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Famous Reviews by Editor: R. Brimley Johnson

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time, to discuss in detail his qualities or his exertions as a
psychologist, moralist, and general philosopher. That time may come,
when his system, as a whole, shall be fairly placed before the world, as
we have reason to hope it will soon be; and when the preliminary works--
the "Friend," the "Lay Sermons," the "Aids to Reflection," and the
"Church and State,"--especially the last two--shall be seen in their
proper relations as preparatory exercises for the reader. His "Church
and State, according to the Idea of Each"--a little book--we cannot help
recommending as a storehouse of grand and immovable principles, bearing
upon some of the most vehemently disputed topics of constitutional
interest in these momentous times. Assuredly this period has not
produced a profounder and more luminous essay. We have heard it asked,
what was the proposed object of Mr. Coleridge's labours as a
metaphysical philosopher? He once answered that question himself, in
language never to be forgotten by those who heard it, and which,
whatever may be conjectured of the probability or even possibility of
its being fully realized, must be allowed to express the completest idea
of a system of philosophy ever yet made public.

"My system," said he, "if I may venture to give it so fine a name, is
the only attempt that I know, ever made, to reduce all knowledge into
harmony. It opposes no other system, but shows what was true in each;
and how that which was true in the particular in each of them, became
error, _because_ it was only half the truth. I have endeavoured to unite
the insulated fragments of truth, and therewith to frame a perfect
mirror. I show to each system that I fully understand and rightfully
appreciate what that system means; but then I lift up that system to a
higher point of view, from which I enable it to see its former position,
where it was indeed, but under another light and with different
relations,--so that the fragment of truth is not only acknowledged, but
explained. So the old astronomers discovered and maintained much that
was true; but because they were placed on a false ground, and looked
from a wrong point of view, they never did--they never could--discover
the truth--that is, the whole truth. As soon as they left the earth,
their false centre, and took their stand in the sun, immediately they
saw the whole system in its true light, and the former station
remaining--but remaining _as a part_ of the prospect. I wish, in short,
to connect a moral copula, natural history with political history; or,
in other words, to make history scientific, and science historical:--to
take from history its accidentality, and from science its fatalism."

Whether we shall ever, hereafter, have occasion to advert to any new
poetical efforts of Mr. Coleridge, or not, we cannot say. We wish we had
a reasonable cause to expect it. If not, then this hail and farewell
will have been well made. We conclude with, we believe, the last verses
he has written--

_My Baptismal Birth-Day._

God's child in Christ adopted,--Christ my all,--
What that earth boasts were not lost cheaply, rather
Than forfeit the blest name, by which I call
The Holy One, the Almighty God, my Father?
Father! in Christ we live, and Christ in Thee;
Eternal Thou, and everlasting we.
The heir of heaven, henceforth I fear not death:
In Christ I live: in Christ I draw the breath
Of the true life:--Let then earth, sea, and sky
Make war against me! On my heart I show
Their mighty Master's seal. In vain they try
To end my life, that can but end its woe.
Is that a death-bed where a Christian lies?
Yes! but not his--'tis Death itself there dies.--Vol. ii, p. 151.


[From. _The Quarterly Review_, October, 1815]

_Emma; a Novel_. By the Author of _Sense and Sensibility, Pride and
Prejudice_, etc. 3 vols. 12mo. London. 1815.

There are some vices in civilized society so common that they are hardly
acknowledged as stains upon the moral character, the propensity to which
is nevertheless carefully concealed, even by those who most frequently
give way to them; since no man of pleasure would willingly assume the
gross epithet of a debauchee or a drunkard. One would almost think that
novel-reading fell under this class of frailties, since among the crowds
who read little else, it is not common to find an individual of
hardihood sufficient to avow his taste for these frivolous studies. A
novel, therefore, is frequently "bread eaten in secret"; and it is not
upon Lydia Languish's toilet alone that Tom Jones and Peregrine Pickle
are to be found ambushed behind works of a more grave and instructive
character. And hence it has happened, that in no branch of composition,
not even in poetry itself, have so many writers, and of such varied
talents, exerted their powers. It may perhaps be added, that although
the composition of these works admits of being exalted and decorated by
the higher exertions of genius; yet such is the universal charm of
narrative, that the worst novel ever written will find some gentle
reader content to yawn over it, rather than to open the page of the
historian, moralist, or poet. We have heard, indeed, of one work of
fiction so unutterably stupid, that the proprietor, diverted by the
rarity of the incident, offered the book, which consisted of two volumes
in duodecimo, handsomely bound, to any person who would declare, upon
his honour, that he had read the whole from beginning to end. But
although this offer was made to the passengers on board an Indiaman,
during a tedious outward-bound voyage, the _Memoirs of Clegg the
Clergyman_ (such was the title of this unhappy composition) completely
baffled the most dull and determined student on board, and bid fair for
an exception to the general rule above-mentioned,--when the love of
glory prevailed with the boatswain, a man of strong and solid parts, to
hazard the attempt, and he actually conquered and carried off the prize!

The judicious reader will see at once that we have been pleading our own
cause while stating the universal practice, and preparing him for a
display of more general acquaintance with this fascinating department of
literature, than at first sight may seem consistent with the graver
studies to which we are compelled by duty: but in truth, when we
consider how many hours of languor and anxiety, of deserted age and
solitary celibacy, of pain even and poverty, are beguiled by the perusal
of these light volumes, we cannot austerely condemn the source from
which is drawn the alleviation of such a portion of human misery, or
consider the regulation of this department as beneath the sober
consideration of the critic.

If such apologies may be admitted in judging the labours of ordinary
novelists, it becomes doubly the duty of the critic to treat with
kindness as well as candour works which, like this before us, proclaim a
knowledge of the human heart, with the power and resolution to bring
that knowledge to the service of honour and virtue. The author is
already known to the public by the two novels announced in her title-page,
and both, the last especially, attracted, with justice, an
attention from the public far superior to what is granted to the
ephemeral productions which supply the regular demand of watering-places
and circulating libraries. They belong to a class of fictions which has
arisen almost in our own times, and which draws the characters and
incidents introduced more immediately from the current of ordinary life
than was permitted by the former rules of the novel. In its first
appearance, the novel was the legitimate child of the romance; and
though the manners and general turn of the composition were altered so
as to suit modern times, the author remained fettered by many
peculiarities derived from the original style of romantic fiction. These
may be chiefly traced in the conduct of the narrative, and the tone of
sentiment attributed to the fictitious personages. On the first point,

The talisman and magic wand were broke,
Knights, dwarfs, and genii vanish'd into smoke,

still the reader expected to peruse a course of adventures of a nature
more interesting and extraordinary than those which occur in his own
life, or that of his next-door neighbours.

The hero no longer defeated armies by his single sword, clove giants to
the chine, or gained kingdoms. But he was expected to go through perils
by sea and land, to be steeped in poverty, to be tried by temptation, to
be exposed to the alternate vicissitudes of adversity and prosperity,
and his life was a troubled scene of suffering and achievement. Few
novelists, indeed, adventured to deny to the hero his final hour of
tranquillity and happiness, though it was the prevailing fashion never
to relieve him out of his last and most dreadful distress until the
finishing chapters of his history; so that although his prosperity in
the record of his life was short, we were bound to believe it was long
and uninterrupted when the author had done with him. The heroine was
usually condemned to equal hardships and hazards. She was regularly
exposed to being forcibly carried off like a Sabine virgin by some
frantic admirer. And even if she escaped the terrors of masked ruffians,
an insidious ravisher, a cloak wrapped forcibly around her head, and a
coach with the blinds up driving she could not conjecture whither, she
had still her share of wandering, of poverty, of obloquy, of seclusion,
and of imprisonment, and was frequently extended upon a bed of sickness,
and reduced to her last shilling before the author condescended to
shield her from persecution. In all these dread contingencies the mind
of the reader was expected to sympathize, since by incidents so much
beyond the bounds of his ordinary experience, his wonder and interest
ought at once to be excited. But gradually he became familiar with the
land of fiction, the adventures of which he assimilated not with those
of real life, but with each other. Let the distress of the hero or
heroine be ever so great, the reader reposed an imperturbable confidence
in the talents of the author, who, as he had plunged them into distress,
would in his own good time, and when things, as Tony Lumkin says, were
in a concatenation accordingly, bring his favourites out of all their
troubles. Mr. Crabbe has expressed his own and our feelings excellently
on this subject.

For should we grant these beauties all endure
Severest pangs, they've still the speediest cure;
Before one charm be withered from the face,
Except the bloom which shall again have place,
In wedlock ends each wish, in triumph all disgrace.
And life to come, we fairly may suppose,
One light bright contrast to these wild dark woes.

In short, the author of novels was, in former times, expected to tread
pretty much in the limits between the concentric circles of probability
and possibility; and as he was not permitted to transgress the latter,
his narrative, to make amends, almost always went beyond the bounds of
the former. Now, although it may be urged that the vicissitudes of human
life have occasionally led an individual through as many scenes of
singular fortune as are represented in the most extravagant of these
fictions, still the causes and personages acting on these changes have
varied with the progress of the adventurer's fortune, and do not present
that combined plot, (the object of every skilful novelist), in which all
the more interesting individuals of the dramatis personae have their
appropriate share in the action and in bringing about the catastrophe.
Here, even more than in its various and violent changes of fortune,
rests the improbability of the novel. The life of man rolls forth like a
stream from the fountain, or it spreads out into tranquillity like a
placid or stagnant lake. In the latter case, the individual grows old
among the characters with whom he was born, and is contemporary,--shares
precisely the sort of weal and woe to which his birth destined him,--
moves in the same circle,--and, allowing for the change of seasons, is
influenced by, and influences the same class of persons by which he was
originally surrounded. The man of mark and of adventure, on the
contrary, resembles, in the course of his life, the river whose
mid-current and discharge into the ocean are widely removed from each
other, as well as from the rocks and wild flowers which its fountains
first reflected; violent changes of time, of place, and of circumstances,
hurry him forward from one scene to another, and his adventures will
usually be found only connected with each other because they have
happened to the same individual. Such a history resembles an ingenious,
fictitious narrative, exactly in the degree in which an old dramatic
chronicle of the life and death of some distinguished character, where
all the various agents appear and disappear as in the page of history,
approaches a regular drama, in which every person introduced plays an
appropriate part, and every point of the action tends to one common

We return to the second broad line of distinction between the novel, as
formerly composed, and real life,--the difference, namely, of the
sentiments. The novelist professed to give an imitation of nature, but
it was, as the French say, _la belle nature_. Human beings, indeed, were
presented, but in the most sentimental mood, and with minds purified by
a sensibility which often verged on extravagance. In the serious class
of novels, the hero was usually

A knight of love, who never broke a vow.

And although, in those of a more humorous cast, he was permitted a
licence, borrowed either from real life or from the libertinism of the
drama, still a distinction was demanded even from Peregrine Pickle, or
Tom Jones; and the hero, in every folly of which he might be guilty, was
studiously vindicated from the charge of infidelity of the heart. The
heroine was, of course, still more immaculate; and to have conferred her
affections upon any other than the lover to whom the reader had destined
her from their first meeting, would have been a crime against sentiment
which no author, of moderate prudence, would have hazarded, under the
old _regime_.

Here, therefore, we have two essentials and important circumstances, in
which the earlier novels differed from those now in fashion, and were
more nearly assimilated to the old romances. And there can be no doubt
that, by the studied involution and extrication of the story, by the
combination of incidents new, striking and wonderful beyond the course
of ordinary life, the former authors opened that obvious and strong
sense of interest which arises from curiosity; as by the pure, elevated,
and romantic cast of the sentiment, they conciliated those better
propensities of our nature which loves to contemplate the picture of
virtue, even when confessedly unable to imitate its excellences.

But strong and powerful as these sources of emotion and interest may be,
they are, like all others, capable of being exhausted by habit. The
imitators who rushed in crowds upon each path in which the great masters
of the art had successively led the way, produced upon the public mind
the usual effect of satiety. The first writer of a new class is, as it
were, placed on a pinnacle of excellence, to which, at the earliest
glance of a surprised admirer, his ascent seems little less than
miraculous. Time and imitation speedily diminish the wonder, and each
successive attempt establishes a kind of progressive scale of ascent
between the lately deified author, and the reader, who had deemed his
excellence inaccessible. The stupidity, the mediocrity, the merit of his
imitators, are alike fatal to the first inventor, by showing how
possible it is to exaggerate his faults and to come within a certain
point of his beauties.

Materials also (and the man of genius as well as his wretched imitator
must work with the same) become stale and familiar. Social life, in our
civilized days, affords few instances capable of being painted in the
strong dark colours which excite surprise and horror; and robbers,
smugglers, bailiffs, caverns, dungeons, and mad-houses, have been all
introduced until they ceased to interest. And thus in the novel, as in
every style of composition which appeals to the public taste, the more
rich and easily worked mines being exhausted, the adventurous author
must, if he is desirous of success, have recourse to those which were
disdained by his predecessors as unproductive, or avoided as only
capable of being turned to profit by great skill and labour.

Accordingly a style of novel has arisen, within the last fifteen or
twenty years, differing from the former in the points upon which the
interest hinges; neither alarming our credulity nor amusing our
imagination by wild variety of incident, or by those pictures of
romantic affection and sensibility, which were formerly as certain
attributes of fictitious characters as they are of rare occurrence among
those who actually live and die. The substitute for these excitements,
which had lost much of their poignancy by the repeated and injudicious
use of them, was the art of copying from nature as she really exists in
the common walks of life, and presenting to the reader, instead of the
splendid scenes of an imaginary world, a correct and striking
representation of that which is daily taking place around him.

In adventuring upon this task, the author makes obvious sacrifices, and
encounters peculiar difficulty. He who paints from _le beau ideal_, if
his scenes and sentiments are striking and interesting, is in a great
measure exempted from the difficult task of reconciling them with the
ordinary probabilities of life: but he who paints a scene of common
occurrence, places his composition within that extensive range of
criticism which general experience offers to every reader. The
resemblance of a statue of Hercules we must take on the artist's
judgment; but every one can criticize that which is presented as the
portrait of a friend, or neighbour. Something more than a mere sign-post
likeness is also demanded. The portrait must have spirit and character,
as well as resemblance; and being deprived of all that, according to
Bayes, goes "to elevate and surprize," it must make amends by displaying
depth of knowledge and dexterity of execution. We, therefore, bestow no
mean compliment upon the author of _Emma_, when we say that, keeping
close to common incidents, and to such characters as occupy the ordinary
walks of life, she has produced sketches of such spirit and originality,
that we never miss the excitation which depends upon a narrative of
uncommon events, arising from the consideration of minds, manners and
sentiments, greatly above our own. In this class she stands almost
alone; for the scenes of Miss Edgeworth are laid in higher life, varied
by more romantic incident, and by her remarkable power of embodying and
illustrating national character. But the author of _Emma_ confines
herself chiefly to the middling classes of society; her most
distinguished characters do not rise greatly above well-bred country
gentlemen and ladies; and those which are sketched with most originality
and precision, belong to a class rather below that standard. The
narrative of all her novels is composed of such common occurrences as
may have fallen under the observation of most folks; and her dramatis
personae conduct themselves upon the motives and principles which the
readers may recognize as ruling their own and that of most of their
acquaintances. The kind of moral, also, which these novels inculcate,
applies equally to the paths of common life, as will best appear from a
short notice of the author's former works, with a more full abstract of
that which we at present have under consideration.

_Sense and Sensibility_, the first of these compositions, contains the
history of two sisters. The elder, a young lady of prudence and
regulated feelings, becomes gradually attached to a man of an excellent
heart and limited talents, who happens unfortunately to be fettered by a
rash and ill-assorted engagement. In the younger sister, the influence
of sensibility and imagination predominates; and she, as was to be
expected, also falls in love, but with more unbridled and wilful
passion. Her lover, gifted with all the qualities of exterior polish and
vivacity, proves faithless, and marries a woman of large fortune. The
interest and merit of the piece depend altogether upon the behaviour of
the elder sister, while obliged at once to sustain her own
disappointment with fortitude, and to support her sister, who abandons
herself, with unsuppressed feelings, to the indulgence of grief. The
marriage of the unworthy rival at length relieves her own lover from his
imprudent engagement, while her sister, turned wise by precept, example,
and experience, transfers her affection to a very respectable and
somewhat too serious admirer, who had nourished an unsuccessful passion
through the three volumes.

In _Pride and Prejudice_ the author presents us with a family of young
women, bred up under a foolish and vulgar mother, and a father whose
good abilities lay hid under such a load of indolence and insensibility,
that he had become contented to make the foibles and follies of his wife
and daughters the subject of dry and humorous sarcasm, rather than of
admonition, or restraint. This is one of the portraits from ordinary
life which shews our author's talents in a very strong point of view. A
friend of ours, whom the author never saw or heard of, was at once
recognized by his own family as the original of Mr. Bennet, and we do
not know if he has yet got rid of the nickname. A Mr. Collins, too, a
formal, conceited, yet servile young sprig of divinity, is drawn with
the same force and precision. The story of the piece consists chiefly in
the fates of the second sister, to whom a man of high birth, large
fortune, but haughty and reserved manners, becomes attached, in spite of
the discredit thrown upon the object of his affection by the vulgarity
and ill-conduct of her relations. The lady, on the contrary, hurt at the
contempt of her connections, which the lover does not even attempt to
suppress, and prejudiced against him on other accounts, refuses the hand
which he ungraciously offers, and does not perceive that she has done a
foolish thing until she accidentally visits a very handsome seat and
grounds belonging to her admirer. They chance to meet exactly as her
prudence had begun to subdue her prejudice; and after some essential
services rendered to her family, the lover becomes encouraged to renew
his addresses, and the novel ends happily.

_Emma_ has even less story than either of the preceding novels. Miss
Emma Woodhouse, from whom the book takes its name, is the daughter of a
gentleman of wealth and consequence residing at his seat in the
immediate vicinage of a country village called Highbury. The father, a
good-natured, silly valetudinary, abandons the management of his
household to Emma, he himself being only occupied by his summer and
winter walk, his apothecary, his gruel, and his whist table. The latter
is supplied from the neighbouring village of Highbury with precisely the
sort of persons who occupy the vacant corners of a regular whist table,
when a village is in the neighbourhood, and better cannot be found
within the family. We have the smiling and courteous vicar, who
nourishes the ambitious hope of obtaining Miss Woodhouse's hand. We have
Mrs. Bates, the wife of a former rector, past everything but tea and
whist; her daughter, Miss Bates, a good-natured, vulgar, and foolish old
maid; Mr. Weston, a gentleman of a frank disposition and moderate
fortune, in the vicinity, and his wife an amiable and accomplished
person, who had been Emma's governess, and is devotedly attached to her.
Amongst all these personages, Miss Woodhouse walks forth, the princess
paramount, superior to all her companions in wit, beauty, fortune, and
accomplishments, doated upon by her father and the Westons, admired, and
almost worshipped by the more humble companions of the whist table. The
object of most young ladies is, or at least is usually supposed to be, a
desirable connection in marriage. But Emma Woodhouse, either
anticipating the taste of a later period of life, or, like a good
sovereign, preferring the weal of her subjects of Highbury to her own
private interest, sets generously about making matches for her friends
without thinking of matrimony on her own account. We are informed that
she had been eminently successful in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Weston;
and when the novel commences she is exerting her influence in favour of
Miss Harriet Smith, a boarding-school girl without family or fortune,
very good humoured, very pretty, very silly, and, what suited Miss
Woodhouse's purpose best of all, very much disposed to be married.

In these conjugal machinations Emma is frequently interrupted, not only
by the cautions of her father, who had a particular objection to any
body committing the rash act of matrimony, but also by the sturdy
reproof and remonstrances of Mr. Knightley, the elder brother of her
sister's husband, a sensible country gentleman of thirty-five, who had
known Emma from her cradle, and was the only person who ventured to find
fault with her. In spite, however, of his censure and warning, Emma lays
a plan of marrying Harriet Smith to the vicar; and though she succeeds
perfectly in diverting her simple friend's thoughts from an honest
farmer who had made her a very suitable offer, and in flattering her
into a passion for Mr. Elton, yet, on the other hand, that conceited
divine totally mistakes the nature of the encouragement held out to him,
and attributes the favour which he found in Miss Woodhouse's eyes to a
lurking affection on her own part. This at length encourages him to a
presumptuous declaration of his sentiments; upon receiving a repulse, he
looks abroad elsewhere, and enriches the Highbury society by uniting
himself to a dashing young woman with as many thousands as are usually
called ten, and a corresponding quantity of presumption and ill

While Emma is thus vainly engaged in forging wedlock-fetters for others,
her friends have views of the same kind upon her, in favour of a son of
Mr. Weston by a former marriage, who bears the name, lives under the
patronage, and is to inherit the fortune of a rich uncle. Unfortunately
Mr. Frank Churchill had already settled his affections on Miss Jane
Fairfax, a young lady of reduced fortune; but as this was a concealed
affair, Emma, when Mr. Churchill first appears on the stage, has some
thoughts of being in love with him herself; speedily, however,
recovering from that dangerous propensity, she is disposed to confer him
upon her deserted friend Harriet Smith. Harriet has in the interim,
fallen desperately in love with Mr. Knightley, the sturdy, advice-giving
bachelor; and, as all the village supposes Frank Churchill and Emma to
be attached to each other, there are cross purposes enough (were the
novel of a more romantic cast) for cutting half the men's throats and
breaking all the women's hearts. But at Highbury Cupid walks decorously,
and with good discretion, bearing his torch under a lanthorn, instead of
flourishing it around to set the house on fire. All these entanglements
bring on only a train of mistakes and embarrassing situations, and
dialogues at balls and parties of pleasure, in which the author displays
her peculiar powers of humour and knowledge of human life. The plot is
extricated with great simplicity. The aunt of Frank Churchill dies; his
uncle, no longer under her baneful influence, consents to his marriage
with Jane Fairfax. Mr. Knightley and Emma are led, by this unexpected
incident, to discover that they had been in love with each other all
along. Mr. Woodhouse's objections to the marriage of his daughter are
overpowered by the fears of house-breakers, and the comfort which he
hopes to derive from having a stout son-in-law resident in the family;
and the facile affections of Harriet Smith are transferred, like a bank
bill by indorsation, to her former suitor, the honest farmer, who had
obtained a favourable opportunity of renewing his addresses. Such is the
simple plan of a story which we peruse with pleasure, if not with deep
interest, and which perhaps we might more willingly resume than one of
those narratives where the attention is strongly riveted, during the
first perusal, by the powerful excitement of curiosity.

The author's knowledge of the world, and the peculiar tact with which
she presents characters that the reader cannot fail to recognize,
reminds us something of the merits of the Flemish school of painting.
The subjects are not often elegant, and certainly never grand; but they
are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the
reader. This is a merit which it is very difficult to illustrate by
extracts, because it pervades the whole work, and is not to be
comprehended from a single passage. The following is a dialogue between
Mr. Woodhouse, and his elder daughter Isabella, who shares his anxiety
about health, and has, like her father, a favourite apothecary. The
reader must be informed that this lady, with her husband, a sensible,
peremptory sort of person, had come to spend a week with her father.

* * * * *

Perhaps the reader may collect from the preceding specimen both the
merits and faults of the author. The former consists much in the force
of a narrative conducted with much neatness and point, and a quiet yet
comic dialogue, in which the characters of the speakers evolve
themselves with dramatic effect. The faults, on the contrary, arise from
the minute detail which the author's plan comprehends. Characters of
folly or simplicity, such as those of old Woodhouse and Miss Bates, are
ridiculous when first presented, but if too often brought forward or too
long dwelt upon, their prosing is apt to become as tiresome in fiction
as in real society. Upon the whole, the turn of this author's novels
bears the same relation to that of the sentimental and romantic cast,
that cornfields and cottages and meadows bear to the highly adorned
grounds of a show mansion, or the rugged sublimities of a mountain
landscape. It is neither so captivating as the one, nor so grand as the
other, but it affords to those who frequent it a pleasure nearly allied
with the experience of their own social habits; and what is of some
importance, the youthful wanderer may return from his promenade to the
ordinary business of life, without any chance of having his head turned
by the recollection of the scene through which he has been wandering.

One word, however, we must say in behalf of that once powerful divinity,
Cupid, king of gods and men, who in these times of revolution, has been
assailed, even in his own kingdom of romance, by the authors who were
formerly his devoted priests. We are quite aware that there are few
instances of first attachment being brought to a happy conclusion, and
that it seldom can be so in a state of society so highly advanced as to
render early marriages among the better class, acts, generally speaking,
of imprudence. But the youth of this realm need not at present be taught
the doctrine of selfishness. It is by no means their error to give the
world or the good things of the world all for love; and before the
authors of moral fiction couple Cupid indivisibly with calculating
prudence, we would have them reflect, that they may sometimes lend their
aid to substitute more mean, more sordid, and more selfish motives of
conduct, for the romantic feelings which their predecessors perhaps
fanned into too powerful a flame. Who is it, that in his youth has felt
a virtuous attachment, however romantic or however unfortunate, but can
trace back to its influence much that his character may possess of what
is honourable, dignified, and disinterested? If he recollects hours
wasted in unavailing hope, or saddened by doubt and disappointment; he
may also dwell on many which have been snatched from folly or
libertinism, and dedicated to studies which might render him worthy of
the object of his affection, or pave the way perhaps to that distinction
necessary to raise him to an equality with her. Even the habitual
indulgence of feelings totally unconnected with ourself and our own
immediate interest, softens, graces, and amends the human mind; and
after the pain of disappointment is past, those who survive (and by good
fortune those are the greater number) are neither less wise nor less
worthy members of society for having felt, for a time, the influence of
a passion which has been well qualified as the "tenderest, noblest and


[From _The Quarterly Review_, January, 1821]

_Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion_. By the Author of _Sense and
Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park_, and _Emma_. 4 vols.
New Edition.

The times seem to be past when an apology was requisite from reviewers
for condescending to notice a novel; when they felt themselves bound in
dignity to deprecate the suspicion of paying much regard to such
trifles, and pleaded the necessity of occasionally stooping to humour
the taste of their fair readers. The delights of fiction, if not more
keenly or more generally relished, are at least more readily
acknowledged by men of sense and taste; and we have lived to hear the
merits of the best of this class of writings earnestly discussed by some
of the ablest scholars and soundest reasoners of the present day.

We are inclined to attribute this change, not so much to an alteration
in the public taste, as in the character of the productions in question.
Novels may not, perhaps, display more genius now than formerly, but they
contain more solid sense; they may not afford higher gratification, but
it is of a nature which men are less disposed to be ashamed of avowing.
We remarked, in a former Number, in reviewing a work of the author now
before us, that "a new style of novel has arisen, within the last
fifteen or twenty years, differing from the former in the points upon
which the interest hinges; neither alarming our credulity nor amusing
our imagination by wild variety of incident, or by those pictures of
romantic affection and sensibility, which were formerly as certain
attributes of fictitious characters as they are of rare occurrence among
those who actually live and die. The substitute for these excitements,
which had lost much of their poignancy by the repeated and injudicious
use of them, was the art of copying from nature as she really exists in
the common walks of life, and presenting to the reader, instead of the
splendid scenes of an imaginary world, a correct and striking
representation of that which is daily taking place around him."

Now, though the origin of this new school of fiction may probably be
traced, as we there suggested, to the exhaustion of the mines from which
materials for entertainment had been hitherto extracted, and the
necessity of gratifying the natural craving of the reader for variety,
by striking into an untrodden path; the consequences resulting from this
change have been far greater than the mere supply of this demand. When
this Flemish painting, as it were, is introduced--this accurate and
unexaggerated delineation of events and characters--it necessarily
follows, that a novel, which makes good its pretensions of giving a
perfectly correct picture of common life, becomes a far more
_instructive_ work than one of equal or superior merit of the other
class; it guides the judgment, and supplies a kind of artificial
experience. It is a remark of the great father of criticism, that poetry
(_i.e._, narrative, and dramatic poetry) is of a more philosophical
character than history; inasmuch as the latter details what has actually
happened, of which many parts may chance to be exceptions to the general
rules of probability, and consequently illustrate no general principles;
whereas the former shews us what must naturally, or would probably,
happen under given circumstances; and thus displays to us a
comprehensive view of human nature, and furnishes general rules of
practical wisdom. It is evident, that this will apply only to such
fictions as are quite _perfect_ in respect of the probability of their
story; and that he, therefore, who resorts to the fabulist rather than
the historian, for instruction in human character and conduct, must
throw himself entirely on the judgment and skill of his teacher, and
give him credit for talents much more rare than the accuracy and
veracity which are the chief requisites in history. We fear, therefore,
that the exultation which we can conceive some of our gentle readers to
feel, at having Aristotle's warrant for (what probably they had never
dreamed of) the _philosophical character_ of their studies, must, in
practice, be somewhat qualified, by those sundry little violations of
probability which are to be met with in most novels; and which so far
lower their value, as models of real life, that a person who had no
other preparation for the world than is afforded by them, would form,
probably, a less accurate idea of things as they are, than he would of a
lion from studying merely the representations on China tea-pots.

Accordingly, a heavy complaint has long lain against works of fiction,
as giving a false picture of what they profess to imitate, and
disqualifying their readers for the ordinary scenes and everyday duties
of life. And this charge applies, we apprehend, to the generality of
what are strictly called novels, with even more justice than to
romances. When all the characters and events are very far removed from
what we see around us,--when, perhaps, even supernatural agents are
introduced, the reader may indulge, indeed, in occasional day-dreams,
but will be so little reminded by what he has been reading, of anything
that occurs in actual life, that though he may perhaps feel some
disrelish for the tameness of the scene before him, compared with the
fairy-land he has been visiting, yet at least his judgment will not be
depraved, nor his expectations misled; he will not apprehend a meeting
with Algerine banditti on English shores, nor regard the old woman who
shews him about an antique country seat, as either an enchantress or the
keeper of an imprisoned damsel. But it is otherwise with those fictions
which differ from common life in little or nothing but the improbability
of the occurrences: the reader is insensibly led to calculate upon some
of those lucky incidents and opportune coincidences of which he has been
so much accustomed to read, and which, it is undeniable, _may_ take
place in real life; and to feel a sort of confidence, that however
romantic his conduct may be, and in whatever difficulties it may involve
him, all will be sure to come right at last, as is invariably the case
with the hero of a novel.

On the other hand, so far as these pernicious effects fail to be
produced, so far does the example lose its influence, and the exercise
of poetical justice is rendered vain. The reward of virtuous conduct
being brought about by fortunate accidents, he who abstains (taught,
perhaps, by bitter disappointments) from reckoning on such accidents,
wants that encouragement to virtue, which alone has been held out to
him. "If I were _a man in a novel_," we remember to have heard an
ingenious friend observe, "I should certainly act so and so, because I
should be sure of being no loser by the most heroic self-devotion and of
ultimately succeeding in the most daring enterprises."

It may be said, in answer, that these objections apply only to the
_unskilful_ novelist, who, from ignorance of the world, gives an
unnatural representation of what he professes to delineate. This is
partly true, and partly not; for there is a distinction to be made
between the _unnatural_ and the merely _improbable_: a fiction is
unnatural when there is some assignable reason against the events taking
place as described,--when men are represented as acting contrary to the
character assigned them, or to human nature in general; as when a young
lady of seventeen, brought up in ease, luxury and retirement, with no
companions but the narrow-minded and illiterate, displays (as a heroine
usually does) under the most trying circumstances, such wisdom,
fortitude, and knowledge of the world, as the best instructors and the
best examples can rarely produce without the aid of more mature age and
longer experience.--On the other hand, a fiction is still _improbable_,
though _not unnatural_, when there is no reason to be assigned why
things should not take place as represented, except that the
_overbalance of chances is_ against it; the hero meets, in his utmost
distress, most opportunely, with the very person to whom he had formerly
done a signal service, and who happens to communicate to him a piece of
intelligence which sets all to rights. Why should he not meet him as
well as any one else? all that can be said is, that there is no reason
why he should. The infant who is saved from a wreck, and who afterwards
becomes such a constellation of virtues and accomplishments, turns out
to be no other than the nephew of the very gentleman, on whose estate
the waves had cast him, and whose lovely daughter he had so long sighed
for in vain: there is no reason to be given, except from the calculation
of chances, why he should not have been thrown on one part of the coast
as well as another. Nay, it would be nothing unnatural, though the most
determined novel-reader would be shocked at its improbability, if all
the hero's enemies, while they were conspiring his ruin were to be
struck dead together by a lucky flash of lightning: yet many denouements
which _are_ decidedly unnatural, are better tolerated than this would
be. We shall, perhaps, best explain our meaning by examples, taken from
a novel of great merit in many respects. When Lord Glenthorn, in whom a
most unfavourable education has acted on a most unfavourable
disposition, after a life of torpor, broken only by short sallies of
forced exertion, on a sudden reverse of fortune, displays at once the
most persevering diligence in the most repulsive studies, and in middle
life, without any previous habits of exertion, any hope of early
business, or the example of friends, or the stimulus of actual want, to
urge him, outstrips every competitor, though every competitor has every
advantage against him; this is unnatural.--When Lord Glenthorn, the
instant he is stripped of his estates, meets, falls in love with, and is
conditionally accepted by the very lady who is remotely intitled to
those estates; when, the instant he has fulfilled the conditions of
their marriage, the family of the person possessed of the estates
becomes extinct, and by the concurrence of circumstances, against every
one of which the chances were enormous, the hero is re-instated in all
his old domains; this is merely improbable. The distinction which we
have been pointing out may be plainly perceived in the events of real
life; when any thing takes place of such a nature as we should call, in
a fiction, merely improbable, because there are many chances against it,
we call it a lucky or unlucky accident, a singular coincidence,
something very extraordinary, odd, curious, etc.; whereas any thing
which, in a fiction, would be called unnatural, when it actually occurs
(and such things do occur), is still called unnatural, inexplicable,
unaccountable, inconceivable, etc., epithets which are not applied to
events that have merely the balance of chances against them.

Now, though an author who understands human nature is not likely to
introduce into his fictions any thing that is unnatural, he will often
have much that is improbable: he may place his personages, by the
intervention of accident, in striking situations, and lead them through
a course of extraordinary adventures; and yet, in the midst of all this,
he will keep up the most perfect consistency of character, and make them
act as it would be natural for men to act in such situations and
circumstances. Fielding's novels are a good illustration of this: they
display great knowledge of mankind; the characters are well preserved;
the persons introduced all act as one would naturally expect they
should, in the circumstances in which they are placed; but these
circumstances are such as it is incalculably improbable should ever
exist: several of the events, taken singly, are much against the chances
of probability; but the combination of the whole in a connected series,
is next to impossible. Even the romances which admit a mixture of
supernatural agency, are not more unfit to prepare men for real life,
than such novels as these; since one might just as reasonably calculate
on the intervention of a fairy, as on the train of lucky chances which
combine first to involve Tom Jones in his difficulties, and afterwards
to extricate him. Perhaps, indeed, the supernatural fable is of the two
not only (as we before remarked) the less mischievous in its moral
effects, but also the more correct kind of composition in point of
taste: the author lays down a kind of hypothesis of the existence of
ghosts, witches, or fairies, and professes to describe what would take
place under that hypothesis; the novelist, on the contrary, makes no
demand of extraordinary machinery, but professes to describe what may
actually take place, according to the existing laws of human affairs: if
he therefore present us with a series of events quite unlike any which
ever do take place, we have reason to complain that he has not made good
his professions.

When, therefore, the generality, even of the most approved novels, were
of this character (to say nothing of the heavier charges brought, of
inflaming the passions of young persons by warm descriptions, weakening
their abhorrence of profligacy by exhibiting it in combination with the
most engaging qualities, and presenting vice in all its allurements,
while setting forth the triumphs of "virtue rewarded") it is not to be
wondered that the grave guardians of youth should have generally
stigmatized the whole class, as "serving only to fill young people's
heads with romantic love-stories, and rendering them unfit to mind
anything else." That this censure and caution should in many instances
be indiscriminate, can surprize no one, who recollects how rare a
quality discrimination is; and how much better it suits indolence, as
well as ignorance, to lay down a rule, than to ascertain the exceptions
to it: we are acquainted with a careful mother whose daughters while
they never in their lives read a _novel_ of any kind, are permitted to
peruse, without reserve, any _plays_ that happen to fall in their way;
and with another, from whom no lessons, however excellent, of wisdom and
piety, contained in a _prose-fiction,_ can obtain quarter; but who, on
the other hand, is no less indiscriminately indulgent to her children in
the article of tales in _verse_, of whatever character.

The change, however, which we have already noticed, as having taken
place in the character of several modern novels, has operated in a
considerable degree to do away this prejudice; and has elevated this
species of composition, in some respects at least, into a much higher
class. For most of that instruction which used to be presented to the
world in the shape of formal dissertations, or shorter and more
desultory moral essays, such as those of the _Spectator_ and _Rambler_,
we may now resort to the pages of the acute and judicious, but not less
amusing, novelists who have lately appeared. If their views of men and
manners are no less just than those of the essayists who preceded them,
are they to be rated lower because they present to us these views, not
in the language of general description, but in the form of
well-constructed fictitious narrative? If the practical lessons they
inculcate are no less sound and useful, it is surely no diminution of
their merit that they are conveyed by example instead of precept: nor,
if their remarks are neither less wise nor less important, are they the
less valuable for being represented as thrown out in the course of
conversations suggested by the circumstances of the speakers, and
perfectly in character. The praise and blame of the moralist are surely
not the less effectual for being bestowed, not in general declamation,
on classes of men, but on individuals representing those classes, who
are so clearly delineated and brought into action before us, that we
seem to be acquainted with them, and feel an interest in their fate.

Biography is allowed, on all hands, to be one of the most attractive and
profitable kinds of reading: now such novels as we have been speaking
of, being a kind of fictitious biography, bear the same relation to the
real, that epic and tragic poetry, according to Aristotle, bear to
history: they present us (supposing, of course, each perfect in its
kind) with the general, instead of the particular,--the probable,
instead of the true; and, by leaving out those accidental
irregularities, and exceptions to general rules, which constitute the
many improbabilities of real narrative, present us with a clear and
_abstracted_ view of the general rules themselves; and thus concentrate,
as it were, into a small compass, the net result of wide experience.

Among the authors of this school there is no one superior, if equal, to
the lady whose last production is now before us, and whom we have much
regret in finally taking leave of: her death (in the prime of life,
considered as a writer) being announced in this the first publication to
which her name is prefixed. We regret the failure not only of a source
of innocent amusement, but also of that supply of practical good sense
and instructive example, which she would probably have continued to
furnish better than any of her contemporaries:--Miss Edgeworth, indeed,
draws characters and details conversations, such as they occur in real
life, with a spirit and fidelity not to be surpassed; but her stories
are most romantically improbable (in the sense above explained), almost
all the important events of them being brought about by most
_providential_ coincidences; and this, as we have already remarked, is
not merely faulty, inasmuch as it evinces a want of skill in the writer,
and gives an air of clumsiness to the fiction, but is a very
considerable drawback on its practical utility: the personages either of
fiction or history being then only profitable examples, when their good
or ill conduct meets its appropriate reward, not from a sort of
independent machinery of accidents, but as a necessary or probable
result, according to the ordinary course of affairs. Miss Edgeworth also
is somewhat too avowedly didactic: that seems to be true of her, which
the French critics, in the extravagance of their conceits, attributed to
Homer and Virgil; viz., that they first thought of a moral, and then
framed a fable to illustrate it; she would, we think, instruct more
successfully, and she would, we are sure, please more frequently, if she
kept the design of teaching more out of sight, and did not so glaringly
press every circumstance of her story, principal or subordinate, into
the service of a principle to be inculcated, or information to be given.
A certain portion of moral instruction must accompany every
well-invented narrative. Virtue must be represented as producing, at the
long run, happiness; and vice, misery; and the accidental events, that
real life interrupt this tendency, are anomalies which, though true
individually, are as false generally as the accidental deformities which
vary the average outline of the human figure. They would be as much out
of place in a fictitious narrative, as a wen in an academic model. But
any _direct_ attempt at moral teaching, and any attempt whatever to give
scientific information will, we fear, unless managed with the utmost
discretion, interfere with what, after all, is the immediate and
peculiar object of the novelist, as of the poet, _to please_. If
instruction do not join as a volunteer, she will do no good service.
Miss Edgeworth's novels put us in mind of those clocks and watches which
are condemned "a double or a treble debt to pay": which, besides their
legitimate object, to show the hour, tell you the day of the month or
the week, give you a landscape for a dial-plate, with the second hand
forming the sails of a windmill, or have a barrel to play a tune, or an
alarum to remind you of an engagement: all very good things in their
way; but so it is that these watches never tell the time so well as
those in which that is the exclusive object of the maker. Every
additional movement is an obstacle to the original design. We do not
deny that we have learned much physic, and much law, from _Patronage_,
particularly the latter, for Miss Edgeworth's law is of a very original
kind; but it was not to learn law and physic that we took up the book,
and we suspect we should have been more pleased if we had been less
taught. With regard to the influence of religion, which is scarcely, if
at all, alluded to in Miss Edgeworth's novels, we would abstain from
pronouncing any decision which should apply to her personally. She may,
for aught we know, entertain opinions which would not permit her, with
consistency, to attribute more to it than she has done; in that case she
stands acquitted, in _foro conscientiae_, of wilfully suppressing any
thing which she acknowledges to be true and important; but, as a writer,
it must still be considered as a blemish, in the eyes at least of those
who think differently, that virtue should be studiously inculcated with
scarcely any reference to what they regard as the main spring of it;
that vice should be traced to every other source except the want of
religious principle; that the most radical change from worthlessness to
excellence should be represented as wholly independent of that agent
which they consider as the only one that can accomplish it; and that
consolation under affliction should be represented as derived from every
source except the one which they look to as the only true and sure one:
"is it not because there is no God in Israel that ye have sent to
inquire of Baalzebub the God of Ekron?"

Miss Austin has the merit (in our judgment most essential) of being
evidently a Christian writer: a merit which is much enhanced, both on
the score of good taste, and of practical utility, by her religion being
not at all obtrusive. She might defy the most fastidious critic to call
any of her novels (as _Caelebs_ was designated, we will not say
altogether without reason), a "dramatic sermon." The subject is rather
alluded to, and that incidentally, than studiously brought forward and
dwelt upon. In fact she is more sparing of it than would be thought
desirable by some persons; perhaps even by herself, had she consulted
merely her own sentiments; but she probably introduced it as far as she
thought would be generally acceptable and profitable: for when the
purpose of inculcating a religious principle is made too palpably
prominent, many readers, if they do not throw aside the book with
disgust, are apt to fortify themselves with that respectful kind of
apathy with which they undergo a regular sermon, and prepare themselves
as they do to swallow a dose of medicine, endeavouring to _get it down_
in large gulps, without tasting it more than is necessary.

The moral lessons also of this lady's novels, though clearly and
impressively conveyed, are not offensively put forward, but spring
incidentally from the circumstances of the story; they are not forced
upon the reader, but he is left to collect them (though without any
difficulty) for himself: hers is that unpretending kind of instruction
which is furnished by real life; and certainly no author has ever
conformed more closely to real life, as well in the incidents, as in the
characters and descriptions. Her fables appear to us to be, in their own
way, nearly faultless; they do not consist (like those of some of the
writers who have attempted this kind of common-life novel writing) of a
string of unconnected events which have little or no bearing on one main
plot, and are introduced evidently for the sole purpose of bringing in
characters and conversations; but have all that compactness of plan and
unity of action which is generally produced by a sacrifice of
probability: yet they have little or nothing that is not probable; the
story proceeds without the aid of extraordinary accidents; the events
which take place are the necessary or natural consequences of what has
preceded; and yet (which is a very rare merit indeed) the final
catastrophe is scarcely ever clearly foreseen from the beginning, and
very often comes, upon the generality of readers at least, quite
unexpected. We know not whether Miss Austin ever had access to the
precepts of Aristotle; but there are few, if any, writers of fiction who
have illustrated them more successfully.

The vivid distinctness of description, the minute fidelity of detail,
and air of unstudied ease in the scenes represented, which are no less
necessary than probability of incident, to carry the reader's
imagination along with the story, and give fiction the perfect
appearance of reality, she possesses in a high degree; and the object is
accomplished without resorting to those deviations from the ordinary
plan of narrative in the third person, which have been patronized by
some eminent masters. We allude to the two other methods of conducting a
fictitious story, viz., either by narrative in the first person, when
the hero is made to tell his own tale, or by a series of letters; both
of which we conceive have been adopted with a view of heightening the
resemblance of the fiction to reality. At first sight, indeed, there
might appear no reason why a story told in the first person should have
more the air of a real history than in the third; especially as the
majority of real histories actually are in the third person;
nevertheless, experience seems to show that such is the case: provided
there be no want of skill in the writer, the resemblance to real life,
of a fiction thus conducted, will approach much the nearest (other
points being equal) to a deception, and the interest felt in it, to that
which we feel in real transactions. We need only instance Defoe's
Novels, which, in spite of much improbability, we believe have been
oftener mistaken for true narratives, than any fictions that ever were
composed. Colonel Newport is well known to have been cited as an
historical authority; and we have ourselves found great difficulty in
convincing many of our friends that Defoe was not himself the citizen,
who relates the plague of London. The reason probably is, that in the
ordinary form of narrative, the writer is not content to exhibit, like a
real historian, a bare detail of such circumstances as might actually
have come under his knowledge; but presents us with a description of
what is passing in the minds of the parties, and gives an account of
their feelings and motives, as well as their most private conversations
in various places at once. All this is very amusing, but perfectly
unnatural: the merest simpleton could hardly mistake a fiction of _this_
kind for a true history, unless he believed the writer to be endued with
omniscience and omnipresence, or to be aided by familiar spirits, doing
the office of Homer's Muses, whom he invokes to tell him all that could
not otherwise be known;

[Greek: _Umeis gar theoi eote pareote te, iote te panta._]

Let the events, therefore, which are detailed, and the characters
described, be ever so natural, the way in which they are presented to us
is of a kind of supernatural cast, perfectly unlike any real history
that ever was or can be written, and thus requiring a greater stretch of
imagination in the reader. On the other hand, the supposed narrator of
his own history never pretends to dive into the thoughts and feelings of
the other parties; he merely describes his own, and gives his
conjectures as to those of the rest, just as a real autobiographer might
do; and thus an author is enabled to assimilate his fiction to reality,
without withholding that delineation of the inward workings of the human
heart, which is so much coveted. Nevertheless novels in the first person
have not succeeded so well as to make that mode of writing become very
general. It is objected to them, not without reason, that they want a
_hero_: the person intended to occupy that post being the narrator
himself, who of course cannot so describe his own conduct and character
as to make the reader thoroughly acquainted with him; though the attempt
frequently produces an offensive appearance of egotism.

The plan of a fictitious correspondence seems calculated in some measure
to combine the advantages of the other two; since, by allowing each
personage to be the speaker in turn, the feelings of each may be
described by himself, and his character and conduct by another. But
these novels are apt to become excessively tedious; since, to give the
letters the appearance of reality (without which the main object
proposed would be defeated), they must contain a very large proportion
of matter which has no bearing at all upon the story. There is also
generally a sort of awkward disjointed appearance in a novel which
proceeds entirely in letters, and holds together, as it were, by
continual splicing.

Miss Austin, though she has in a few places introduced letters with
great effect, has on the whole conducted her novels on the ordinary
plan, describing, without scruple, private conversations and
uncommunicated feelings: but she has not been forgetful of the important
maxim, so long ago illustrated by Homer, and afterwards enforced by
Aristotle,[1] of saying as little as possible in her own person, and
giving a dramatic air to the narrative, by introducing frequent
conversations; which she conducts with a regard to character hardly
exceeded even by Shakespeare himself. Like him, she shows as admirable a
discrimination in the characters of fools as of people of sense; a merit
which is far from common. To invent, indeed, a conversation full of
wisdom or of wit, requires that the writer should himself possess
ability; but the converse does not hold good: it is no fool that can
describe fools well; and many who have succeeded pretty well in painting
superior characters, have failed in giving individuality to those weaker
ones, which it is necessary to introduce in order to give a faithful
representation of real life: they exhibit to us mere folly in the
abstract, forgetting that to the eye of a skilful naturalist the insects
on a leaf present as wide differences as exist between the elephant and
the lion. Slender, and Shallow, and Aguecheek, as Shakespeare has
painted them, though equally fools, resemble one another no more than
"Richard," and "Macbeth," and "Julius Caesar"; and Miss Austin's "Mrs.
Bennet," "Mr. Rushworth," and "Miss Bates," are no more alike than her
"Darcy," "Knightley," and "Edmund Bertram." Some have complained,
indeed, of finding her fools too much like nature, and consequently
tiresome; there is no disputing about tastes; all we can say is, that
such critics must (whatever deference they may outwardly pay to received
opinions) find the "Merry Wives of Windsor" and "Twelfth Night" very
tiresome; and that those who look with pleasure at Wilkie's pictures, or
those of the Dutch school, must admit that excellence of imitation may
confer attraction on that which would be insipid or disagreeable in the

[1] [Greek: _ouden anthes_] Arist. Poet.

Her minuteness of detail has also been found fault with; but even where
it produces, at the time, a degree of tediousness, we know not whether
that can justly be reckoned a blemish, which is absolutely essential to
a very high excellence. Now, it is absolutely impossible, without this,
to produce that thorough acquaintance with the characters, which is
necessary to make the reader heartily interested in them. Let any one
cut out from the _Iliad_ or from Shakespeare's plays every thing (we are
far from saying that either might not lose some parts with advantage,
but let him reject every thing) which is absolutely devoid of importance
and of interest _in itself_; and he will find that what is left will
have lost more than half its charms. We are convinced that some writers
have diminished the effect of their works by being scrupulous to admit
nothing into them which had not some absolute, intrinsic, and
independent merit. They have acted like those who strip off the leaves
of a fruit tree, as being of themselves good for nothing, with the view
of securing more nourishment to the fruit, which in fact cannot attain
its full maturity and flavour without them.

* * * * *

To say the truth, we suspect one of Miss Austin's great merits in our
eyes to be, the insight she gives us into the peculiarities of female
character. Authoresses can scarcely ever forget the _esprit de corps_--
can scarcely ever forget that they _are authoresses_. They seem to feel
a sympathetic shudder at exposing naked a female mind. _Elles se
peignent en buste_, and leave the mysteries of womanhood to be described
by some interloping male, like Richardson or Marivaux, who is turned out
before he has seen half the rites, and is forced to spin from his own
conjectures the rest. Now from this fault Miss Austin is free. Her
heroines are what one knows women must be, though one never can get them
to acknowledge it. As liable to "fall in love first," as anxious to
attract the attention of agreeable men, as much taken with a striking
manner, or a handsome face, as unequally gifted with constancy and
firmness, as liable to have their affections biassed by convenience or
fashion, as we, on our part, will admit men to be. As some illustration
of what we mean, we refer our readers to the conversation between Miss
Crawford and Fanny, vol. iii, p. 102. Fanny's meeting with her father,
p. 199; her reflections after reading Edmund's letter, 246; her
happiness (good, and heroine though she be) in the midst of the misery
of all her friends, when she finds that Edmund has decidedly broken with
her rival; feelings, all of them, which, under the influence of strong
passion, must alloy the purest mind, but with which scarcely any
_authoress_ but Miss Austin would have ventured to temper the aetherial
materials of a heroine.

But we must proceed to the publication of which the title is prefixed to
this article. It contains, it seems, the earliest and the latest
productions of the author; the first of them having been purchased, we
are told, many years back by a bookseller, who, for some reason
unexplained, thought proper to alter his mind and withhold it. We do not
much applaud his taste; for though it is decidedly inferior to her other
works, having less plot, and what there is, less artificially wrought
up, and also less exquisite nicety of moral painting; yet the same kind
of excellences which characterise the other novels may be perceived in
this, in a degree which would have been highly creditable to most other
writers of the same school, and which would have entitled the author to
considerable praise, had she written nothing better.

We already begin to fear, that we have indulged too much in extracts,
and we must save some room for _Persuasion_, or we could not resist
giving a specimen of John Thorpe, with his horse that _cannot_ go less
than 10 miles an hour, his refusal to drive his sister "because she has
such thick ankles," and his sober consumption of five pints of port a
day; altogether the best portrait of a species, which, though almost
extinct, cannot yet be quite classed among the Palaeotheria, the Bang-up
Oxonian. Miss Thorpe, the jilt of middling life, is, in her way, quite
as good, though she has not the advantage of being the representative of
a rare or a diminishing species. We fear few of our readers, however
they may admire the naivete, will admit the truth of poor John Morland's
postscript, "I can never expect to know such another woman."

The latter of these novels, however, _Persuasion_, which is more
strictly to be considered as a posthumous work, possesses that
superiority which might be expected from the more mature age at which it
was written, and is second, we think, to none of the former ones, if not
superior to all. In the humorous delineation of character it does not
abound quite so much as some of the others, though it has great merit
even on that score; but it has more of that tender and yet elevated kind
of interest which is aimed at by the generality of novels, and in
pursuit of which they seldom fail of running into romantic extravagance:
on the whole, it is one of the most elegant fictions of common life we
ever remember to have met with.

Sir Walter Elliot, a silly and conceited baronet, has three daughters,
the eldest two, unmarried, and the third, Mary, the wife of a
neighbouring gentleman, Mr. Charles Musgrove, heir to a considerable
fortune, and living in a genteel cottage in the neighbourhood of the
Great house which he is hereafter to inherit. The second daughter, Anne,
who is the heroine, and the only one of the family possessed of good
sense (a quality which Miss Austin is as sparing of in her novels, as we
fear her great mistress, Nature, has been in real life), when on a visit
to her sister, is, by that sort of instinct which generally points out
to all parties the person on whose judgment and temper they may rely,
appealed to in all the little family differences which arise, and which
are described with infinite spirit and detail.

* * * * *

We ventured, in a former article, to remonstrate against the
dethronement of the once powerful God of Love, in his own most especial
domain, the novel; and to suggest that, in shunning the ordinary fault
of recommending by examples a romantic and uncalculating extravagance of
passion, Miss Austin had rather fallen into the opposite extreme of
exclusively patronizing what are called prudent matches, and too much
disparaging sentimental enthusiasm. We urged, that, mischievous as is
the extreme on this side, it is not the one into which the young folks
of the present day are the most likely to run: the prevailing fault is
not now, whatever it may have been, to sacrifice all for love:

Venit enim magnum donandi parca juventus,
Nec tantum Veneris quantum studiosa culinae.

We may now, without retracting our opinion, bestow unqualified
approbation; for the distresses of the present heroine all arise from
her prudent refusal to listen to the suggestions of her heart. The
catastrophe, however, is happy, and we are left in doubt whether it
would have been better for her or not, to accept the first proposal; and
this we conceive is precisely the proper medium; for, though we would
not have prudential calculations the sole principle to be regarded in
marriage, we are far from advocating their exclusion. To disregard the
advice of sober-minded friends on an important point of conduct, is an
imprudence we would by no means recommend; indeed, it is a species of
selfishness, if, in listening only to the dictates of passion, a man
sacrifices to its gratification the happiness of those most dear to him
as well as his own; though it is not now-a-days the most prevalent form
of selfishness. But it is no condemnation of a sentiment to say, that it
becomes blameable when it interferes with duty, and is uncontrolled by
conscience: the desire of riches, power, or distinction--the taste for
ease and comfort--are to be condemned when they transgress these bounds;
and love, if it keep within them, even though it be somewhat tinged with
enthusiasm, and a little at variance with what the worldly call
prudence, _i.e._, regard for pecuniary advantage, may afford a better
moral discipline to the mind than most other passions. It will not at
least be denied, that it has often proved a powerful stimulus to
exertion where others have failed, and has called forth talents unknown
before even to the possessor. What, though the pursuit may be fruitless,
and the hopes visionary? The result may be a real and substantial
benefit, though of another kind; the vineyard may have been cultivated
by digging in it for the treasure which is never to be found. What
though the perfections with which imagination has decorated the beloved
object, may, in fact, exist but in a slender degree? still they are
believed in and admired as real; if not, the love is such as does not
merit the name; and it is proverbially true that men become assimilated
to the character (_i.e._, what they _think_ the character) of the being
they fervently adore: thus, as in the noblest exhibitions of the stage,
though that which is contemplated be but a fiction, it may be realized
in the mind of the beholder; and, though grasping at a cloud, he may
become worthy of possessing a real goddess. Many a generous sentiment,
and many a virtuous resolution, have been called forth and matured by
admiration of one, who may herself perhaps have been incapable of
either. It matters not what the object is that a man aspires to be
worthy of, and proposes as a model for imitation, if he does but
_believe_ it to be excellent. Moreover, all doubts of success (and they
are seldom, if ever, entirely wanting) must either produce or exercise
humility; and the endeavour to study another's interests and
inclinations, and prefer them to one's own, may promote a habit of
general benevolence which may outlast the present occasion. Every thing,
in short, which tends to abstract a man in any degree, or in any way,
from self,--from self-admiration and self-interest, has, so far at
least, a beneficial influence in forming the character.

On the whole, Miss Austin's works may safely be recommended, not only as
among the most unexceptionable of their class, but as combining, in an
eminent degree, instruction with amusement, though without the direct
effort at the former, of which we have complained, as sometimes
defeating its object. For those who cannot, or will not, _learn_
anything from productions of this kind, she has provided entertainment
which entitles her to thanks; for mere innocent amusement is in itself a
good, when it interferes with no greater: especially as it may occupy
the place of some other that may _not_ be innocent. The Eastern monarch
who proclaimed a reward to him who should discover a new pleasure, would
have deserved well of mankind had he stipulated that it should be
blameless. Those, again, who delight in the study of human nature, may
improve in the knowledge of it, and in the profitable application of
that knowledge, by the perusal of such fictions as those before us.


[From _The Quarterly Review_, October, 1859]

1. _Tennyson's Poems_. In Two Volumes. London, 1842.
2. _The Princess: a Medley_. London, 1847.
3. _In Memoriam_. London, 1850.
4. _Maud, and other Poems_. London, 1855.
5. _Idylls of the King_. London, 1859.

Mr. Tennyson published his first volume, under the title of "Poems
Chiefly Lyrical," in 1830, and his second, with the name simply of
"Poems," in 1833. In 1842 he reappeared before the world in two volumes,
partly made up from the _debris_ of his earlier pieces; and from this
time forward he came into the enjoyment of a popularity at once great,
growing, and select. With a manly resolution, which gave promise of the
rare excellence he was progressively to attain, he had at this time
amputated altogether from the collection about one-half of the contents
of his earliest work, with some considerable portion of the second; he
had almost rewritten or carefully corrected other important pieces, and
had added a volume of new compositions.

The latter handiwork showed a great advance upon the earlier; as,
indeed, 1833 had shown upon 1830. From the very first, however, he had
been noteworthy in performance as well as in promise, and it was plain
that, whatever else might happen, at least neglect was not to be his
lot. But, in the natural heat of youth he had at the outset certainly
mixed up some trivial with a greater number of worthy productions, and
had shown an impatience of criticism by which, however excusable, he was
sure to be himself the chief sufferer. His higher gifts, too, were of
the quality which, by the changeless law of nature, cannot ripen fast;
and there was, accordingly, some portion both of obscurity and of
crudity in the results of his youthful labours. Men of slighter
materials would have come more quickly to their maturity, and might have
given less occasion not only for cavil but for animadversion. It was yet
more creditable to him, than it could be even to the just among his
critics, that he should, and while yet young, have applied himself with
so resolute a hand to the work of castigation. He thus gave a remarkable
proof alike of his reverence for his art, of his insight into its
powers, of the superiority he had acquired to all the more commonplace
illusions of self-love, and perhaps of his presaging consciousness that
the great, if they mean to fulfil the measure of their greatness, should
always be fastidious against themselves.

It would be superfluous to enter upon any general criticism of this
collection, which was examined when still recent in this Review, and a
large portion of which is established in the familiar recollection and
favour of the public. We may, however, say that what may be termed at
large the classical idea (though it is not that of Troas nor of the
Homeric period) has, perhaps, never been grasped with greater force and
justice than in "Oenone," nor exhibited in a form of more consummate
polish. "Ulysses" is likewise a highly finished poem; but it is open to
the remark that it exhibits (so to speak) a corner-view of a character
which was in itself a _cosmos_. Never has political philosophy been
wedded to the poetic form more happily than in the three short pieces on
England and her institutions, unhappily without title, and only to be
cited, like writs of law and papal bulls, by their first words. Even
among the rejected pieces there are specimens of a deep metaphysical
insight; and this power reappears with an increasing growth of ethical
and social wisdom in "Locksley Hall" and elsewhere. The Wordsworthian
poem of "Dora" is admirable in its kind. From the firmness of its
drawing, and the depth and singular purity of its colour, "Godiva"
stood, if we judge aright, as at once a great performance and a great
pledge. But, above all, the fragmentary piece on the Death of Arthur was
a fit prelude to that lordly music which is now sounding in our ears. If
we pass onward from these volumes, it is only because space forbids a
further enumeration.

The "Princess" was published in 1847. The author has termed it "a
medley": why, we know not. It approaches more nearly to the character of
a regular drama, with the stage directions written into verse, than any
other of his works, and it is composed consecutively throughout on the
basis of one idea. It exhibits an effort to amalgamate the place and
function of woman with that of man, and the failure of that effort,
which duly winds up with the surrender and marriage of the fairest and
chief enthusiast. It may be doubted whether the idea is one well suited
to exhibition in a quasi-dramatic form. Certainly the mode of embodying
it, so far as it is dramatic, is not successful; for here again the
persons are little better than mere _personae_. They are _media_, and
weak _media_, for the conveyance of the ideas. The poem is,
nevertheless, one of high interest, on account of the force, purity and
nobleness of the main streams of thought, which are clothed in language
full of all Mr. Tennyson's excellences; and also because it marks the
earliest effort of his mind in the direction of his latest and greatest

* * * * *

With passages like these still upon the mind and ear, and likewise
having in view many others in the "Princess" and elsewhere, we may
confidently assert it as one of Mr. Tennyson's brightest distinctions
that he is now what from the very first he strove to be, and what when
he wrote "Godiva" he gave ample promise of becoming--the poet of woman.
We do not mean, nor do we know, that his hold over women as his readers
is greater than his command or influence over men; but that he has
studied, sounded, painted woman in form, in motion, in character, in
office, in capability, with rare devotion, power, and skill; and the
poet who best achieves this end does also most and best for man.

In 1850 Mr. Tennyson gave to the world, under the title of "In
Memoriam," perhaps the richest oblation ever offered by the affection of
friendship at the tomb of the departed. The memory of Arthur Henry
Hallam, who died suddenly in 1833, at the age of twenty-two, will
doubtless live chiefly in connection with this volume; but he is well
known to have been one who, if the term of his days had been prolonged,
would have needed no aid from a friendly hand, would have built for
himself an enduring monument, and would have bequeathed to his country a
name in all likelihood greater than that of his very distinguished
father. There was no one among those who were blessed with his
friendship, nay, as we see, not even Mr. Tennyson,[1] who did not feel
at once bound closely to him by commanding affection, and left far
behind by the rapid, full, and rich development of his ever-searching
mind; by his

All comprehensive tenderness,
All subtilising intellect.

[1] See "In Memoriam," pp. 64, 84.

It would be easy to show what, in the varied forms of human excellence,
he might, had life been granted him, have accomplished; much more
difficult to point the finger and to say, "This he never could have
done." Enough remains from among his early efforts to accredit whatever
mournful witness may now be borne of him. But what can be a nobler
tribute than this, that for seventeen years after his death a poet, fast
rising towards the lofty summits of his art, found that young fading
image the richest source of his inspiration, and of thoughts that gave
him buoyancy for a flight such as he had not hitherto attained?

It would be very difficult to convey a just idea of this volume either
by narrative or by quotation. In the series of monodies or meditations
which compose it, and which follow in long series without weariness or
sameness, the poet never moves away a step from the grave of his friend,
but, while circling round it, has always a new point of view. Strength
of love, depth of grief, aching sense of loss, have driven him forth as
it were on a quest of consolation, and he asks it of nature, thought,
religion, in a hundred forms which a rich and varied imagination
continually suggests, but all of them connected by one central point,
the recollection of the dead. This work he prosecutes, not in vain
effeminate complaint, but in a manly recognition of the fruit and profit
even of baffled love, in noble suggestions of the future, in
heart-soothing and heart-chastening thoughts of what the dead was and of
what he is, and of what one who has been, and therefore still is, in
near contact with him is bound to be. The whole movement of the poem is
between the mourner and the mourned: it may be called one long
soliloquy; but it has this mark of greatness, that, though the singer is
himself a large part of the subject, it never degenerates into egotism--
for he speaks typically on behalf of humanity at large, and in his own
name, like Dante on his mystic journey, teaches deep lessons of life and
conscience to us all.

* * * * *

By the time "In Memoriam" had sunk into the public mind, Mr. Tennyson
had taken his rank as our first then living poet. Over the fresh hearts
and understandings of the young, notwithstanding his obscurities, his
metaphysics, his contempt of gewgaws, he had established an
extraordinary sway. We ourselves, with some thousands of other
spectators, saw him receive in that noble structure of Wren, the theatre
of Oxford, the decoration of D.C.L., which we perceive he always wears
on his title-page. Among his colleagues in the honour were Sir De Lacy
Evans and Sir John Burgoyne, fresh from the stirring exploits of the
Crimea; but even patriotism, at the fever heat of war, could not command
a more fervent enthusiasm for the old and gallant warriors than was
evoked by the presence of Mr. Tennyson.

In the year 1855 Mr. Tennyson proceeded to publish his "Maud," the least
popular, and probably the least worthy of popularity, among his more
considerable works. A somewhat heavy dreaminess, and a great deal of
obscurity, hang about this poem; and the effort required to dispel the
darkness of the general scheme is not repaid when we discover what it
hides. The main thread of "Maud" seems to be this:--A love once
accepted, then disappointed, leads to blood-shedding, and onward to
madness with lucid alternations. The insanity expresses itself in the
ravings of the homicide lover, who even imagines himself among the dead,
in a clamour and confusion closely resembling an ill-regulated Bedlam,
but which, if the description be a faithful one, would for ever deprive
the grave of its title to the epithet of silent. It may be good frenzy,
but we doubt its being as good poetry. Of all this there may, we admit,
be an esoteric view: but we speak of the work as it offers itself to the
common eye. Both Maud and the lover are too nebulous by far; and they
remind us of the boneless and pulpy personages by whom, as Dr. Whewell
assures us, the planet Jupiter is inhabited, if inhabited at all. But
the most doubtful part of the poem is its climax. A vision of the
beloved image (p. 97) "spoke of a hope for the world in the coming
wars," righteous wars, of course, and the madman begins to receive light
and comfort; but, strangely enough, it seems to be the wars, and not the
image, in which the source of consolation lies (p. 98).

No more shall Commerce be all in all, and Peace
Pipe on her pastoral hillock a languid note,
And watch her harvest ripen, her herd increase.
... a peace that was full of wrongs and shames,
Horrible, hateful, monstrous, not to be told ...
For the long long canker of peace is over and done:
And now by the side of the Black and the Baltic deep,
And deathful grinning mouths of the fortress, names
The blood-red blossom of war with a heart of fire!

What interpretation are we meant to give to all this sound and fury? We
would fain have put it down as intended to be the finishing-stroke in
the picture of a mania which has reached its zenith. We might call in
aid of this construction more happy and refreshing passages from other
poems, as when Mr. Tennyson is

Certain, if knowledge brings the sword,
That knowledge takes the sword away.[1]

[1] "Poems," p. 182, ed. 1853. See also "Locksley Hall," p. 278.

And again in "The Golden Dream,"--

When shall all men's good
Be each man's rule, and universal peace
Lie like a shaft of light across the land?

And yet once more in a noble piece of "In Memoriam,"--

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

But on the other hand we must recollect that very long ago, when the
apparition of invasion from across the Channel had as yet spoiled no
man's slumbers, Mr. Tennyson's blood was already up:[2]--

For the French, the Pope may shrive them ...
And the merry devil drive them
Through the water and the fire.

[2] "Poems chiefly Lyrical," 1830, p. 142.

And unhappily in the beginning of "Maud," when still in the best use of
such wits as he possesses, its hero deals largely in kindred
extravagances (p. 7):--

When a Mammonite mother kills her babe for a burial fee,
And Timour-Mammon grins on a pile of children's bones,
Is it peace or war? better war! loud war by land and by sea,
War with a thousand battles, and shaking a hundred thrones.

He then anticipates that, upon an enemy's attacking this country, "the
smooth-faced, snub-nosed rogue," who typifies the bulk of the British
people, "the nation of shopkeepers," as it has been emasculated and
corrupted by excess of peace, will leap from his counter and till to
charge the enemy; and thus it is to be reasonably hoped that we shall
attain to the effectual renovation of society.

We frankly own that our divining rod does not enable us to say whether
the poet intends to be in any and what degree sponsor to these
sentiments, or whether he has put them forth in the exercise of his
undoubted right to make vivid and suggestive representations of even the
partial and narrow aspects of some endangered truth. This is at best,
indeed, a perilous business, for out of such fervid partial
representations nearly all grave human error springs; and it should only
be pursued with caution and in season. But we do not recollect that 1855
was a season of serious danger from a mania for peace and its pursuits;
and even if it had been so, we fear that the passages we have quoted far
overpass all the bounds of moderation and good sense. It is, indeed,
true that peace has its moral perils and temptations for degenerate man,
as has every other blessing, without exception, that he can receive from
the hand of God. It is moreover not less true that, amidst the clash of
arms, the noblest forms of character may be reared, and the highest acts
of duty done; that these great and precious results may be due to war as
their cause; and that one high form of sentiment in particular, the love
of country, receives a powerful and general stimulus from the bloody
strife. But this is as the furious cruelty of Pharaoh made place for the
benign virtue of his daughter; as the butchering sentence of Herod
raised without doubt many a mother's love into heroic sublimity; as
plague, as famine, as fire, as flood, as every curse and every scourge
that is wielded by an angry Providence for the chastisement of man, is
an appointed instrument for tempering human souls in the seven-times
heated furnace of affliction, up to the standard of angelic and
archangelic virtue. War, indeed, has the property of exciting much
generous and noble feeling on a large scale; but with this special
recommendation it has, in its modern forms especially, peculiar and
unequalled evils. As it has a wider sweep of desolating power than the
rest, so it has the peculiar quality that it is more susceptible of
being decked in gaudy trappings, and of fascinating the imagination of
those whose passions it inflames. But it is on this very account a
perilous delusion to teach that war is a cure for moral evil in any
other sense than as the sister tribulations are. The eulogies of the
frantic hero in "Maud," however, deviate into grosser folly. It is
natural that such vagaries should overlook the fixed laws of Providence;
and under these laws the mass of mankind is composed of men, women, and
children who can but just ward off hunger, cold, and nakedness; whose
whole ideas of Mammon-worship are comprised in the search for their
daily food, clothing, shelter, fuel; whom any casualty reduces to
positive want; and whose already low estimate is yet further lowered and
ground down when "the blood-red blossom of war flames with its heart of
fire." But what is a little strange is, that war should be recommended
as a specific for the particular evil of Mammon-worship. Such it never
was, even in the days when the Greek heroes longed for the booty of
Troy, and anticipated lying by the wives of its princes and its
citizens. Still it had, in times now gone by, ennobling elements and
tendencies of the less sordid kind. But one inevitable characteristic of
modern war is, that it is associated throughout, in all its particulars,
with a vast and most irregular formation of commercial enterprise. There
is no incentive to Mammon-worship so remarkable as that which it
affords. The political economy of war is now one of its most commanding
aspects. Every farthing, with the smallest exceptions conceivable, of
the scores or hundreds of millions which a war may cost, goes directly
to stimulate production, though it is intended ultimately for waste or
for destruction. Apart from the fact that war destroys every rule of
public thrift, and saps honesty itself in the use of the public treasure
for which it makes such unbounded calls, it therefore is the greatest
feeder of that lust of gold which we are told is the essence of
commerce, though we had hoped it was only its occasional besetting sin.
It is, however, more than this; for the regular commerce of peace is
tameness itself compared with the gambling spirit which war, through the
rapid shiftings and high prices which it brings, always introduces into
trade. In its moral operation it more resembles, perhaps, the finding of
a new gold-field, than anything else. Meantime, as the most wicked
mothers do not kill their offspring from a taste for the practice in the
abstract, but under the pressure of want, and as war always brings home
want to a larger circle of the people than feel it in peace, we ask the
hero of "Maud" to let us know whether war is more likely to reduce or to
multiply the horrors which he denounces? Will more babies be poisoned
amidst comparative ease and plenty, or when, as before the fall of
Napoleon, provisions were twice as dear as they now are, and wages not
much more than half as high? Romans and Carthaginians were pretty much
given to war: but no nations were more sedulous in the cult of Mammon.
Again, the Scriptures are pretty strong against Mammon-worship, but they
do not recommend this original and peculiar cure. Nay, once more: what
sad errors must have crept into the text of the prophet Isaiah when he
is made to desire that our swords shall be converted into ploughshares,
and our spears into pruning-hooks! But we have this solid consolation
after all, that Mr. Tennyson's war poetry is not comparable to his
poetry of peace. Indeed he is not here successful at all: the work, of a
lower order than his, demands the abrupt force and the lyric fire which
do not seem to be among his varied and brilliant gifts. We say more. Mr.
Tennyson is too intimately and essentially the poet of the nineteenth
century to separate himself from its leading characteristics, the
progress of physical science and a vast commercial, mechanical, and
industrial development. Whatever he may say or do in an occasional fit,
he cannot long either cross or lose its sympathies; for while he
elevates as well as adorns it, he is flesh of its flesh and bone of its
bone. We fondly believe it is his business to do much towards the
solution of that problem, so fearful from its magnitude, how to
harmonise this new draught of external power and activity with the old
and more mellow wine of faith, self devotion, loyalty, reverence, and
discipline. And all that we have said is aimed, not at Mr. Tennyson, but
at a lay-figure which he has set up, and into the mouth of which he has
put words that cannot be his words.

We return to our proper task, "Maud," if an unintelligible or even, for
Mr. Tennyson, an inferior work, is still a work which no inferior man
could have produced; nor would it be difficult to extract abundance of
lines, and even passages, obviously worthy of their author. And if this
poem would have made while alone a volume too light for his fame, the
defect is supplied by the minor pieces, some of which are admirable.
"The Brook," with its charming interstitial soliloquy, and the "Letters"
will, we are persuaded, always rank among Mr. Tennyson's happy efforts;
while the "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington," written from the
heart and sealed by the conscience of the poet, is worthy of that great
and genuine piece of manhood, its immortal subject.

We must touch for a moment upon what has already been mentioned as a
separate subject of interest in the "Princess." We venture to describe
it as in substance a drama, with a plot imperfectly worked and with
characters insufficiently chiselled and relieved. Its author began by
presenting, and for many years continued to present, personal as well as
natural pictures of individual attitude or movement; and, as in "Oenone"
and "Godiva," he carried them to a very high pitch of perfection. But he
scarcely attempted, unless in his more homely narrations, anything like
grouping or combination. It now appears that for the higher effort he
has been gradually accumulating and preparing his resources. In the
sections of the prolonged soliloquy of "Maud" we see a crude attempt at
representing combined interests and characters with heroic elevation,
under the special difficulty of appearing, like Mathews, in one person
only; in the "Princess" we had a happier effort, though one that still
left more to be desired. Each, however, in its own stage was a
preparation for an enterprise at once bolder and more mature.

We now come to the recent work of the poet--the "Idylls of the King."
The field, which Mr. Tennyson has chosen for this his recent and far
greatest exploit, is one of so deep and wide-reaching an interest as to
demand some previous notice of a special kind.

Lofty example in comprehensive forms is, without doubt, one of the great
standing needs of our race. To this want it has been from the first one
main purpose of the highest poetry to answer. The quest of Beauty leads
all those who engage in it to the ideal or normal man as the summit of
attainable excellence. By no arbitrary choice, but in obedience to
unchanging laws, the painter and the sculptor must found their art upon
the study of the human form, and must reckon its successful reproduction
as their noblest and most consummate exploit. The concern of Poetry with
corporal beauty is, though important, yet secondary: this art uses form
as an auxiliary, as a subordinate though proper part in the delineation
of mind and character, of which it is appointed to be a visible organ.
But with mind and character themselves lies the highest occupation of
the Muse. Homer, the patriarch of poets, has founded his two immortal
works upon two of these ideal developments in Achilles and Ulysses; and
has adorned them with others, such as Penelope and Helen, Hector and
Diomed, every one an immortal product, though as compared with the
others either less consummate or less conspicuous. Though deformed by
the mire of after-tradition, all the great characters of Homer have
become models and standards, each in its own kind, for what was, or was
supposed to be, its distinguishing gift.

At length, after many generations and great revolutions of mind and of
events, another age arrived, like, if not equal, in creative power to
that of Homer. The Gospel had given to the whole life of man a real
resurrection, and its second birth was followed by its second youth.
This rejuvenescence was allotted to those wonderful centuries which
popular ignorance confounds with the dark ages properly so called--an
identification about as rational as if we were to compare the life
within the womb to the life of intelligent though early childhood.
Awakened to aspirations at once fresh and ancient, the mind of man took
hold of the venerable ideals bequeathed to us by the Greeks as a
precious part of its inheritance, and gave them again to the light,
appropriated but also renewed. The old materials came forth, but not
alone; for the types which human genius had formerly conceived were now
submitted to the transfiguring action of a law from on high. Nature
herself prompted the effort to bring the old patterns of worldly
excellence and greatness--or rather the copies of those patterns still
legible, though depraved, and still rich with living suggestion--into
harmony with that higher Pattern, once seen by the eyes and handled by
the hands of men, and faithfully delineated in the Gospels for the
profit of all generations. The life of our Saviour, in its external
aspect, was that of a teacher. It was in principle a model for all, but
it left space and scope for adaptations to the lay life of Christians in
general, such as those by whom the every-day business of the world is to
be carried on. It remained for man to make his best endeavour to exhibit
the great model on its terrestrial side, in its contact with the world.
Here is the true source of that new and noble cycle which the middle
ages have handed down to us in duality of form, but with a nearly
identical substance, under the royal sceptres of Arthur in England and
of Charlemagne in France.

Of the two great systems of Romance, one has Lancelot, the other has
Orlando for its culminating point; these heroes being exhibited as the
respective specimens in whose characters the fullest development of man,
such as he was then conceived, was to be recognised. The one put forward
Arthur for the visible head of Christendom, signifying and asserting its
social unity; the other had Charlemagne. Each arrays about the Sovereign
a fellowship of knights. In them Valour is the servant of Honour; in an
age of which violence is the besetting danger, the protection of the
weak is elevated into a first principle of action; and they betoken an
order of things in which Force should be only known as allied with
Virtue, while they historically foreshadow the magnificent aristocracy
of mediaeval Europe. The one had Guinevere for the rarest gem of beauty,
the other had Angelica. Each of them contained figures of approximation
to the knightly model, and in each these figures, though on the whole
secondary, yet in certain aspects surpassed it: such were Sir Tristram,
Sir Galahad, Sir Lamoracke, Sir Gawain, Sir Geraint, in the Arthurian
cycle; Rinaldo and Ruggiero, with others, in the Carlovingian. They were
not twin systems, but they were rather twin investitures of the same
scheme of ideals and feelings. Their consanguinity to the primitive
Homeric types is proved by a multitude of analogies of character and by
the commanding place which they assign to Hector as the flower of human
excellence. Without doubt, this preference was founded on his supposed
moral superiority to all his fellows in Homer; and the secondary prizes
of strength, valour, and the like, were naturally allowed to group
themselves around what, under the Christian scheme, had become the
primary ornament of man. The near relation of the two cycles to one
another may be sufficiently seen in the leading references we have made,
and it runs into a multitude of details both great and small, of which
we can only note a few. In both the chief hero passes through a
prolonged term of madness. Judas, in the College of Apostles, is
represented under Charlemagne in Gano di Maganza and his house, who
appear, without any development in action, in the Arthurian romance as
"the traitours of Magouns," and who are likewise reflected in Sir
Modred, Sir Agravain, and others; while the Mahometan element, which has
a natural place ready made in a history that acknowledges Charlemagne
and France, for its centres, finds its way sympathetically into one
which is bound for the most part by the shores of Albion. Both schemes
cling to the tradition of the unity of the Empire as well as of
Christendom; and accordingly, what was historical in Charlemagne is
represented in the case of Arthur by an imaginary conquest reaching as
far as Rome, the capital of the West: even the sword _Durindana_ has its
counterpart in the sword _Excalibur_.

The moral systems of the two cycles are essentially allied: and perhaps
the differences between them may be due in greater or in less part to
the fact that they come to us through different _media_. We of the
nineteenth century read the Carlovingian romance in the pages of Ariosto
and Bojardo, who gave to their materials the colour of their times, and
of a civilization rank in some respects, while still unripe in some
others. The genius of poetry was not at the same period applying its
transmuting force to the Romance of the Round Table. The date of Sir
Thomas Mallory, who lived under Edward IV, is something earlier than
that of the great Italian romances; he appears, too, to have been on the
whole content with the humble offices of a compiler and a chronicler,
and we may conceive that his spirit and diction are still older than his
date. The consequence is, that we are brought into more immediate and
fresher contact with the original forms of this romance. So that, as
they present themselves to us, the Carlovingian cycle is the child of
the latest middle age, while the Arthurian represents the earlier. Much
might be said on the differences which have thus arisen, and on those
which may be due to a more northern and more southern extraction
respectively. Suffice it to say that the Romance of the Round Table, far
less vivid and brilliant, far ruder as a work of skill and art, has more
of the innocence, the emotion, the transparency, the inconsistency of
childhood. Its political action is less specifically Christian than that
of the rival scheme, its individual more so. It is more directly and
seriously aimed at the perfection of man. It is more free from gloss and
varnish; it tells its own tale with more entire simplicity. The ascetic
element is more strongly, and at the same time more quaintly, developed.
It has a higher conception of the nature of woman; and like the Homeric
poems, appears to eschew exhibiting her perfections in alliance with
warlike force and exploits. So also love, while largely infused into the
story, is more subordinate to the exhibition of other qualities. Again,
the Romance of the Round Table bears witness to a more distinct and
keener sense of sin: and on the whole, a deeper, broader, and more manly
view of human character, life, and duty. It is in effect more like what
the Carlovingian cycle might have been had Dante moulded it. It hardly
needs to be added that it is more mythical, inasmuch as Arthur of the
Round Table is a personage, we fear, wholly doubtful, though not
impossible; while the broad back of the historic Charlemagne, like
another Atlas, may well sustain a world of mythical accretions. This
slight comparison, be it remarked, refers exclusively to what may be
termed the latest "redactions" of the two cycles of romance. Their early
forms, in the lays of troubadours, and in the pages of the oldest
chroniclers, offer a subject of profound interest, and one still
unexhausted, although it has been examined by Mr. Panizzi and M.
Fauriel,[1] but one which is quite beyond the scope of our present

[1] Essay on the Romantic Narrative Poetry of the Italians: London,
1830. Histoire de la Poesie Provencale: Paris, 1846.

It is to this rich repository that Mr. Tennyson has resorted for his
material. He has shown, as we think, rare judgment in the choice. The
Arthurian Romance has every recommendation that should win its way to
the homage of a great poet. It is national: it is Christian. It is also
human in the largest and deepest sense; and, therefore, though highly
national, it is universal; for it rests upon those depths and breadths
of our nature to which all its truly great developments in all nations
are alike essentially and closely related. The distance is enough for
atmosphere, not too much for detail; enough for romance, not too much
for sympathy. A poet of the nineteenth century, the Laureate has adopted
characters, incidents, and even language in the main, instead of
attempting to project them on a basis of his own in the region of
illimitable fancy. But he has done much more than this. Evidently by
reading and by deep meditation, as well as by sheer force of genius, he
has penetrated himself down to the very core of his being, with all that
is deepest and best in the spirit of the time, or the representation,
with which he deals; and as others, using old materials, have been free
to alter them in the sense of vulgarity or licence, so he has claimed
and used the right to sever and recombine, to enlarge, retrench, and
modify, for the purposes at once of a more powerful and elaborate art
than his original presents, and of a yet more elevated, or at least of a
far more sustained, ethical and Christian strain.

We are rather disposed to quarrel with the title of Idylls: for no
diminutive ([Greek: _eidullion_]) can be adequate to the breadth,
vigour, and majesty which belong to the subjects, as well as to the
execution, of the volume. The poet used the name once before; but he
then applied it to pieces generally small in the scale of their
delineations, whereas these, even if broken away one from the other, are
yet like the disjoined figures from the pediment of the Parthenon in
their dignity and force. One indeed among Mr. Tennyson's merits is, that
he does not think it necessary to keep himself aloft by artificial
effort, but undulates with his matter, and flies high or low as it
requires. But even in the humblest parts of these poems--as where the
little Novice describes the miniature sorrows and discipline of
childhood--the whole receives its tone from an atmosphere which is
heroic, and which, even in its extremest simplicity, by no means parts
company with grandeur, or ceases to shine in the reflected light of the
surrounding objects. Following the example which the poet has set us in
a former volume, we would fain have been permitted, at least
provisionally, to call these Idylls by the name of Books. Term them what
we may, there are four of them--arranged, as we think, in an ascending

The simplicity and grace of the principal character in Enid, with which
the volume opens, touches, but does not too strongly agitate, the deeper
springs of feeling. She is the beautiful daughter of Earl Yniol, who, by
his refusal of a turbulent neighbour as a suitor, has drawn upon himself
the ruin of his fortunes, and is visited in his depressed condition by
(p. 1)--

The brave Geraint, a knight of Arthur's court,
A tributary prince of Devon, one
Of that great order of the Table Round....

Geraint wins her against the detested cousin. They wed, and she becomes
the purest gem of the court of Guinevere, her place in which is
described in the beautiful exordium of the poem. An accident, slight
perhaps for the weight it is made to carry, arouses his jealousy, and he
tries her severely by isolation and rude offices on one of his tours;
but her gentleness, purity, and patience are proof against all, and we
part from the pair in a full and happy reconciliation, which is
described in lines of a beauty that leaves nothing to be desired.

The treatment of Enid by her husband has appeared to some of Mr.
Tennyson's readers to be unnatural. It is no doubt both in itself
repulsive, and foreign to our age and country. But the brutal element in
man, which now only invades the conjugal relation in cases where it is
highly concentrated, was then far more widely diffused, and not yet
dissociated from alternations and even habits of attachment. Something
of what we now call Eastern manners at one time marked the treatment
even of the women of the West. Unnatural means contrary to nature,
irrespectively of time or place; but time and place explain and warrant
the treatment of Enid by Geraint.

Vivien, which follows Enid, is perhaps the least popular of the four
Books. No pleasure, we grant, can be felt from the character either of
the wily woman, between elf and fiend, or of the aged magician, whose
love is allowed to travel whither none of his esteem or regard can
follow it: and in reading this poem we miss the pleasure of those
profound moral harmonies, with which the rest are charged. But we must
not on these grounds proceed to the conclusion that the poet has in this
case been untrue to his aims. For he has neither failed in power, nor
has he led our sympathies astray; and if we ask why he should introduce
us to those we cannot love, there is something in the reply that Poetry,
the mirror of the world, cannot deal with its attractions only, but must
present some of its repulsions also, and avail herself of the powerful
assistance of its contrasts. The example of Homer, who allows Thersites
to thrust himself upon the scene in the debates of heroes, gives a
sanction to what reason and all experience teach, namely, the actual
force of negatives in heightening effect; and the gentle and noble
characters and beautiful combinations, which largely predominate in the
other poems, stand in far clearer and bolder relief when we perceive the
dark and baleful shadow of Vivien lowering from between them.

Vivien exhibits a well-sustained conflict between the wizard and, in
another sense, the witch; on one side is the wit of woman, on the other
are the endowments of the prophet and magician, at once more and less
than those of nature. She has heard from him of a charm, a charm of
"woven paces, and of waving hands," which paralyses its victim for ever
and without deliverance, and her object is to extract from him the
knowledge of it as a proof of some return for the fervid and boundless
love that she pretends. We cannot but estimate very highly the skill
with which Mr. Tennyson has secured to what seemed the weaker vessel the
ultimate mastery in the fight. Out of the eater comes forth meat. When
she seems to lose ground with him by her slander against the Round Table
which he loved, she recovers it by making him believe that she saw all
other men, "the knights, the Court, the King, dark in his light": and
when in answer to her imprecation on herself a fearful thunderbolt
descends and storm rages, then, nestling in his bosom, part in fear but
more in craft, she overcomes the last remnant of his resolution, wins
the secret she has so indefatigably wooed, and that instant uses it to
close in gloom the famous career of the over-mastered sage.

* * * * *

Nowhere could we more opportunely than at this point call attention to
Mr. Tennyson's extraordinary felicity and force in the use of metaphor
and simile. This gift appears to have grown with his years, alike in
abundance, truth, and grace. As the showers descend from heaven to
return to it in vapour, so Mr. Tennyson's loving observation of Nature,
and his Muse, seem to have had a compact of reciprocity well kept on
both sides. When he was young, and when "Oenone" was first published, he
almost boasted of putting a particular kind of grasshopper into Troas,
which, as he told us in a note, was probably not to be found there. It
is a small but yet an interesting and significant indication that, when
some years after he retouched the poem, he omitted the note, and
generalised the grasshopper. Whether we are right or not in taking this
for a sign of the movement of his mind, there can be no doubt that his
present use of figures is both the sign and the result of a reverence
for Nature alike active, intelligent, and refined. Sometimes applying
the metaphors of Art to Nature, he more frequently draws the materials
of his analogies from her unexhausted book, and, however often he may
call for some new and beautiful vehicle of illustration, she seems never
to withhold an answer. With regard to this particular and very critical
gift, it seems to us that he may challenge comparison with almost any
poet either of ancient or modern times. We have always been accustomed
to look upon Ariosto as one of the greatest among the masters of the art
of metaphor and simile; and it would be easy to quote from him instances
which in tenderness, grace, force, or all combined, can never be
surpassed. But we have rarely seen the power subjected to a greater
trial than in the passages just quoted from Mr. Tennyson, where metaphor
lies by metaphor as thick as shells upon their bed; yet each
individually with its outline as well drawn, its separateness as clear,
its form as true to nature, and with the most full and harmonious
contribution to the general effect.

* * * * *

Mr. Tennyson practises largely, and with an extraordinary skill and
power, the art of designed and limited repetitions. They bear a
considerable resemblance to those Homeric _formulae_ which have been so
usefully remarked by Colonel Mure--not the formulae of constant
recurrence, which tells us who spoke and who answered, but those which
are connected with pointing moral effects, and with ulterior purpose.
These repetitions tend at once to give more definite impressions of
character, and to make firmer and closer the whole tissue of the poem.
Thus, in the last speech of Guinevere, she echoes back, with other ideas
and expressions, the sentiment of Arthur's affection, which becomes in
her mouth sublime:--

I must not scorn myself: he loves me still:
Let no one dream but that he loves me still.

She prays admission among the nuns, that she may follow the pious and
peaceful tenor of their life (p. 260):--

And so wear out in almsdeed and in prayer
The sombre close of that voluptuous day
Which wrought the ruin of my lord the King.

And it is but a debt of justice to the Guinevere of the romancers to
observe, that she loses considerably by the marked transposition which
Mr. Tennyson has effected in the order of greatness between Lancelot and
Arthur. With him there is an original error in her estimate,
independently of the breach of a positive and sacred obligation. She
prefers the inferior man; and this preference implies a rooted ethical
defect in her nature. In the romance of Sir T. Mallory the preference
she gives to Lancelot would have been signally just, had she been free
to choose. For Lancelot is of an indescribable grandeur; but the limit
of Arthur's character is thus shown in certain words that he uses, and
that Lancelot never could have spoken. "Much more I am sorrier for my
good knight's loss than for the loss of my queen; for queens might I
have enough, but, such a fellowship of good knights shall never be
together in company."

We began with the exordium of this great work: we must not withhold the
conclusion. We left her praying admission to the convent--

She said. They took her to themselves; and she,
Still hoping, fearing, "is it yet too late?"
Dwelt with them, till in time their Abbess died.
Then she, for her good deeds and her pure life,
And for the power of ministration in her,
And likewise for the high rank she had borne,
Was chosen Abbess: there, an Abbess, lived
For three brief years; and there, an Abbess, pass'd
To where beyond these voices there is peace.

No one, we are persuaded, can read this poem without feeling, when it
ends, what may be termed the pangs of vacancy--of that void in heart and
mind for want of its continuance of which we are conscious when some
noble strain of music ceases, when some great work of Raphael passes
from the view, when we lose sight of some spot connected with high
associations, or when some transcendent character upon the page of
history disappears, and the withdrawal of it is like the withdrawal of
the vital air. We have followed the Guinevere of Mr. Tennyson through
its detail, and have extracted largely from its pages, and yet have not
a hope of having conveyed an idea of what it really is; still we have
thought that in this way we should do it the least injustice, and we are
also convinced that even what we have shown will tend to rouse an
appetite, and that any of our readers, who may not yet have been also
Mr. Tennyson's, will become more eager to learn and admire it at first

We have no doubt that Mr. Tennyson has carefully considered how far his
subject is capable of fulfilling the conditions of an epic structure.
The history of Arthur is not an epic as it stands, but neither was the
Cyclic song, of which the greatest of all epics, the "Iliad," handles a
part. The poem of Ariosto is scarcely an epic, nor is that of Bojardo;
but it is not this because each is too promiscuous and crowded in its
brilliant phantasmagoria to conform to the severe laws of that lofty and
inexorable class of poem? Though the Arthurian romance be no epic, it
does not follow that no epic can be made from out of it. It is grounded
in certain leading characters, men and women, conceived upon models of
extraordinary grandeur; and as the Laureate has evidently grasped the
genuine law which makes man and not the acts of man the base of epic
song, we should not be surprised were he hereafter to realize the great
achievement towards which he seems to be feeling his way. There is a
moral unity and a living relationship between the four poems before us,
and the first effort of 1842 as a fifth, which, though some considerable
part of their contents would necessarily rank as episode, establishes
the first and most essential condition of their cohesion. The
achievement of Vivien bears directly on the state of Arthur by
withdrawing his chief councillor--the brain, as Lancelot was the right
arm, of his court; the love of Elaine is directly associated with the
final catastrophe of the passion of Lancelot for Guinevere. Enid lies
somewhat further off the path, nor is it for profane feet to intrude
into the sanctuary, for reviewers to advise poets in these high matters;
but while we presume nothing, we do not despair of seeing Mr. Tennyson
achieve on the basis he has chosen the structure of a full-formed epic.

In any case we have a cheerful hope that, if he continues to advance
upon himself as he has advanced heretofore, nay, if he can keep the
level he has gained, such a work will be the greatest, and by far the
greatest poetical creation, that, whether in our own or in foreign
poetry, the nineteenth century has produced. In the face of all critics,
the Laureate of England has now reached a position which at once imposes
and instils respect. They are self-constituted; but he has won his way
through the long dedication of his manful energies, accepted and crowned
by deliberate, and, we rejoice to think, by continually growing, public
favour. He has after all, and it is not the least nor lowest item in his
praise, been the severest of his own critics, and has not been too proud
either to learn or to unlearn in the work of maturing his genius and
building up his fame.

From his very first appearance he has had the form and fashion of a true
poet: the insight into beauty, the perception of harmony, the faculty of
suggestion, the eye both in the physical and moral world for motion,
light, and colour, the sympathetic and close observation of nature, the
dominance of the constructive faculty, and that rare gift the thorough
mastery and loving use of his native tongue. Many of us, the common
crowd, made of the common clay, may be lovers of Nature, some as sincere
or even as ardent as Mr. Tennyson; but it does not follow that even
these favoured few possess the privilege that he enjoys. To them she
speaks through vague and indeterminate impressions: for him she has a
voice of the most delicate articulation; all her images to him are clear
and definite, and he translates them for us into that language of
suggestion, emphasis, and refined analogy which links the manifold to
the simple and the infinite to the finite. He accomplishes for us what
we should in vain attempt for ourselves, enables the puny hand to lay
hold on what is vast, and brings even coarseness of grasp into a real
contact with what is subtle and ethereal. His turn for metaphysical
analysis is closely associated with a deep ethical insight: and many of
his verses form sayings of so high a class that we trust they are
destined to form a permanent part of the household-words of England.

Considering the quantity of power that Mr. Tennyson can make available,
it is a great proof of self-discipline that he is not given to a wanton
or tyrannous use of it. An extraordinary master of diction, he has
confined himself to its severe and simple forms. In establishing this
rule of practice his natural gift has evidently been aided by the fine
English of the old romances, and we might count upon the fingers the
cases in which he has lately deviated into the employment of any stilted
phrase, or given sanction to a word not of the best fabric. Profuse in
the power of graphic[1] representation, he has chastened some of his
earlier groups of imagery, which were occasionally overloaded with
particulars; and in his later works, as has been well remarked, he has
shown himself thoroughly aware that in poetry half is greater than the
whole. That the chastity of style he has attained is not from exhaustion

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