for
the picturesque evocation of the Past. He always showed a keen
sense of the pictorial and dramatic in legend and history, as
the "Alhambra" witnesses quite as truly as the sketches.
"Bracebridge Hall" and "The Sketch Book," whatever of the
fictional they may contain, are the work of the essayist
primarily, and Washington Irving will always, in a critical
view, be described as a master of the English essay. No other
maker of American literature affords so good an example of the
inter-colation of essay and fiction: he recalls the organic
relation between the Sir Roger de Coverley Papers and the
eighteenth century Novel proper of a generation later.

His service to all later writers of fiction was large in that he
taught them the use of promising native material that awaited
the story-maker. His own use of it, the Hudson, the environs of
Manhattan, was of course romantic, in the main. When in an
occasional story he is unpleasant in detail or tragic in trend
he seems less characteristic--so definitely was he a
romanticist, seeking beauty and wishing to throw over life the
kindly glamour of imaginative art. It is worth noting, however,
that he looked forward rather than back, towards the coming
realism, not to the incurable pseudo-romanticism of the late
eighteenth century, in his instinct to base his happenings upon
the bedrock of truth--the external truth of scene and character
and the inner truth of human psychology.

Admirably a modern artist in this respect, his
old-fashionedness, so often dilated upon, can easily be overstated.
He not only left charming work in the tale, but helped others
who came after to use their tools, furthering their art by the
study of a good model.

Nothing was more inevitable then that Cooper when he began
fiction in mid-manhood should have written the romance: it was
the dominant form in England because of Scott. But that he
should have realized the unused resources of America and
produced a long series of adventure stories, taking a pioneer as
his hero and illustrating the western life of settlement in his
career, the settlement that was to reclaim a wilderness for a
mighty civilization--that was a thing less to be expected, a
truly epic achievement. The Leather Stocking Series was in the
strictest sense an original performance--the significance of

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