as a moralist and exponent of culture; so she forgot that she “was born to please,” and attempted something else for which she had no particular ability: an historical novel in _Romola_, a drama in _The Spanish Gypsy_, a theory of social reform in _Felix Holt_, a study of the Hebrew race in _Daniel Deronda_, a book of elephantine gambols in _The Opinions of Theophrastus Such_. More and more she “agonized” over these works, and though each of them contained some scene or passage of rare power, it was evident even to her admirers that the pleasing novelist of the earlier days had been sacrificed to the moral philosopher.
[Sidenote: SHE RENEWS HER YOUTH]
The death of Lewes (1878) made an end, as she believed, of all earthly happiness. For twenty-four years he had been husband, friend and literary adviser, encouraging her talent, shielding her from every hostile criticism. Left suddenly alone in the world, she felt like an abandoned child; her writing stopped, and her letters echoed the old gleeman’s song, “All is gone, both life and light.” Then she surprised everybody by marrying an American banker, many years her junior, who had been an intimate friend of the Lewes household. Once more she found the world “intensely interesting,” for at sixty she was the same clinging vine, the same hero-worshiper, as at sixteen. The marriage occurred in 1880, and her death the same year. An elaborate biography, interesting but too fulsome, was written by her husband, John Walter Cross.
WORKS. George Eliot’s first works in fiction were the magazine stories which she published later as _Scenes of Clerical Life_ (1858). These were produced comparatively late in life, and they indicate both originality and maturity, as if the author had a message of her own, and had pondered it well before writing it. That message, as reflected in “Amos Barton” and “Janet’s Repentance,” may be summarized in four cardinal principles: that duty is the supreme law of life; that the humblest life is as interesting as the most exalted, since both are subject to the same law; that our daily choices have deep moral significance, since they all react on character and their total result is either happiness or misery; and that there is no possible escape from the reward or punishment that is due to one’s individual action.
Such is the message of the author’s first work. In its stern insistence on the moral quality of life and of every human action, it distinguishes George Eliot from all other fiction writers of the period.
[Sidenote: HER BEST NOVELS]
In her first three novels she repeats the same message with more detail, and with a gleam of humor here and there to light up the gloomy places. _Adam Bede_ (1859) has been called a story of early Methodism, but in reality it is a story of moral principles which work their inevitable ends among simple country people. The same may be said of _The Mill on the Floss_ (1860) and of _Silas Marner_ (1861). The former is as interesting to readers of George Eliot as _Copperfield_ is to readers of Dickens, because much of it is a reflection of a personal experience; but the latter work, having more unity, more story interest and more cheerfulness, is a better novel with which to begin our acquaintance with the author.
[Illustration: GRIFF HOUSE, GEORGE ELIOT’S EARLY HOME IN WARWICKSHIRE]
The scene of all these novels is laid in the country; the characters are true to life, and move naturally in an almost perfect setting. One secret of their success is that they deal with people whom the author knew well, and with scenes in which she was as much at home as Dickens was in the London streets. Each of the novels, notwithstanding its faulty or melancholy conclusion, leaves an impression so powerful that we gladly, and perhaps uncritically, place it among the great literary works of the Victorian era.
[Sidenote: LATER WORKS]
Of the later novels one cannot speak so confidently. They move some critics to enthusiasm, and put others to sleep. Thus, _Daniel Deronda_ has some excellent passages, and Gwendolen is perhaps the best-drawn of all George Eliot’s characters; but for many readers the novel is spoiled by scientific jargon, by essay writing on the Jews and other matters of which the author knew little or nothing at first hand. In _Middlemarch_ she returned to the scenes with which she was familiar and produced a novel which some critics rank very high, while others point to its superfluous essays and its proneness to moralizing instead of telling a story.
_Romola_ is another labored novel, a study of Italy during the Renaissance, and a profound ethical lesson. If you can read this work without criticizing its Italian views, you may find in the characters of Tito and Romola, one selfish and the other generous, the best example of George Eliot’s moral method, which is to show the cumulative effect on character of everyday choices or actions. You will find also a good story, one of the best that the author told. But if you read _Romola_ as an historical novel, with some knowledge of Italy and the Renaissance, you may decide that George Eliot–though she slaved at this novel until, as she said, it made an old woman of her–did not understand the people or the country which she tried to describe. She portrayed life not as she had seen and known and loved it, but as she found it reflected at second hand in the works of other writers.
THE QUALITY OF GEORGE ELIOT. Of the moral quality of George Eliot we have already said enough. To our summary of her method this should be added, that she tried to make each of her characters not individual but typical. In other words, if Tito came finally to grief, and Adam arrived at a state of gloomy satisfaction (there is no real happiness in George Eliot’s world), it was not because Tito and Adam lived in different times or circumstances, but because both were subject to the same eternal laws. Each must have gone to his own place whether he lived in wealth or poverty, in Florence or England, in the fifteenth or the nineteenth century. The moral law is universal and unchanging; it has no favorites, and makes no exceptions. It is more like the old Greek conception of Nemesis, or the Anglo-Saxon conception of Wyrd, or Fate, than anything else you will find in modern fiction.
[Sidenote: FATE AND SELF-SACRIFICE]
In this last respect George Eliot again differs radically from her contemporaries. In her gloomy view of life as an unanswerable puzzle she is like Thackeray; but where Thackeray offers a cultured resignation, a gentlemanly making the best of a bad case, George Eliot advocates self-sacrifice for the good of others. In her portrayal of weak or sinful characters she is quite as compassionate as Dickens, and more thoughtfully charitable; for where Dickens sometimes makes light of misery, and relieves it by the easy expedient of good dinners and all-around comfort for saints and sinners, George Eliot remembers the broken moral law and the suffering of the innocent for the guilty. Behind every one of her characters that does wrong follows an avenging fate, waiting the moment to exact the full penalty; and before every character that does right hovers a vision of sacrifice and redemption.
Her real philosophy, therefore, was quite different from that which her scientific friends formulated for her, and was not modern but ancient as the hills. On the one hand, she never quite freed herself from the old pagan conception of Nemesis, or Fate; on the other, her early Methodist training entered deep into her soul and made her mindful of the Cross that forever towers above humanity.
* * * * *
OTHER VICTORIAN NOVELISTS
We have followed literary custom rather than individual judgment in studying Dickens, Thackeray and George Eliot as the typical Victorian novelists. On Dickens, as the most original genius of the age, most people are agreed; but the rank of the other two is open to question. There are critics besides Swinburne who regard Charlotte Bronte as a greater genius than George Eliot; and many uncritical readers find more pleasure or profit in the Barchester novels of Anthony Trollope than in anything written by Thackeray. It may even be that the three or four leading novels of the age were none of them written by the novelists in question; but it is still essential to know their works if only for these reasons: that they greatly influenced other story-tellers of the period, and that they furnish us a standard by which to judge all modern fiction.
To treat the many Victorian novelists adequately would in itself require a volume. We shall note here only a few leading figures, naming in each case a novel or two which may serve as an invitation to a better acquaintance with their authors.
[Illustration: CHARLOTTE BRONTE]
The Bronte sisters, Charlotte and Emily, made a tremendous sensation in England when, from their retirement, they sent out certain works of such passionate intensity that readers who had long been familiar with novels were startled into renewed attention. Reading these works now we recognize the genius of the writers, but we recognize also a morbid, unwholesome quality, which is a reflection not of English life but of the personal and unhappy temperament of two girls who looked on life first as a gorgeous romance and then as a gloomy tragedy.
Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855) was perhaps the more gifted of the two sisters, and her best-known works are _Jane Eyre_ and _Villette_. The date of the latter novel (1853) was made noteworthy by the masterpiece of another woman novelist, Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865), who was the exact opposite of the Bronte sisters,–serene, well-balanced, and with a fund of delicious humor. All these qualities and more appeared in _Cranford_ (1853), a series of sketches of country life (first contributed to Dickens’s _Household Words_) which together form one of the most charming stories produced during the Victorian era. The same author wrote a few other novels and an admirable _Life of Charlotte Bronte_.
[Sidenote: CHARLES READE]
Charles Reade (1814-1884) was a follower of Dickens in his earlier novels, such as _Peg Woffington_; but he made one notable departure when he wrote _The Cloister and the Hearth_ (1861). This is a story of student life and vagabond life in Europe, in the stirring times that followed the invention of printing. The action moves rapidly; many different characters appear; the scene shifts from Holland across Europe to Italy, and back again; adventures of a startling kind meet the hero at every stage of his foot journey. It is a stirring tale, remarkably well told; so much will every uncritical reader gladly acknowledge. Moreover, there are critics who, after studying _The Cloister and the Hearth_, rank it with the best historical novels in all literature.
[Illustration: MRS. ELIZABETH GASKELL From the portrait by George Richmond, R.A.]
Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) began as a follower of Thackeray, but in the immense range of his characters and incidents he soon outstripped his master. Perhaps his best work is _Barchester Towers_ (1857), one of a series of novels which picture with marvelous fidelity the life of a cathedral town in England.
Another novelist who followed Thackeray, and then changed his allegiance to Dickens, was Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873). He was essentially an imitator, a follower of the market, and before Thackeray and Dickens were famous he had followed almost every important English novelist from Mrs. Radcliffe to Walter Scott. Two of his historical novels, _Rienzi_ and _The Last Days of Pompeii_, may be mildly recommended. The rest are of the popular and somewhat trashy kind; critics jeer at them, and the public buys them in large numbers.
One of the most charming books of the Victorian age was produced by Richard Blackmore (1825-1900). He wrote several novels, some of them of excellent quality, but they were all overshadowed by his beautiful old romance of _Lorna Doone_ (1869). It is hard to overpraise such a story, wholesome and sweet as a breath from the moors, and the critic’s praise will be unnecessary if the reader only opens the book. It should be read, with _Cranford_, if one reads nothing else of Victorian fiction.
[Illustration: RICHARD DODDRIDGE BLACKMORE]
Two other notable romances of a vanished age came from the hand of Charles Kingsley (1819-1875). He produced many works in poetry and prose, but his fame now rests upon _Hypatia_, _Westward Ho!_ and a few stories for children. _Hypatia_ (1853) is an interesting novel dealing with the conflict of pagan and Christian ideals in the early centuries. _Westward Ho!_ (1855) is a stirring narrative of seafaring and adventure in the days of Elizabeth. It has been described as a “stunning” boys’ book, and it would prove an absorbing story for any reader who likes adventure were it not marred by one serious fault. The author’s personal beliefs and his desire to glorify certain Elizabethan adventurers lead him to pronounce judgment of a somewhat wholesale kind. He treats one religious party of the period to a golden halo, and the other to a lash of scorpions; and this is apt to alienate many readers who else would gladly follow Sir Amyas Leigh on his gallant ventures in the New World or on the Spanish Main. Kingsley had a rare talent for writing for children (his heart never grew old), and his _Heroes_ and _Water Babies_ are still widely read as bedtime stories.
Of the later Victorian novelists, chief among them being Meredith, Hardy and Stevenson, little may be said here, as they are much too near us to judge of their true place in the long perspective of English literature. Meredith, with the analytical temper and the disconnected style of Browning, is for mature readers, not for young people. Hardy has decided power, but is too hopelessly pessimistic for anybody’s comfort,–except in his earlier works, which have a romantic charm that brightens the obscurity of his later philosophy.
[Illustration: ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON From a photograph]
In Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) we have the spirit of romance personified. His novels, such as _Kidnapped_ and _David Balfour_, are stories of adventure written in a very attractive style; but he is more widely known, among young people at least, by his charming _Child’s Garden of Verses_ and his _Treasure Island_ (1883). This last is a kind of dime-novel of pirates and buried treasure. If one is to read stories of that kind, there is no better place to begin than with this masterpiece of Stevenson. Other works by the same versatile author are the novels, _Master of Ballantrae_, _Weir of Hermiston_ and _Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde_; various collections of essays, such as _Virginibus Puerisque_ and _Familiar Studies of Men and Books_; and some rather thin sketches of journeying called _An Inland Voyage_ and _Travels with a Donkey_.
The cheery spirit of Stevenson, who bravely fought a losing battle with disease, is evident in everything he wrote; and it was the author’s spirit, quite as much as his romantic tales or fine prose style, that won for him a large and enthusiastic following. Of all the later Victorians he seems, at the present time, to have the widest circle of cultivated readers and to exercise the strongest influence on our writers of fiction.
* * * * *
III. VICTORIAN ESSAYISTS AND HISTORIANS
There is rich reading in Victorian essays, which reflect not only the practical affairs of the age but also the ideals that inspire every great movement whether in history or literature. For example, the intense religious interests of the period, the growth of the Nonconformists or Independents, the Oxford movement, which aimed to define the historic position of the English Church, the chill of doubt and the glow of renewed faith in face of the apparent conflict between the old religion and the new science,–all these were brilliantly reflected by excellent writers, among whom Martineau, Newman and Maurice stand out prominently. The deep thought, the serene spirit and the fine style of these men are unsurpassed in Victorian prose.
Somewhat apart from their age stood a remarkable group of historians–Hallam, Freeman, Green, Gardiner, Symonds and others no less praiseworthy–who changed the whole conception of history from a record of political or military events to a profound study of human society in all its activities. In another typical group were the critics, Pater, Bagehot, Hutton, Leslie Stephen, who have given deeper meaning and enlarged pleasure to the study of literature. In a fourth group were the scientists–Darwin, Wallace, Lyell, Mivart, Tyndall, Mill, Spencer, Huxley, and their followers–some of whom aimed not simply to increase our knowledge but to use the essay, as others used the novel, to portray some new scene in the old comedy of human life. Darwin was a great and, therefore, a modest man; but some of his disciples were sadly lacking in humor. Spencer and Mill especially wrote with colossal self-confidence, as if the world no longer wore its veil of mystery. They remind us, curiously, that while poetry endures forever, nothing on earth is more subject to change and error than so-called scientific truth.
[Sidenote: TYPICAL WRITERS]
It is impossible in a small volume to do justice to so many writers, reflecting nature or humanity from various angles, and sometimes insisting that a particular angle was the only one from which a true view could be obtained. Some rigorous selection is necessary; and we name here for special study Macaulay, Carlyle, Ruskin, who are commonly regarded as the typical Victorian essayists. This selection does not mean, however, that some other group might not be quite as representative of their age and nation. Our chosen authors stand not for Victorian thought but only for certain interesting phases thereof. Macaulay, the busy man of affairs, voiced the pride of his generation in British traditions. Carlyle lived aloof, grumbling at democracy, denouncing its shams, calling it to repentance. Ruskin, a child of fortune, was absorbed in art till the burden of the world oppressed him; whereupon he gave his money to the cause of social reform and went himself among the poor to share with them whatever wealth of spirit he possessed. These three men, utterly unlike in character, were as one in their endeavor to make modern literature a power wherewith to uplift humanity. They illustrate, better even than poets or novelists, the characteristic moral earnestness of the Victorian era.
* * * * *
THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY (1800-1859)
To many readers the life of Macaulay is more interesting than any of his books. For the details of that brilliantly successful life, which fairly won and richly deserved its success, the student is referred to Trevelyan’s fine biography. We record here only such personal matters as may help to explain the exuberant spirit of Macaulay’s literary work.
[Illustration: THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY]
LIFE. One notes first of all the man’s inheritance. The Norse element predominated in him, for the name Macaulay (son of Aulay) is a late form of the Scandinavian _Olafson_. His mother was a brilliant woman of Quaker descent; his father, at one time governor of the Sierra Leone Colony in Africa, was a business man who gained a fortune in trade, and who spent the whole of it in helping to free the slaves. In consequence, when Macaulay left college he faced the immediate problem of supporting himself and his family, a hard matter, which he handled not only with his customary success but also with characteristic enthusiasm.
Next we note Macaulay’s personal endowment, his gift of rapid reading, his marvelous memory which suggests Coleridge and Cotton Mather. He read everything from Plato to the trashiest novel, and after reading a book could recall practically the whole of it after a lapse of twenty years. To this photographic memory we are indebted for the wealth of quotation, allusion and anecdote which brightens almost every page of his writings.
[Sidenote: HIS BRILLIANT CAREER]
After a brilliant career at college Macaulay began the study of law. At twenty-five he jumped into prominence by a magazine essay on Milton, and after that his progress was uninterrupted. He was repeatedly elected to Parliament; he was appointed legal adviser to the Supreme Council of India, in which position he acquired the knowledge that appears in his essays on Clive and Hastings; he became Secretary for War, and was elevated to the peerage as Baron Macaulay of Rothley. It was said of him at that time that he was “the only man whom England ever made a lord for the power of his pen.”
[Sidenote: HIS RECREATION]
The last thing we note, because it was to Macaulay of least moment, is his literary work. With the exception of the _History of England_ his writing was done at spare moments, as a relaxation from what he considered more important labors. In this respect, of writing for pleasure in the midst of practical affairs, he resembles the Elizabethan rather than the Victorian authors.
While at work on his masterpiece Macaulay suddenly faltered, worn out by too much work. He died on Christmas Day (1859) and was buried in the place which he liked best to visit, the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. From the day on which he attracted notice by his Milton essay he had never once lost his hold on the attention of England. Gladstone summed up the matter in oratorical fashion when he said, “Full-orbed Macaulay was seen above the horizon; and full-orbed, after thirty-five years of constantly emitted splendor, he sank below it.” But Macaulay’s final comment, “Well, I have had a happy life,” is more suggestive of the man and his work.
WORKS OF MACAULAY. Macaulay’s poems, which he regarded as of no consequence, are practically all in the ballad style. Among them are various narratives from French or English history, such as “The Battle of Ivry” and “The Armada,” and a few others which made a popular little book when they were published as _Lays of Ancient Rome_ (1842). The prime favorite not only of the _Lays_ but of all Macaulay’s works is “Horatius Cocles,” or “Horatius at the Bridge.” Those who read its stirring lines should know that Macaulay intended it not as a modern ballad but as an example of ancient methods of teaching history. According to Niebuhr the early history of Rome was written in the form of popular ballads; and Macaulay attempted to reproduce a few of these historical documents in the heroic style that roused a Roman audience of long ago to pride and love of country.
[Sidenote: THE ESSAYS]
The essays of Macaulay appeared in the magazines of that day; but though official England acclaimed their brilliancy and flooded their author with invitations to dine, nobody seemed to think of them as food for ordinary readers till a Philadelphia publisher collected a few of them into a book, which sold in America like a good novel. That was in 1841, and not till two years had passed did a London publisher gain courage to issue the _Critical and Historical Essays_, a book which vindicated the taste of readers of that day by becoming immensely popular.
The charm of such a book is evident in the very first essay, on Milton. Here is no critic, airing his rules or making his dry talk palatable by a few quotations; here is a live man pleading for another man whom he considers one of the greatest figures in history. Macaulay may be mistaken, possibly, but he is going to make you doff your hat to a hero before he is done; so he speaks eloquently not only of Milton but of the classics on which Milton fed, of the ideals and struggles of his age, of the Commonwealth and the Restoration,–of everything which may catch your attention and then focus it on one Titanic figure battling like Samson among the Philistines. It may be that your sympathies are with the Philistines rather than with Samson; but presently you stop objecting and are carried along by the author’s eloquence as by a torrent. His style is the combined style of novelist and public speaker, the one striving to make his characters real, the other bound to make his subject interesting.
That is Macaulay’s way in all his essays. They are seldom wholly right in their judgments; they are so often one-sided that the author declared in later life he would burn them all if he could; but they are all splendid, all worth reading, not simply for their matter but for their style and for the wealth of allusion with which Macaulay makes his subject vital and interesting. Among the best of the literary essays are those on Bunyan, Addison, Bacon, Johnson, Goldsmith and Byron; among the historical essays one may sample Macaulay’s variety in Lord Clive, Frederick the Great, Machiavelli and Mirabeau.
Careful readers may note a difference between these literary and historical essays. Those on Bunyan, Johnson and Goldsmith, for example (written originally for the _Encyclopaedia Britannica_), are more finished and more careful of statement than others in which the author talks freely, sharing without measure or restraint “the heaped-up treasures of his memory.”
[Sidenote: HISTORY OF ENGLAND]
Macaulay began to write his _History of England_ with the declaration that he would cover the century and a half following the accession of James II (1685), and that he would make his story as interesting as any novel. Only the latter promise was fulfilled. His five volumes, the labor of more than a decade, cover only sixteen years of English history; but these are pictured with such minuteness and such splendor that we can hardly imagine anyone brave enough to attempt to finish the record in a single lifetime.
Of this masterpiece of Macaulay we may confidently say three things: that for many years it was the most popular historical work in our language; that by its brilliant style and absorbing interest it deserved its popularity, as literature if not as history; and that, though it contains its share of error and more than its share of Whig partisanship, it has probably as few serious faults as any other history which attempts to cover the immense field of the political, social and intellectual life of a nation. Read, for example, one of the introductory chapters (the third is excellent) which draws such a picture of England in the days of the Stuarts as no other historian has ever attempted. When you have finished that chapter, with its wealth of picturesque detail, you may be content to read Macaulay simply for the pleasure he gives you, and go to some other historian for accurate information.
* * * * *
THOMAS CARLYLE (1795-1881)
There is little harmony of opinion concerning Carlyle, criticism of the man being divided between praise and disparagement. If you are to read only one of his works, it is perhaps advisable to avoid all biographies at first and to let the _Essay on Burns_ or _Heroes and Hero Worship_ make its own impression. But if you intend to read more widely, some knowledge of Carlyle’s personal history is essential in order to furnish the grain of salt with which most of his opinions must be taken.
[Illustration: THOMAS CARLYLE
From engraving by Sartain from a daguerrotype]
LIFE. In the village of Ecclefechan Carlyle was born in 1795, the year before Burns’s death. His father was a stone-mason, an honest man of caustic tongue; his mother, judged by her son’s account, was one of nature’s noblewomen. The love of his mother and a proud respect for his father were the two sentiments in Carlyle that went with him unchanged through a troubled and oft-complaining life.
[Sidenote: HIS WRESTLINGS]
Of his tearful school days in Annandale and of his wretched years at Edinburgh University we have glimpses in _Sartor Resartus_. In the chapters of the same book entitled “The Everlasting Nay” and “The Everlasting Yea” is a picture of the conflict between doubt and faith in the stormy years when Carlyle was finding himself. He taught school, and hated it; he abandoned the ministry, for which his parents had intended him; he resolved on a literary life, and did hack work to earn his bread. All the while he wrestled with his gloomy temper or with the petty demons of dyspepsia, which he was wont to magnify into giant doubts and despairs.
[Sidenote: CARLYLE AND EMERSON]
In 1826 he married Jane Welsh, and went to live in a house she had inherited at Craigenputtock, or Hill of the Hawks. There on a lonely moorland farm he spent six or seven years, writing books which few cared to read; and there Emerson appeared one day (“He came and went like an angel,” said the Carlyles) with the heartening news that the neglected writings were winning a great audience in America. The letters of Carlyle and Emerson, as edited by Charles Eliot Norton, are among the pleasantest results of Carlyle’s whole career.
[Sidenote: MRS. CARLYLE]
Carlyle’s wife was a brilliant but nervous woman with literary gifts of her own. She had always received attention; she expected and probably deserved admiration; but so did Carlyle, who expected also to be made the center of all solicitude when he called heaven and earth to witness against democracy, crowing roosters, weak tea and other grievous afflictions. After her death (in London, 1866) he was plunged into deepest grief. In his _Reminiscences_ and _Letters_ he fairly deifies his wife, calling her his queen, his star, his light and joy of life, and portrays a companionship as of two mortals in a Paradise without a serpent. All that is doubtless as it should be, in a romance; but the unfortunate publication of Mrs. Carlyle’s letters and journals introduced a jarring note of reality. A jungle of controversial writings has since grown up around the domestic relations of the Carlyles,–impertinent, deplorable writings, which serve no purpose but to make us cry, “Enough, let them rest in peace!” Both had sharp tongues, and probably both were often sorry.
[Sidenote: WORK IN LONDON]
From the moors the Carlyles went to London and settled for the remainder of their lives in a house in Cheyne Row, in the suburb of Chelsea. There Carlyle slowly won recognition, his success being founded on his _French Revolution_. Invitations began to pour in upon him; great men visited and praised him, and his fame spread as “the sage of Chelsea.” Then followed his _Cromwell_ and _Frederick the Great_, the latter completed after years of complaining labor which made wreck of home happiness. And then came a period of unusual irritation, to which we owe, in part at least, Carlyle’s railings against progress and his deplorable criticism of England’s great men and women,–poor little Browning, animalcular De Quincey, rabbit-brained Newman, sawdustish Mill, chattering George Eliot, ghastly-shrieky Shelley, once-enough Lamb, stinted-scanty Wordsworth, poor thin fool Darwin and his book (_The Origin of Species_, of which Carlyle confessed he never read a page) which was wonderful as an example of the stupidity of mankind.
Such criticisms were reserved for Carlyle’s private memoirs. The world knew him only by his books, and revered him as a great and good man. He died in 1881, and of the thousand notices which appeared in English or American periodicals of that year there is hardly one that does not overflow with praise.
[Illustration: CARLYLE’S HOUSE, CHEYNE ROW, CHELSEA, LONDON]
In the home at Chelsea were numerous letters and journals which Carlyle committed to his friend Froude the historian. The publication of these private papers raised a storm of protest. Admirers of Carlyle, shocked at the revelation of another side to their hero, denounced Froude for his disloyalty and malice; whereupon the literary world divided into two camps, the Jane Carlyleists and the Thomas Carlyleists, as they are still called. That Froude showed poor taste is evident; but we must acquit him of all malice. Private papers had been given him with the charge to publish them if he saw fit; and from them he attempted to draw not a flattering but a truthful portrait of Carlyle, who had always preached the doctrine that a man must speak truth as he sees it. Nor will Carlyle suffer in the long run from being deprived of a halo which he never deserved. Already the crustiness of the man begins to grow dim in the distance; it is his rugged earnestness that will be longest remembered.
WORKS OF CARLYLE. The beginner will do well to make acquaintance with Carlyle in some of the minor essays, which are less original but more pleasing than his labored works. Among the best essays are those on Goethe (who was Carlyle’s first master), Signs of the Times, Novalis, and especially Scott and Burns. With Scott he was not in sympathy, and though he tried as a Scotsman to be “loyal to kith and clan,” a strong touch of prejudice mars his work. With Burns he succeeded better, and his picture of the plowboy genius in misfortune is one of the best we have on the subject. This _Essay on Burns_ is also notable as the best example of Carlyle’s early style, before he compounded the strange mixture which appeared in his later books.
[Sidenote: HEROES AND HERO WORSHIP]
The most readable of Carlyle’s longer works is _Heroes and Hero Worship_ (1840), which deals with certain leaders in the fields of religion, poetry, war and politics. It is an interesting study to compare this work with the _Representative Men_ of Emerson. The latter looks upon the world as governed by ideals, which belong not to individuals but to humanity. When some man appears in whom the common ideal is written large, other men follow him because they see in him a truth which they revere in their own souls. So the leader is always in the highest sense a representative of his race. But Carlyle will have nothing of such democracy; to him common men are stupid or helpless and must be governed from without. Occasionally, when humanity is in the Slough of Despond, appears a hero, a superman, and proceeds by his own force to drag or drive his subjects to a higher level. When the hero dies, humanity must halt and pray heaven to send another master.
It is evident before one has read much of _Heroes_ that Carlyle is at heart a force-worshiper. To him history means the biography of a few heroes, and heroism is a matter of power, not of physical or moral courage. The hero may have the rugged courage of a Cromwell, or he may be an easy-living poet like Shakespeare, or a ruthless despot like Napoleon, or an epitome of all meanness like Rousseau; but if he shows superior force of any kind, that is the hallmark of his heroism, and before such an one humanity should bow down. Of real history, therefore, you will learn nothing from _Heroes_; neither will you get any trustworthy information concerning Odin, Mahomet and the rest of Carlyle’s oddly consorted characters. One does not read the book for facts but for a new view of old matters. With hero-worshipers especially it ranks very high among the thought-provoking books of the past century.
[Sidenote: THE FRENCH REVOLUTION]
Of the historical works [Footnote: These include _Oliver Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches_ (1850) and _History of Frederick the Great_ (1858).] of Carlyle the most famous is _The French Revolution_ (1837). On this work Carlyle spent much heart-breaking labor, and the story of the first volume shows that the author, who made himself miserable over petty matters, could be patient in face of a real misfortune. [Footnote: The manuscript of the first volume was submitted to Carlyle’s friend Mill (him of the “sawdustish” mind) for criticism. Mill lent it to a lady, who lost it. When he appeared “white as a ghost” to confess his carelessness, the Carlyles did their best to make light of it. Yet it was a terrible blow to them; for aside from the wearisome labor of doing the work over again, they were counting on the sale of the book to pay for their daily bread.] Moreover, it furnishes a striking example of Carlyle’s method, which was not historical in the modern sense, but essentially pictorial or dramatic. He selected a few dramatic scenes, such as the storming of the Bastille, and painted them in flaming colors. Also he was strong in drawing portraits, and his portrayal of Robespierre, Danton and other actors in the terrible drama is astonishingly vigorous, though seldom accurate. His chief purpose in drawing all these pictures and portraits was to prove that order can never come out of chaos save by the iron grip of a governing hand. Hence, if you want to learn the real history of the French Revolution, you must seek elsewhere; but if you want an impression of it, an impression that burns its way into the mind, you will hardly find the equal of Carlyle’s book in any language.
Of Carlyle’s miscellaneous works one must speak with some hesitation. As an expression of what some call his prophetic mood, and others his ranting, one who has patience might try _Shooting Niagara_ or the _Latter Day Pamphlets_. A reflection of his doctrine of honest work as the cure for social ills is found in _Past and Present_; and for a summary of his philosophy there is nothing quite so good as his early _Sartor Resartus_ (1834).
[Sidenote: SARTOR RESARTUS]
The last-named work is called philosophy only by courtesy. The title means “the tailor retailored,” or “the patcher repatched,” and the book professed to be “a complete Resartus philosophy of clothes.” Since everything wears clothes of some kind (the soul wears a body, and the body garments; earth puts forth grass, and the firmament stars; ideas clothe themselves in words; society puts on fashions and habits), it can be seen that Carlyle felt free to bring in any subject he pleased; and so he did. Moreover, in order to have liberty of style, he represented himself to be the editor not the author of _Sartor_. The alleged author was a German professor, Diogenes Teufelsdroeckh, an odd stick, half genius, half madman, whose chaotic notes Carlyle professed to arrange with a running commentary of his own.
In consequence of this overlabored plan _Sartor_ has no plan at all. It is a jumble of thoughts, notions, attacks on shams, scraps of German philosophy,–everything that Carlyle wrote about during his seven-years sojourn on his moorland farm. The only valuable things in _Sartor_ are a few autobiographical chapters, such as “The Everlasting Yea,” and certain passages dealing with night, the stars, the yearnings of humanity, the splendors of earth and heaven. Note this picture of Teufelsdroeckh standing alone at the North Cape, “looking like a little belfry”:
“Silence as of death, for Midnight, even in the Arctic latitudes, has its character: nothing but the granite cliffs ruddy-tinged, the peaceable gurgle of that slow-heaving Polar Ocean, over which in the utmost North the great Sun hangs low and lazy, as if he too were slumbering. Yet is his cloud-couch wrought of crimson and cloth-of-gold; yet does his light stream over the mirror of waters, like a tremulous fire-pillar shooting downwards to the abyss, and hide itself under my feet. In such moments Solitude also is invaluable; for who would speak, or be looked on, when behind him lies all Europe and Africa, fast asleep, except the watchmen; and before him the silent Immensity and Palace of the Eternal, whereof our Sun is but a porch-lamp?”
The book has several such passages, written in a psalmodic style, appealing to elemental feeling, to our sense of wonder or reverence before the mystery of life and death. It is a pity that we have no edition of _Sartor_ which does justice to its golden nuggets by the simple expedient of sifting out the mass of rubbish in which the gold is hidden. The central doctrines of the book are the suppression of self, or selfishness, and the value of honest work in contrast with the evil of mammon-worship.
A CRITICISM OF CARLYLE. Except in his literary essays Carlyle’s “rumfustianish growlery of style,” as he called it, is so uneven that no description will apply to it. In moments of emotion he uses a chanting prose that is like primitive poetry. Sometimes he forgets Thomas Carlyle, keeps his eye on his subject, and describes it in vivid, picturesque words; then, when he has nothing to say, he thinks of himself and tries to hold you by his manner, by his ranting or dogmatism. In one mood he is a poet, in another a painter, in a third a stump speaker. In all moods he must have your ear, but he succeeds better in getting than in holding it. It has been said that his prose is on a level with Browning’s verse, but a better comparison may be drawn between Carlyle and Walt Whitman. Of each of these writers the best that can be said is that his style was his own, that it served his purpose, and that it is not to be imitated.
[Sidenote: HIS TWO SIDES]
In formulating any summary of Carlyle the critic must remember that he is dealing with a man of two sides, one prejudiced, dogmatic, jealous of rivals, the other roughly sincere. On either side Carlyle is a man of contradictions. For an odious dead despot like Frederick, who happens to please him, he turns criticism into eulogy; and for a living poet like Wordsworth he tempers praise by spiteful criticism. [Footnote: Carlyle’s praise of Wordsworth’s “fine, wholesome rusticity” is often quoted, but only in part. If you read the whole passage (in _Reminiscences_) you will find the effect of Carlyle’s praise wholly spoiled by a heartless dissection of a poet, with whom, as Carlyle confessed, he had very slight acquaintance.] He writes a score of letters to show that his grief is too deep for words. He is voluble on “the infinite virtue of silence.” He proclaims to-day that he “will write no word on any subject till he has studied it to the bottom,” and to-morrow will pronounce judgment on America or science or some other matter of which he knows nothing. In all this Carlyle sees no inconsistency; he is sincere in either role, of prophet or stump speaker, and even thinks that humor is one of his prime qualities.
[Illustration: ARCH HOME, ECCLEFECHAN The birthplace of Carlyle]
Another matter to remember is Carlyle’s constant motive rather than his constant mistakes. He had the gloomy conviction that he was ordained to cry out against the shams of society; and as most modern things appeared to him as shams, he had to be very busy. Moreover, he had an eye like a hawk for the small failings of men, especially of living men, but was almost blind to their large virtues. This hawklike vision, which ignores all large matters in a swoop on some petty object, accounts for two things: for the marvelous detail of Carlyle’s portraits, and for his merciless criticism of the faults of society in general, and of the Victorian age in particular.
Such a writer invites both applause and opposition, and in Carlyle’s case the one is as hearty as the other. The only point on which critics are fairly well agreed is that his rugged independence of mind and his picturesque style appealed powerfully to a small circle of readers in England and to a large circle in America. It is doubtful whether any other essayist, with the possible exception of the serene and hopeful Emerson, had a more stimulating influence on the thought of the latter half of the nineteenth century.
* * * * *
JOHN RUSKIN (1819-1900)
The prose of Ruskin is a treasure house. Nature portrayed as everyman’s Holy Land; descriptions of mountain or landscape, and more beautiful descriptions of leaf or lichen or the glint of light on a breaking wave; appreciations of literature, and finer appreciations of life itself; startling views of art, and more revolutionary views of that frightful waste of human life and labor which we call political economy,–all these and many more impressions of nature, art and human society are eloquently recorded in the ten thousand pages which are the work of Ruskin’s hand.
If you would know the secret that binds all his work together, it may be expressed in two words, sensitiveness and sincerity. From childhood Ruskin was extremely sensitive to both beauty and ugliness. The beauty of the world and of all noble things that ever were accomplished in the world affected him like music; but he shrank, as if from a blow, from all sordidness and evil, from the mammon-worship of trade, from the cloud of smoke that hung over a factory district as if trying to shield from the eye of heaven so much needless poverty and aimless toil below. So Ruskin was a man halting between two opinions: the artist in him was forever troubled by the reformer seeking to make the crooked places of life straight and its rough places plain. He made as many mistakes as another man; in his pages you may light upon error or vagary; but you will find nothing to make you doubt his entire sincerity, his desire to speak truth, his passion for helping his fellow men.
LIFE. The early training of Ruskin may explain both the strength and the weakness of his work. His father was a wealthy wine merchant, his mother a devout woman with puritanic ideas of duty. Both parents were of Scottish and, as Ruskin boasted, of plebeian descent. They had but one child, and in training him they used a strange mixture of severity and coddling, of wisdom and nonsense.
The young Ruskin was kept apart from other boys and from the sports which breed a modesty of one’s own opinion; his time, work and lonely play were minutely regulated; the slightest infringement of rules brought the stern discipline of rod or reproof. On the other hand he was given the best pictures and the best books; he was taken on luxurious journeys through England and the Continent; he was furnished with tutors for any study to which he turned his mind. When he went up to Oxford, at seventeen, he knew many things which are Greek to the ordinary boy, but was ignorant of almost everything that a boy knows, and that a man finds useful in dealing with the world.
[Illustration: JOHN RUSKIN
From a photograph by Elliott and Fry]
[Sidenote: TRAINING AND ITS RESULTS]
There were several results of this early discipline. One was Ruskin’s devotion to art, which came from his familiarity with pictures and galleries; another was his minute study of natural objects, which were to him in place of toys; a third was his habit of “speaking his mind” on every subject; a fourth was his rhythmic prose style, which came largely from his daily habit of memorizing the Bible. Still another result of his lonely magnificence, in which he was deprived of boys’ society, was that his affection went out on a flood tide of romance to the first attractive girl he met. So he loved, and was laughed at, and was desperately unhappy. Then he married, not the woman of his choice, but one whom his parents picked out for him. The tastes of the couple were hopelessly different; the end was estrangement, with humiliation and sorrow for Ruskin.
[Sidenote: TWENTY YEARS OF ART]
At twenty-four he produced his first important work, _Modern Painters_ (1843), which he began as a defense of the neglected artist Turner. This controversial book led Ruskin to a deeper study of his subject, which resulted in four more volumes on modern painting. Before these were completed he had “fairly created a new literature of art” by his _Seven Lamps of Architecture_ and _Stones of Venice_. He was appointed professor of fine arts at Oxford; he gave several series of lectures which appeared later as _Lectures on Architecture and Painting_, _Michael Angelo and Tintoret_, _Val d’Arno_ and _The Art of England_.
By this time he was renowned as an art critic; but his theories were strongly opposed and he was continually in hot water. In his zeal to defend Turner or Millais or Burne-Jones he was rather slashing in his criticism of other artists. The libel suit brought against him by Whistler, whom he described as a coxcomb who flung a pot of paint in the face of the public, is still talked about in England. The jury (fancy a jury wrestling with a question of art!) found Ruskin guilty, and decided that he should pay for the artist’s damaged reputation the sum of one farthing. Whistler ever afterwards wore the coin on his watch chain.
[Sidenote: RUSKIN THE REFORMER]
It was about the year 1860 that Ruskin came under the influence of Carlyle, and then began the effort at social reform which made wreck of fame and hope and peace of mind. Carlyle had merely preached of manual work; but Ruskin, wholehearted in whatever he did, went out to mend roads and do other useful tasks to show his belief in the doctrine. Carlyle railed against the industrial system of England; but Ruskin devoted his fortune to remedying its evils. He established model tenements; he founded libraries and centers of recreation for workingmen; he took women and children out of factories and set them to spinning or weaving in their own homes; he founded St. George’s Guild, a well-housed community which combined work with education, and which shared profits fairly among the workers.
England at first rubbed its eyes at these reforms, then shrugged its shoulders as at a harmless kind of madman. But Ruskin had the temper of a crusader; his sword was out against what was even then called “vested interests,” and presently his theories aroused a tempest of opposition. Thackeray, who as editor of the _Cornhill Magazine_ had gladly published Ruskin’s first economic essays, was forced by the clamor of readers to discontinue the series. [Footnote: While these essays were appearing, there was published (1864) a textbook of English literature. It spoke well of Ruskin’s books of art, but added, “Of late he has lost his way and has written things–papers in the _Cornhill_ chiefly–which are not likely to add to his fame as a writer or to his character as a man of common sense” (Collier, _History of English Literature_, p. 512).] To this reform period belong _Unto This Last_ and other books dealing with political economy, and also _Sesame and Lilies_, _Crown of Wild Olive_ and _Ethics of the Dust_, which were written chiefly for young people.
[Sidenote: END OF THE CRUSADE]
For twenty years this crusade continued; then, worn out and misunderstood by both capitalists and workingmen, Ruskin retired (1879) to a small estate called “Brantwood” in the Lake District, His fortune had been spent in his attempt to improve labor conditions, and he lived now upon the modest income from his books. Before he died, in 1900, his friend Charles Eliot Norton persuaded him to write the story of his early life in _Praterita_. The title is strange, but the book itself is, with one exception, the most interesting of Ruskin’s works.
WORKS OF RUSKIN. The works of Ruskin fall naturally into three classes, which are called criticisms of art, industry and life, but which are, in fact, profound studies of the origin and meaning of art on the one hand, and of the infinite value of human life on the other.
The most popular of his art criticisms are _St. Mark’s Rest_ and _Mornings in Florence_, which are widely used as guidebooks, and which may be postponed until the happy time when, in Venice or Florence, one may read them to best advantage. Meanwhile, in _Seven Lamps of Architecture_ or _Stones of Venice_ or the first two volumes of _Modern Painters_, one may grow acquainted with Ruskin’s theory of art.
[Sidenote: HIS THEORY OF ART]
His fundamental principle was summarized by Pope in the line, “All nature is but art unknown to thee.” That nature is the artist’s source of inspiration, that art at its best can but copy some natural beauty, and that the copy should be preceded by careful and loving study of the original,–this was the sum of his early teaching. Next, Ruskin looked within the soul of the artist and announced that true art has a spiritual motive, that it springs from the noblest ideals of life, that the moral value of any people may be read in the pictures or buildings which they produced. A third principle was that the best works of art, reflecting as they do the ideals of a community, should belong to the people, not to a few collectors; and a fourth exalted the usefulness of art in increasing not only the pleasure but the power of life. So Ruskin urged that art be taught in all schools and workshops, and that every man be encouraged to put the stamp of beauty as well as of utility upon the work of his hands; so also he formulated a plan to abolish factories, and by a system of hand labor to give every worker the chance and the joy of self-expression.
[Sidenote: THEORY OF ECONOMICS]
In his theory of economics Ruskin was even more revolutionary. He wrote several works on the subject, but the sum of his teaching may be found in _Unto This Last_; and the sum is that political economy is merely commercial economy; that it aims to increase trade and wealth at the expense of men and morals. “There is no wealth but life,” announced Ruskin, “life including all its power of love, of joy and of admiration.” And with minute exactness he outlined a plan for making the nation wealthy, not by more factories and ships, but by increasing the health and happiness of human beings.
Three quarters of a century earlier Thomas Jefferson, in America, had pleaded for the same ideal of national wealth, and had characterized the race of the nations for commercial supremacy as a contagion of insanity. Jefferson was called a demagogue, Ruskin a madman; but both men were profoundly right in estimating the wealth of a nation by its store of happiness for home consumption rather than by its store of goods for export. They were misunderstood because they were too far in advance of their age to speak its trade language. They belong not to the past or present, but to the future.
[Sidenote: FOR YOUNG READERS]
If but one work of Ruskin is to be read, let it be _Sesame and Lilies_ (1865), which is one of the books that no intelligent reader can afford to neglect. The first chapter, “Of Kings’ Treasuries,” is a noble essay on the subject of reading. The second, “Of Queens’ Gardens,” is a study of woman’s life and education, a study which may appear old-fashioned now, but which has so much of truth and beauty that it must again, like Colonial furniture, become our best fashion. These two essays [Footnote: A third essay, “The Mystery of Life,” was added to _Sesame and Lilies_. It is a sad, despairing monologue, and the book might be better off without it.] contain Ruskin’s best thought on books and womanly character, and also an outline of his teaching on nature, art and society. If we read _Sesame and Lilies_ in connection with two other little books, _Crown of Wild Olive_, which treats of work, trade and war, and _Ethics of the Dust_, which deals with housekeeping, we shall have the best that Ruskin produced for his younger disciples.
THE QUALITY OF RUSKIN. To the sensitiveness and sincerity of Ruskin we have already called attention. There is a third quality which appears frequently, and which we call pedagogical insistence, because the author seems to labor under the impression that he must drive something into one’s head.
This insistent note is apt to offend readers until they learn of Ruskin’s motive and experience. He lived in a commercial age, an age that seemed to him blind to the beauty of the world; and the purpose of his whole life was, as he said, to help those who, having eyes, see not. His aim was high, his effort heroic; but for all his pains he was called a visionary, a man with a dream book. Yet he was always exact and specific. He would say, “Go to a certain spot at a certain hour, look in a certain direction, and such and such beauties shall ye see.” And people would go, and wag their heads, and declare that no such prospect as Ruskin described was visible to mortal eyes. [Footnote: For example, Ruskin gave in _Fors Clavigera_ a description of a beautiful view from a bridge over the Ettrick, in Scotland. Some people have sought that view in vain, and a recent critic insists that it is invisible (Andrew Lang, _History of English Literature_, p. 592). In Venice or Florence you may still meet travelers with one of Ruskin’s books in hand, peering about for the beauty which he says is apparent from such and such a spot and which every traveler ought to see.]
Naturally Ruskin, with his dogmatic temper, grew impatient of such blindness; hence the increasing note of insistence, of scolding even, to which critics have called attention. But we can forgive much in a writer who, with marvelously clear vision, sought only to point out the beauty of nature and the moral dignity of humanity.
[Sidenote: Ruskin’s Style]
The beauty of Ruskin’s style, its musical rhythm or cadence, its wealth of figure and allusion, its brilliant coloring, like a landscape of his favorite artist Turner,–all this is a source of pleasure to the reader, entirely aside from the subject matter. Read, for example, the description of St. Mark’s Cathedral in _Stones of Venice_, or the reflected glories of nature in _Praterita_, or the contrast between Salisbury towers and Giotto’s campanile in _Seven Lamps of Architecture_, and see there descriptive eloquence at its best. That this superb eloquence was devoted not to personal or party ends, but to winning men to the love of beauty and truth and right living, is the secret of Ruskin’s high place in English letters and of his enduring influence on English life.
* * * * *
SUMMARY. The age of Victoria (1837-1901) approaches our own so closely that it is still difficult to form an accurate judgment of its history or literature. In a review of the history of the age we noted three factors, democracy, science, imperialism, which have profoundly influenced English letters from 1850 to the present time.
Our study of Victorian literature includes (1) The life and works of the two greater poets of the age, Tennyson and Browning. (2) The work of Elizabeth Barrett, Matthew Arnold, Rossetti, Morris and Swinburne, who were selected from the two hundred representive poets of the period. (3) The life and the chief works of the major novelists, Dickens, Thackeray and George Eliot. (4) A review of some other novelists of the age, the Bronte Sisters, Mrs. Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, Blackmore, Kingsley, Meredith, Hardy and Stevenson. (5) The typical essayists and historians, Macaulay, Carlyle, Ruskin, with a review of other typical groups of writers in the fields of religion, history and science.
SELECTIONS FOR READING. Typical selections from all authors named in the text are found in Manly, English Poetry, English Prose; Pancoast, Standard English Poems, Standard English Prose; and several other collections, which are especially useful in a study of the minor writers. The works of the major authors may be read to much better advantage in various inexpensive editions prepared for school use. Only a few such editions are named below for each author, but a fairly complete list is given under Texts in the General Bibliography.
Tennyson’s selected minor poems, Idylls of the King, The Princess and In Memoriam, in Standard English Classics, Riverside Literature, Pocket Classics, Silver Classics. A good volume containing the best of Tennyson’s poems in Athenaum Press Series.
Browning and Mrs. Browning, selected poems in Standard English Classics, Lake Classics, English Readings, Belles Lettres Series.
Matthew Arnold, selected poems in Golden Treasury Series, Maynard’s English Classics; Sohrab and Rustum in Standard English Classics; prose selections in English Readings, Academy Classics.
Dickens, Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Christmas Carol in Standard English Classics, Lake Classics; other novels in Everyman’s Library.
Thackeray, Henry Esmond in Standard English Classics, Pocket Classics; English Humorists in Lake Classics, English Readings; other works in Everyman’s Library.
George Eliot, Silas Marner, in Standard English Classics, Riverside Literature; Mill on the Floss and other novels in Everyman’s Library.
Blackmore’s Lorna Doone and Mrs. Gaskell’s Cranford in Standard English Classics. Reade’s Cloister and the Hearth, Kingsley’s Westward Ho and Hypatia in Everyman’s Library.
Macaulay, selected essays in Standard English Classics, Riverside Literature, Lake Classics.
Carlyle, Essay on Burns in Standard English Classics, Academy Classics; Heroes and Hero Worship in Athenaum Press, Pocket Classics; French Revolution in Everyman’s Library.
Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies and selected essays and letters in Standard English Classics; selections from Ruskin’s art books in Riverside Literature; other works in Everyman’s Library.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. The works named below are selected from a large list dealing with the Victorian age chiefly. For more extended works see the General Bibliography.
_HISTORY_. McCarthy, History of Our Own Times and The Epoch of Reform. Oman, England in the Nineteenth Century; Lee, Queen Victoria; Bryce, Studies in Contemporary Biography.
_LITERATURE_. Saintsbury, History of Nineteenth Century Literature; Harrison, Studies in Early Victorian Literature; Mrs. Oliphant, Literary History of England in the Nineteenth Century; Walker, The Age of Tennyson; Morley, Literature of the Age of Victoria; Stedman, Victorian Poets; Brownell, Victorian Prose Masters.
_Tennyson_. Life, by Lyall (English Men of Letters Series), by Horton; Alfred Lord Tennyson, a Memoir by his Son. Napier, Homes and Haunts of Tennyson; Andrew Lang, Alfred Tennyson; Dixon, A Tennyson Primer; Sneath, The Mind of Tennyson; Van Dyke, The Poetry of Tennyson. Essays by Harrison, in Tennyson, Ruskin, Mill and Other Literary Estimates; by Stedman, in Victorian Poets; by Hutton, in Literary Essays; by Dowden, in Studies in Literature; by Forster, in Great Teachers; by Gates, in Studies and Appreciations.
_Browning_. Life, by Sharp (Great Writers Series), by Chesterton (E. M. of L.). Alexander, Introduction to Browning (Ginn and Company); Corson, Introduction to the Study of Browning; Phelps, Browning: How to Know Him; Symonds, Introduction to the Study of Browning; Brooke, Poetry of Robert Browning; Harrington, Browning Studies. Essays by Stedman, Dowden, Hutton, Forster.
_Dickens_. Life, by Forster, by Ward (E. M. of L.), by Marzials. Gissing, Charles Dickens; Chesterton, Charles Dickens; Kitton, Novels of Dickens. Essays by Harrison, Bagehot; A. Lang, in Gadshill edition of Dickens’s works.
_Thackeray_. Life, by Merivale and Marzials, by Trollope (E. M. of L.). Crowe, Homes and Haunts of Thackeray. Essays, by Brownell, in English Prose Masters; by Lilly, in Four English Humorists; by Harrison, in Studies in Early Victorian Literature; by Scudder, in Social Ideals in English Letters.
_George Eliot_. Life, by L. Stephen (E. M. of L.), by O. Browning, by Cross. Cooke, George Eliot: a Critical Study of her Life and Writings. Essays by Brownell, Harrison, Dowden, Hutton.
_Macaulay_. Life, by Trevelyan, by Morrison (E. M. of L.). Essays by L. Stephen, Bagehot, Saintsbury, Harrison, M. Arnold.
_Carlyle_. Life, by Garnett, by Nichol (E. M. of L.), by Froude. Carlyle’s Letters and Reminiscences, edited by Norton. Craig, The Making of Carlyle. Essays by Lowell, Brownell, Hutton, Harrison.
_Ruskin_. Life, by Harrison (E. M. of L.), by Collingwood. Ruskin’s Praterita (autobiography). Mather, Ruskin, his Life and Teaching; Cooke, Studies in Ruskin; Waldstein, The Work of John Ruskin; W. M. Rossetti, Ruskin, Rossetti and Pre-Raphaelitism. Essays by Brownell, Saintsbury, Forster, Harrison.
* * * * *
Books dealing with individual authors and with special periods of English literature are listed in the various chapter endings of this history. Following are some of the best works for general reference, for extended study and for supplementary reading.
_HISTORY_. A brief, trustworthy textbook of history, such as Cheyney’s Short History of England (Ginn and Company) or Gardiner’s Student’s History (Longmans), should always be at hand in studying English literature. More detailed works are Traill, Social England, 6 vols. (Putnam); Bright, History of England, 5 vols. (Longmans); Green, History of the English People, 4 vols. (Harper); Green, Short History of the English People, revised edition, 1 vol. (American Book Co.); latest revision of Green’s Short History, with appendix of recent events to 1900, in Everyman’s Library (Putnam); Kendall, Source Book of English History (Macmillan); Colby, Selections from the Sources of English History (Longmans); Lingard, History of England, to 1688, 10 vols. (a standard Catholic history). Mitchell, English Lands, Letters and Kings, 5 vols. (Scribner), a series of pleasant essays of history and literature.
_LITERARY HISTORY_. Cambridge History of English Literature, to be completed in 14 vols. (Putnam), by different authors, not always in harmony; Channels of English Literature (Button) treats of epic, drama, history, essay, novel and other types, each in a separate volume; Jusserand, Literary History of the English People, to 1650, 2 vols. (Putnam), a fascinating record; Ten Brink, English Literature, to 1550, 3 vols. (Holt), good material, clumsy style; Taine, English Literature, 2 vols. (Holt), brilliant but not trustworthy; Handbooks of English Literature, 9 vols. (Macmillan); Garnett and Gosse, Illustrated History of English Literature, 4 bulky volumes (Macmillan), good for pictures; Nicoll and Seccombe, History of English Literature, from Chaucer to end of Victorian era, 3 vols. (Dodd); Morley, English Writers, to 1650, 11 vols. (Cassell); Chambers, Cyclopedia of English Literature, 3 vols. (Lippincott).
_BIOGRAPHY_. Dictionary of National Biography, 63 vols. (Macmillan). English Men of Letters, a volume to each author (Macmillan); briefer series of the same kind are Great Writers (Scribner), Beacon Biographies (Houghton), Westminster Biographies (Small). Allibone, Dictionary of Authors, 5 vols. (Lippincott). Hinchman and Gummere, Lives of Great English Writers (Houghton), offers thirty-eight biographies in a single volume.
_LITERARY TYPES_. Courthope, History of English Poetry, 4 vols. (Macmillan); Gummere, Handbook of Poetics (Ginn and Company); Stedman, Nature and Elements of Poetry (Houghton); Saintsbury, History of English Prosody (Macmillan); Alden, Specimens of English Verse (Holt).
Steenstrup, The Mediaval Popular Ballad, translated from the Danish by Edward Cox (Ginn and Company); Gummere, The Popular Ballad (Houghton). Ward, History of Dramatic Literature, to 1714, 3 vols. (Macmillan); Caffin, Appreciation of the Drama (Baker).
Raleigh, The English Novel (Scribner); Hamilton, Materials and Methods of Fiction (Baker); Cross, Development of the English Novel (Macmillan); Perry, Study of Prose Fiction (Houghton).
Saintsbury, History of Criticism, 3 vols. (Dodd); Gayley and Scott, Introduction to Methods and Materials of Literary Criticism (Ginn and Company); Winchester, Principles of Criticism (Macmillan); Worsfold, Principles of Criticism (Longmans); Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism, 8 vols. (Malkan).
_ESSAYS OF LITERATURE_. Bagehot, Literary Studies; Hazlitt, Lectures on the English poets; Lowell, Literary Essays; Mackail, Springs of Helicon (English poets from Chaucer to Milton); Minto, Characteristics of English Poets (Chaucer to Elizabethan dramatists); Matthew Arnold, Essays in Criticism; Leslie Stephen, Hours in a Library; Stevenson, Familiar Studies of Men and Books; Birrell, Obiter Dicta; Hales, Folia Litteraria; Walter Pater, Appreciations; Woodberry, Makers of Literature; Dowden, Studies in Literature and Transcripts and Studies; Gates, Studies in Appreciation; Harrison, The Choice of Books; Bates, Talks on the Study of Literature.
_COLLECTIONS OF POETRY AND PROSE_. Manly, English Poetry, English Prose, 2 vols., containing selections from all important English authors (Ginn and Company); Newcomer and Andrews, Twelve Centuries of English Poetry and Prose (Scott); Century Readings in English Literature (Century Co.); Pancoast, Standard English Poetry, Standard English Prose, 2 vols. (Holt); Leading English Poets from Chaucer to Browning (Houghton); Oxford Book of English Verse. Oxford Treasury of English Literature, 3 vols. (Clarendon Press); Ward, English Poets, 4 vols., and Craik, English Prose Selections, 5 vols. (Macmillan); Morley, Library of English Literature, 5 vols. (Cassell).
_LANGUAGE_. Lounsbury, History of the English Language (Holt); Emerson, Brief History of the English Language (Macmillan); Welsh, Development of English Language and Literature (Scott); Bradley, Making of English (Macmillan); Greenough and Kittredge, Words and their Ways in English Speech (Macmillan); Anderson, Study of English Words (American Book Co.).
_MISCELLANEOUS_. Classic Myths in English Literature (Ginn and Company); Ryland, Chronological Outlines of English Literature, names and dates only (Macmillan); Raleigh, Style (Longmans); Brewer, Reader’s Handbook (Lippincott); Hutton, Literary Landmarks of London (Harper); Boynton, London in English Literature (University of Chicago Press); Dalbiac, Dictionary of English Quotations (Macmillan); Bartlett, Familiar Quotations (Little); Walsh, International Encyclopedia of Quotations (Winston).
_SCHOOL TEXTS_. [Footnote: The chief works of English and American literature are now widely published in inexpensive editions prepared especially for classroom use. Descriptive catalogues of these handy little editions are issued by the various educational publishers.] Standard English Classics and Athenaum Press Series (Ginn and Company); Riverside Literature (Houghton); Pocket Classics, Golden Treasury Series (Macmillan); Lake Classics (Scott); Silver Classics (Silver); Longmans’ English Classics (Longmans); English Readings (Holt); Maynard’s English Classics (Merrill); Caxton Classics (Scribner); Belles Lettres Series (Heath); King’s Classics (Luce); Canterbury Classics (Rand); Academy Classics (Allyn); Cambridge Literature (Sanborn); Student’s Series (Sibley); Camelot Series (Simmons); Carisbrooke Library (Routledge); World’s Classics (Clarendon Press); Lakeside Classics (Ainsworth); Standard Literature (University Publishing Company); Eclectic English Classics (American Book Co.); Cassell’s National Library (Cassell); Everyman’s Library (Button); Morley’s Universal Library (Routledge); Bohn Library (Macmillan); Little Masterpieces (Doubleday); Handy Volume Classics (Crowell); Arthurian Romances (Nutt); New Mediaval Library (Duffield); Arber’s English Reprints (Macmillan); Mermaid Dramatists (Scribner); Temple Dramatists (Macmillan); Home and School Library, a series of texts prepared for young readers (Ginn and Company).
* * * * *
OUTLINES OF AMERICAN LITERATURE
THE PIONEERS AND NATION-BUILDERS
‘Twas glory once to be a Roman:
She makes it glory now to be a man.
Bayard Taylor, “America”
We have this double interest in early American literature, that it is our own and unlike any other. The literatures of Europe began with wonder tales of a golden age, with stories of fairy ships, of kings akin to gods, of heroes who ventured into enchanted regions and there waged battle with dragons or the powers of darkness. American literature began with historical records, with letters of love and friendship, with diaries or journals of exploration, with elegiac poems lamenting the death of beloved leaders or hearth companions,–in a word, with the chronicles of human experience. In this respect, of recording the facts and the truth of life as men and women fronted life bravely in the New World, our early literature differs radically from that of any other great nation: it brings us face to face not with myths or shadows but with our ancestors.
TWO VIEWS OF THE PIONEERS. It has become almost a habit among historians to disparage early American literature, and nearly all our textbooks apologize for it on the ground that the forefathers had no artistic feeling, their souls being oppressed by the gloom and rigor of Puritanism.
Even as we read this apology our eyes rest contentedly upon a beautiful old piece of Colonial furniture, fashioned most artistically by the very men who are pitied for their want of art. We remember also that the Puritans furnished only one of several strong elements in early American life, and that wherever the Puritan influence was strongest there books and literary culture did most abound: their private libraries, for example, make our own appear rather small and trashy by comparison. [Footnote: When Plymouth consisted of a score of cabins and a meetinghouse it had at least two excellent libraries. Bradford had over three hundred books, and Brewster four hundred, consisting of works of poetry, philosophy, science, devotion, and miscellanies covering the entire field of human knowledge. In view of the scarcity of books in 1620, one of these collections, which were common in all the New England settlements, was equivalent to a modern library of thirty or forty thousand volumes.] Cotton Mather, disciplined in the strictest of Puritan homes, wrote his poems in Greek, conducted a large foreign correspondence in Latin, read enormously, published four hundred works, and in thousands of citations proved himself intimate with the world’s books of poetry and history, science and religion. That the leaders of the colonies, south and north, were masters of an excellent prose style is evident from their own records; that their style was influenced by their familiarity with the best literature appears in many ways,–in the immense collection of books in Byrd’s mansion in Virginia, for instance, or in the abundant quotations that are found in nearly all Colonial writings. Before entering college (and there was never another land with so few people and so many colleges as Colonial America) boys of fourteen passed a classical examination which few graduates would now care to face; and the men of our early legislatures produced state papers which for force of reasoning and lucidity of expression have never been surpassed.
[Sidenote: THE QUESTION OF ART]
Again, our whole conception of American art may be modified by these considerations: that it requires more genius to build a free state than to make a sonnet, and the Colonists were mighty state-builders; that a ship is a beautiful object, and American ships with their graceful lines and towering clouds of canvas were once famous the world over; that architecture is a noble art, and Colonial architecture still charms us by its beauty and utility after three hundred years of experimental building. “Art” is a great word, and we use it too narrowly when we apply it to an ode of Shelley or a mutilated statue of Praxiteles, but are silent before a Colonial church or a free commonwealth or the Constitution of the United States.
[Illustration: ENTRANCE TO “WESTOVER,” HOME OF WILLIAM BYRD]
Instead of an apology for our early literature, therefore, we offer this possible explanation: that our forefathers, who set their faces to one of the most heroic tasks ever undertaken by man, were too busy with great deeds inspired by the ideal of liberty to find leisure for the epic or drama in which the deeds and the ideal should be worthily reflected. They left that work of commemoration to others, and they are still waiting patiently for their poet. Meanwhile we read the straightforward record which they left as their only literary memorial, not as we read the imaginative story of Beowulf or Ulysses, but for the clear light of truth which it sheds upon the fathers and mothers of a great nation.
* * * * *
THE COLONIAL PERIOD (1607-1765)
The Colonial period extends from the first English settlement at Jamestown to the Stamp Act and other measures of “taxation without representation” which tended to unite the colonies and arouse the sleeping spirit of nationality. During this century and a half the Elizabethan dramatists produced their best work; Milton, Bunyan, Dryden and a score of lesser writers were adding to the wealth of English literature; but not a single noteworthy volume crossed the Atlantic to reflect in Europe the lyric of the wilderness, the drama of the commonwealth, the epic of democracy. Such books as were written here dealt largely with matters of religion, government and exploration; and we shall hardly read these books with sympathy, and therefore with understanding, unless we remember two facts: that the Colonists, grown weary of ancient tyranny, were determined to write a new page in the world’s history; and that they reverently believed God had called them to make that new page record the triumph of freedom and manhood. Hence the historical impulse and the moral or religious bent of nearly all our early writers.
[Illustration: PLYMOUTH IN 1662. BRADFORD’S HOUSE ON RIGHT]
ANNALISTS AND HISTORIANS. Of the fifty or more annalists of the period we select two as typical of the rest. The first is William Bradford (_cir_. 1590-1657), a noble and learned man, at one time governor of the Plymouth Colony. In collaboration with Winslow he wrote a Journal of the _Mayflower’s_ voyage (long known as _Mourt’s Relation_), and he continued this work independently by writing _Of Plimouth Plantation_, a ruggedly sincere history of the trials and triumph of the Pilgrim Fathers. The second annalist is William Byrd (1674-1744), who, a century after Bradford, wrote his _History of the Dividing Line_ and two other breezy Journals that depict with equal ease and gayety the southern society of the early days and the march or campfire scenes of an exploring party in the wilderness.
[Illustration: WILLIAM BYRD]
These two writers unconsciously reflected two distinct influences in Colonial literature, which are epitomized in the words “Puritan” and “Cavalier.” Bradford, though a Pilgrim (not a Puritan), was profoundly influenced by the puritanic spirit of his age, with its militant independence, its zeal for liberty and righteousness, its confidence in the divine guidance of human affairs. When he wrote his history, therefore, he was in the mood of one to whom the Lord had said, as to Abraham, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house; and I will make of thee a great nation.” Byrd, though born and bred in democratic Virginia, had in him something of the aristocrat. He reminds us of the gay Cavaliers who left England to escape the stern discipline of Cromwell and the triumphant Puritans. When he looked forth upon his goodly plantation, or upon the wilderness with its teeming game, he saw them not with the eyes of prophet or evangelist, but as one who remembered that it was written, “And God saw everything that he had made; and behold it was very good.” So he wrote his Journal in an entertaining way, making the best of misfortune, cracking a joke at difficulty or danger, and was well content to reflect this pleasant world without taking it upon his conscience to criticize or reform it.
The same two types of Cavalier and Puritan appear constantly in our own and other literatures as representative of two world-views, two philosophies. Chaucer and Langland were early examples in English poetry, the one with his _Canterbury Tales_, the other with his _Piers Plowman_; and ever since then the same two classes of writers have been reflecting the same life from two different angles. They are not English or American but human types; they appear in every age and in every free nation.
COLONIAL POETRY. There were several recognized poets in Colonial days, and even the annalists and theologians had a rhyming fancy which often broke loose from the bounds of prose. The quantity of Colonial verse is therefore respectable, but the quality of it suffered from two causes: first, the writers overlooked the feeling of their own hearts (the true source of lyric poetry) and wrote of Indian wars, theology and other unpoetic matters; second, they wrote poetry not for its own sake but to teach moral or religious lessons. [Footnote: The above criticism applies only to poetry written in English for ordinary readers. At that time many college men wrote poetry in Greek and Latin, and the quality of it compares favorably with similar poetry written in England during the same period. Several specimens of this “scholars’ poetry” are preserved in Mather’s _Magnalia_; and there is one remarkable poem, in Greek, which was written in Harvard College by an Indian (one of Eliot’s “boys”) who a few years earlier had been a whooping savage.] Thus, the most widely read poem of the period was _The Day of Doom_, which aimed frankly to recall sinners from their evil ways by holding before their eyes the terrors of the last judgment. It was written by Michael Wigglesworth in 1662. This man, who lived a heroic but melancholy life, had a vein of true poetry in him, as when he wrote his “Dear New England, Dearest Land to Me,” and from his bed of suffering sent out the call to his people:
Cheer on, brave souls, my heart is with you all.
But he was too much absorbed in stern theological dogmas to find the beauty of life or the gold of poesie; and his masterpiece, once prized by an immense circle of readers, seems now a grotesque affair, which might appear even horrible were it not rendered harmless by its jigging, Yankee-Doodle versification.
The most extravagantly praised versifier of the age, and the first to win a reputation in England as well as in America, was Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672), who wrote a book of poems that a London publisher proudly issued under the title of _The Tenth Muse_ (1650). The best of Colonial poets was Thomas Godfrey of Philadelphia (1736-1763), whose _Juvenile Poems, with the Prince of Parthia, a Tragedy_ contained a few lyrics, odes and pastorals that were different in form and spirit from anything hitherto attempted on this side of the Atlantic. This slender volume was published in 1765, soon after Godfrey’s untimely death. With its evident love of beauty and its carefulness of poetic form, it marks the beginning here of artistic literature; that is, literature which was written to please readers rather than to teach history or moral lessons.
NATURE AND HUMAN NATURE. In the literature of the world the two subjects of abiding poetic interest are nature and human nature; but as these subjects appear in Colonial records they are uniformly prosaic, and the reason is very simple. Before nature can be the theme of poets she must assume her winsome mood, must “soothe and heal and bless” the human heart after the clamor of politics, the weariness of trade, the cruel strife of society. To read Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” or Bryant’s “To a Waterfowl” is to understand the above criticism. But the nature which the Colonists first looked upon seemed wild and strange and often terrible. Their somber forests were vast, mysterious, forbidding; and they knew not what perils lurked in them or beyond them. The new climate might give them sunshine or healing rain, but was quite as likely to strike their houses with thunderbolts or harrow their harvests with a cyclone. Meanwhile marauding crows pulled up their precious corn; fierce owls with tufted heads preyed upon their poultry; bears and eagles harried their flocks; the winter wail of the wolf pack or the scream of a hungry panther, sounding through icy, echoless woods, made them shiver in their cabins and draw nearer the blazing fire of pine knots on the hearth.
[Illustration: NEW AMSTERDAM (NEW YORK) IN 1663]
We can understand, therefore, why there was little poetry of nature in Colonial literature, and why, instead of sonnets to moonbeams or nightingales, we meet quaint and fascinating studies of natural or unnatural history. Such are Josselyn’s _New England’s Rarities Discovered_ and the first part of William Wood’s _New England’s Prospect_; and such are many chapters of Byrd’s _Dividing Line_ and other annals that deal with plant or animal life,–books that we now read with pleasure, since the nature that was once wild and strange has become in our eyes familiar and dear.
As for the second subject of poetic interest, human nature, the Colonists had as much of that as any other people; but human nature as it revealed itself in religious controversy, or became a burden in the immigrants that were unloaded on our shores for the relief of Europe or the enrichment of the early transportation companies, as Bradford and Beverley both tell us,–this furnished a vital subject not for poetry but for prose and protest.
[Sidenote: THE INDIANS]
The Indians especially, “the wild men” as they were called, slipping out of the shadows or vanishing into mysterious distances, were a source of anxiety and endless speculation to the early settlers. European writers like Rousseau, who had never seen an Indian or heard a war-whoop, had been industrious in idealizing the savages, attributing to them all manner of noble virtues; and the sentimental attitude of these foreign writers was reflected here, after the eastern Indians had well-nigh vanished, in such stories as Mrs. Morton’s _Quabi, or The Virtues of Nature_, a romance in verse which was published in 1790. In the same romantic strain are Cooper’s _Last of the Mohicans_, Helen Hunt’s _Ramona_ and some of the early poems of Freneau and Whittier.
The Colonists, on the other hand, had no poetic illusions about the savages. Their enjoyment of this phase of human nature was hardly possible so long as they had to proceed warily on a forest trail, their eyes keen for the first glimpse of a hideously painted face, their ears alert for the twang of a bowstring or the hiss of a feathered arrow. Their deep but practical interest in the Indians found expression in scores of books, which fall roughly into three groups. In the first are the scholarly works of the heroic John Eliot, “the apostle to the Indians”; of Daniel Gookin also, and of a few others who made careful studies of the language and customs of the various Indian tribes. In the second group are the startling experiences of men and women who were carried away by the savages, leaving slaughtered children and burning homes behind them. Such are Mary Rowlandson’s _The Sovereignty and Goodness of God_ and John Williams’s _The Redeemed Captive_, both famous in their day, and still of lively interest. In the third group are the fighting stories, such as John Mason’s _History of the Pequot War_. The adventures and hairbreadth escapes recorded as sober facts in these narratives were an excellent substitute for fiction during the Colonial period. Moreover, they furnished a motive and method for the Indian tales and Wild West stories which have since appeared as the sands of the sea for multitude.
RELIGIOUS WRITERS. A very large part of our early writings is devoted to religious subjects, and for an excellent reason; namely, that large numbers of the Colonists came to America to escape religious strife or persecution at home. In the New World they sought religious peace as well as freedom of worship, and were determined to secure it not only for themselves but for their children’s children. Hence in nearly all their writings the religious motive was uppermost. Hardly were they settled here, however, when they were rudely disturbed by agitators who fomented discord by preaching each his own pet doctrine or heresy. Presently arose a score of controversial writers; and then Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams and the early Quakers were disciplined or banished, not because of their faith (for the fact is that all the colonies contained men of widely different beliefs who lived peaceably together), but because these unbalanced reformers were obstinately bent upon stirring up strife in a community which had crossed three thousand miles of ocean in search of peace.
Of the theological writers we again select two, not because they were typical,–for it is hard to determine who, among the hundred writers that fronted the burning question of religious tolerance, were representative of their age,–but simply because they towered head and shoulders above their contemporaries. These are Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards; the one the most busy man of his age in politics, religion, education and all philanthropic endeavor; the other a profound thinker, who was in the world but not of it, and who devoted the great powers of his mind to such problems as the freedom of the human will and the origin of the religious impulse in humanity.
[Illustration: COTTON MATHER]
[Sidenote: COTTON MATHER]
Cotton Mather (1663-1728) is commonly known by his _Wonders of the Invisible World_, which dealt with the matter of demons and witchcraft; but that is one of the least of his four hundred works, and it has given a wrong impression of the author and of the age in which he lived. His chief work is the _Magnalia Christi Americana, or the Ecclesiastical History of New England_ (1702), which is a strange jumble of patriotism and pedantry, of wisdom and foolishness, written in the fantastic style of Robert Burton’s _Anatomy of Melancholy_. The most interesting and valuable parts of this chaotic work are the second and third books, which give us the life stories of Bradford, Winthrop, Eliot, Phipps and many other heroic worthies who helped mightily in laying the foundation of the American republic.
[Illustration: JONATHAN EDWARDS]
The most famous works of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) are the so-called _Freedom of the Will_ and the _Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections_; but these are hard reading, not to be lightly undertaken. It is from the author’s minor and neglected works that one receives the impression that he was a very great and noble man, shackled by a terrible theology. By his scholarship, his rare sincerity, his love of truth, his original mind and his transparent style of writing he exercised probably a greater influence at home and abroad than any other writer of the colonial era. In Whittier’s poem “The Preacher” there is a tribute to the tender humanity of Edwards, following this picture of his stern thinking:
In the church of the wilderness Edwards wrought, Shaping his creed at the forge of thought; And with Thor’s own hammer welded and bent The iron links of his argument,
Which strove to grasp in its mighty span The purpose of God and the fate of man.
* * * * *
THE REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD (1765-1800)
The literary period included in the above term is, in general, the latter half of the eighteenth century; more particularly it extends from the Stamp Act (1765), which united the colonies in opposition to Britain’s policy of taxation, to the adoption of the Constitution (1787) and the inauguration of Washington as first president of the new nation.
[Sidenote: PARTY LITERATURE]
The writings of this stormy period reflect the temper of two very different classes who were engaged in constant literary Party warfare. In the tense years which preceded the Literature Revolution the American people separated into two hostile parties: the Tories, or Loyalists, who supported the mother country; and the Whigs, or Patriots, who insisted on the right of the colonies to manage their own affairs, and who furnished the armies that followed Washington in the War of Independence. Then, when America had won a place among the free nations of the world, her people were again divided on the question of the Constitution. On the one side were the Federalists, who aimed at union in the strictest sense; that is, at a strongly centralized government with immense powers over all its parts. On the other side were the Anti-Federalists, or Antis, who distrusted the monarchical tendency of every centralized government since time began, and who aimed to safeguard democracy by leaving the governing power as largely as possible in the hands of the several states. It is necessary to have these distinctions clearly in mind in reading Revolutionary literature, for a very large part of its prose and poetry reflects the antagonistic aims or ideals of two parties which stood in constant and most bitter opposition.
In general, the literature of the Revolution is dominated by political and practical interests; it deals frankly with this present world, aims to find the best way through its difficulties, and so appears in marked contrast with the theological bent and pervasive “other worldliness” of Colonial writings.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. Standing between the two eras, and marking the transition from spiritual to practical interests, is Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), a “self-made” man, who seems well content with his handiwork. During the latter part of his life and for a century after his death he was held up to young Americans as a striking example of practical wisdom and worldly success.
[Illustration: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN]
The narrative of Franklin’s patriotic service belongs to political rather than to literary history; for though his pen was busy for almost seventy years, during which time he produced an immense amount of writing, his end was always very practical rather than aesthetic; that is, he aimed to instruct rather than to please his readers. Only one of his works is now widely known, the incomplete _Autobiography_, which is in the form of a letter telling a straightforward story of Franklin’s early life, of the disadvantages under which he labored and the industry by which he overcame them. For some reason the book has become a “classic” in our literature, and young Americans are urged to read it; though they often show an independent taste by regarding it askance. As an example of what may be accomplished by perseverance, and as a stimulus to industry in the prosaic matter of getting a living, it doubtless has its value; but one will learn nothing of love or courtesy or reverence or loyalty to high ideals by reading it; neither will one find in its self-satisfied pages any conception of the moral dignity of humanity or of the infinite value of the human soul. The chief trouble with the _Autobiography_ and most other works of Franklin is that in them mind and matter, character and reputation, virtue and prosperity, are for the most part hopelessly confounded.
On the other hand, there is a sincerity, a plain directness of style in the writings of Franklin which makes them pleasantly readable. Unlike some other apostles of “common sense” he is always courteous and of a friendly spirit; he seems to respect the reader as well as himself and, even in his argumentative or humorous passages, is almost invariably dignified in expression.
[Illustration: FRANKLIN’S SHOP]
Other works of Franklin which were once popular are the maxims of his _Poor Richard’s Almanac_, which appeared annually from 1732 to 1757. These maxims–such as “Light purse, heavy heart,” “Diligence is the mother of good luck,” “He who waits upon Fortune is never sure of a dinner,” “God helps them who help themselves,” “Honesty is the best policy,” and many others in a similar vein–were widely copied in Colonial and European publications; and to this day they give to Americans abroad a reputation for “Yankee” shrewdness. The best of them were finally strung together in the form of a discourse (the alleged speech of an old man at an auction, where people were complaining of the taxes), which under various titles, such as “The Way to Wealth” and “Father Abraham’s Speech,” has been translated into every civilized language. Following is a brief selection from which one may judge the spirit of the entire address:
“It would be thought a hard government that should tax its people one tenth part of their time, to be employed in its service; but idleness taxes many of us much more; sloth, by bringing on diseases, absolutely shortens life. Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears, while ‘The used key is always bright,’ as Poor Richard says. ‘But dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of,’ as Poor Richard says. How much more than is necessary do we spend in sleep, forgetting that the sleeping fox catches no poultry, and that there will be sleeping enough in the grave, as Poor Richard says. If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be, as Poor Richard says, the greatest prodigality; since, as he elsewhere tells us, ‘Lost time is never found again,’ and what we call time enough always proves little enough. Let us, then, be up and be doing, and doing to the purpose; so by diligence shall we do more with less perplexity. ‘Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry, all easy’; and, ‘He that riseth late must trot all day and shall scarce overtake his business at night’; while ‘Laziness travels so slowly that Poverty soon overtakes him.’ ‘Drive thy business, let not that drive thee’; and, ‘Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,’ as Poor Richard says.”
REVOLUTIONARY POETRY. The poetry of the Revolution, an abundant but weedy crop, was badly influenced by two factors: by the political strife between Patriots and Loyalists, and by the slavish imitation of Pope and other formalists who were then the models for nearly all versifiers on both sides of the Atlantic. The former influence appears in numerous ballads or narrative poems, which were as popular in the days of Washington as ever they were in the time of Robin Hood. Every important event of the Revolution was promptly celebrated in verse; but as the country was then sharply divided, almost every ballad had a Whig or a Tory twist to it. In consequence we must read two different collections, such as Moore’s _Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution_ and Sargent’s _Loyalist Poetry of the Revolution_, for supplementary views of the same great struggle.
[Sidenote: THE HARTFORD WITS]
The influence of Pope and his school is especially noticeable in the work of a group of men called the Hartford Wits, who at the beginning of our national life had the worthy ambition to create a national literature. Prominent among these so-called wits were Joel Barlow (1754-1812) and Timothy Dwight (1752-1817). In such ponderous works as Barlow’s _Columbiad_ and Dwight’s _Conquest of Canaan_, both written in mechanical rhymed couplets, we have a reflection not of the glories of American history, as the authors intended, but of two aspiring men who, without genius or humor, hoped by industry to produce poems that in size at least should be worthy of a country that stretched between two oceans.
More gifted than either of his fellow “wits” was John Trumbull (1750-1831), who had the instinct of a poet but who was led aside by the strife of Whigs and Tories into the barren field of political satire. His best-known work is _M’Fingal_ (1775), a burlesque poem in the doggerel style of Butler’s _Hudibras_, which ridiculed a Tory squire and described his barbarous punishment at the hands of a riotous mob of Whigs. It was the most widely quoted poem of the entire Revolutionary period, and is still interesting as an example of rough humor and as a reflection of the militant age in which it was produced.
By far the best poet of the Revolution was Philip Freneau (1752-1832). In his early years he took Milton instead of Pope for his poetic master; then, as his independence increased, he sought the ancient source of all poetry in the feeling of the human heart in presence of nature or human nature. In such poems as “The House of Night,” “Indian Burying Ground,” “Wild Honeysuckle,” “Eutaw Springs,” “Ruins of a Country Inn” and a few others in which he speaks from his own heart, he anticipated the work of Wordsworth, Coleridge and other leaders of what is now commonly known as the romantic revival in English poetry.
When the Revolution drew on apace Freneau abandoned his poetic dream and exercised a ferocious talent for satiric verse in lashing English generals, native Tories, royal proclamations and other matters far removed from poetry. In later years he wrote much prose also, and being a radical and outspoken democrat he became a thorn in the side of Washington and the Federal party. The bulk of his work, both prose and verse, is a red-peppery kind of commentary on the political history of the age in which he lived.
[Illustration: PHILIP FRENEAU]
ORATORS AND STATESMEN. For a full century, or from the Stamp Act to the Civil War, oratory was a potent influence in molding our national life; and unlike other influences, which grow by slow degrees, it sprang into vigorous life in the period of intense agitation that preceded the Revolution. Never before or since has the power of the spoken word been more manifest than during the years when questions of state were debated, not by kings or counselors behind closed doors, but by representative men in open assembly, by farmers and artisans in town halls fronting a village green, by scholarly ministers in the pulpits of churches whose white steeples with their golden vanes spoke silently, ceaselessly, of God and Freedom as the two motives which had inspired the fathers to brave the perils of a savage wilderness.
Among the most famous addresses of the age were the speech of James Otis in the town hall at Boston (1761) and the “Liberty or Death” speech of Patrick Henry to the Virginia burgesses assembled in St. John’s church in Richmond (1775). To compare these stirring appeals to patriotism with the parliamentary addresses of a brilliant contemporary, Edmund Burke, is to note a striking difference between English and American oratory of the period, the one charming the ear by its eloquence, the other rousing the will to action like a bugle call.
[Illustration: THOMAS JEFFERSON]
The statesmen of the Revolution, that glorious band whom Washington led, were also voluminous writers and masters of a clear, forceful style; but it would probably surprise them now to find themselves included in a history of literature. In truth, they hardly belong there; for they wrote not with any artistic impulse to create a work of beauty that should please their readers; their practical aim was to inculcate sound political principles or to move their readers to the right action. If we contrast them with certain of their British contemporaries, with Goldsmith and Burns for example, the truth of the above criticism will be evident. Nevertheless, these statesmen produced a body of so-called citizen literature, devoted to the principles and duties of free government, which has never been rivaled in its own field and which is quite as remarkable in its own way as the nature poetry of Bryant or the romances of Cooper or any other purely literary work produced in America.
[Illustration: ALEXANDER HAMILTON]
HAMILTON AND JEFFERSON. These two statesmen, who became bitter antagonists during the struggle over the Constitution, may be selected as typical of all the rest. The story of their splendid services in the cause of liberty cannot be told here; such men belong to history rather than to literature; but we may at least note that they deserve more careful and unprejudiced study than rival political parties have thus far given them. Their work has a broad human interest which extends far beyond the borders of America, since they stand for two radically different conceptions of life, one aristocratic, the other democratic, which appear in every age and explain the political and social divisions among free peoples. Hamilton (the Federalist) denied the right and the ability of common men to govern themselves; he was the champion of aristocracy, of class privilege, of centralized power in the hands of the few whom he deemed worthy by birth or talent to govern a nation. The most significant trait of Jefferson (the Anti-Federalist) was his lifelong devotion to democracy. He believed in common men, in their ability to choose the right and their purpose to follow it, and he mightily opposed every tendency to aristocracy or class privilege in America. In the struggle over the Constitution he was fearful that the United States government would become monarchical if given too much authority, and aimed to safeguard democracy by leaving the governing power as largely as possible in the hands of the several states. To readers who are not politicians the most interesting thing concerning these two leaders is that Hamilton, the champion of aristocracy, was obscurely born and appeared here as a stranger to make his own way by his own efforts; while Jefferson, the uncompromising democrat, came from an excellent Virginia family and was familiar from his youth with aristocratic society.
[Illustration: MONTICELLO, THE HOME OF JEFFERSON IN VIRGINIA The westward front]
[Sidenote: TYPICAL WRITINGS]
The best-known work of Hamilton (to which Madison and Jay contributed liberally) is _The Federalist_ (1787). This is a remarkable series of essays supporting the Constitution and illuminating the principles of union and federation. The one work of Jefferson which will make his name remembered to all ages is the _Declaration of Independence_. Besides this document, which is less a state paper than a prose chant of freedom, he wrote a multitude of works, a part of which are now collected in ten large volumes. These are known only to historians; but the casual reader will find many things of interest in Jefferson’s _Letters_, in his _Autobiography_ and in his _Summary View of the Rights of America_ (1774). The last-named work gave Burke some information and inspiration for his famous oration “On Conciliation with America” and was a potent influence in uniting the colonies in their struggle for independence.
MISCELLANEOUS WORKS. In the miscellaneous works of the period may be found more pleasurable reading than in the portly volumes that contain the epics of the Hartford Wits or the arguments of Revolutionary statesmen. As a type of the forceful political pamphlet, a weapon widely used in England and America in the eighteenth century, there is nothing equal to Thomas Paine’s _Common Sense_ (1776) and _The Crisis_ (1776-1783). The former hastened on the Declaration of Independence; the latter cheered the young Patriots in their struggle to make that Declaration valid in the sight of all nations. Jonathan Carver’s _Travels through the Interior Parts of North America_ (1778) is an excellent outdoor book dealing with picturesque incidents of exploration in unknown wilds. The letters of Abigail Adams, Eliza Wilkinson and Dolly Madison portray quiet scenes of domestic life and something of the brave, helpful spirit of the mothers of the Revolution. Crevecoeur’s _Letters from an American Farmer_ (1782) draws charming, almost idyllic, pictures of American life during the Revolutionary period, and incidentally calls attention to the “melting pot,” in which people of various races are here fused into a common stock. This mongrel, melting-pot idea (a crazy notion) is supposed to be modern, and has lately occasioned some flighty dramas and novels; but that it is as old as unrestricted immigration appears plainly in one of Crevecoeur’s fanciful sketches:
“What then is the American, this new man? He is either a European or a descendant of a European; hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. _He_ is an American who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, the new rank he holds. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater.
“Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world. Americans are the western pilgrims, who are carrying along with them that great mass of arts, sciences, vigour and industry which began long since in the East; they will finish the great circle. The Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared, and which hereafter will become distinct by the power of the different climate they inhabit. The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury and useless labour he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence. This is an American.”
Finally, there is the _Journal of John Woolman_ (1774), written by a gentle member of the society of Friends, which records a spiritual rather than a worldly experience, and which in contrast with the general tumult of Revolutionary literature is as a thrush song in the woods at twilight. It is a book for those who can appreciate its charm of simplicity and sincerity; but the few who know it are inclined to prize it far above the similar work of Franklin, and to unite with Channing in calling it “the sweetest and purest autobiography in the English language.”
BEGINNING OF AMERICAN FICTION. Those who imagine that American fiction began with Irving or Cooper or Poe, as is sometimes alleged, will be interested to learn of Susanna Rowson (daughter of an English father and an American mother), whose later stories, at least, belong to our literature. In 1790 she published _Charlotte Temple_, a romance that was immensely popular in its own day and that has proved far more enduring than any modern “best seller.” During the next century the book ran through more than one hundred editions, the last appearing in 1905; and from first to last it has had probably more readers than any novel of Scott or Cooper or Dickens. The reception of this work indicates the widespread interest in fiction here in the late eighteenth century. Moreover, as there were then two types of fiction in England, the sentimentalism of Richardson and the realism of Fielding, so in America the gushing romances of Mrs. Rowson were opposed by the _Female Quixotism_ and other alleged realistic stories of Tabitha Tenney. Both schools of fiction had here their authors and their multitudinous readers while Irving and Cooper were learning their alphabet and Poe was yet unborn.
[Illustration: CHARLES BROCKDEN BROWN]
Into the crude but hopeful beginnings of American fiction we shall not enter, for the simple reason that our earliest romances are hardly worth the time or patience of any but historical students. At the close of the Revolutionary period, however, appeared a writer whom we may call with some justice the first American novelist. This was Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810), who is worthy to be remembered on three counts: he was the first in this country to follow literature as a profession; he chose American rather than foreign heroes, and pictured them against an American background; and finally, his use of horrible or grotesque incidents was copied by Poe, his Indian adventures suggested a fruitful theme to Cooper, and his minute analysis of motives and emotions was carried out in a more artistic way by Hawthorne. Hence we may find in Brown’s neglected works something of the material and the method of our three greatest writers of fiction.
[Sidenote: THE MOTIVE OF HORROR]
The six romances of Brown are all dominated by the motive of horror, and are modeled on the so-called Gothic novel with its sentimental heroine, its diabolical villain, its ghastly mystery, its passages of prolonged agony. If we ask why an American writer should choose this bizarre type, the answer is that agonizing stories were precisely what readers then wanted, and Brown depended upon his stories for his daily bread. At the present time a different kind of fiction is momentarily popular; yet if we begin one of Brown’s bloodcurdling romances, the chances are that we shall finish it, since it appeals to that strange interest in morbid themes which leads so many to read Poe or some other purveyor of horrors and mysteries. _Wieland_ (1798) is commonly regarded as the best of Brown’s works, but is too grotesque and horrible to be recommended. _Edgar Huntley_ (1801), with its Indian adventures depicted against a background of wild nature, is a little more wholesome, and may serve very well as a type of the romances that interested readers a century or more ago.
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SUMMARY. The Colonial period covers the century and a half from the