« AnteriorContinuar »
Mr. Bullock, the churchwarden, as boldly as at Hodge, the ploughman, and Scrub, the hedger.'* As for Dr. Riccabocca, with his kind heart always contravening his Machiavellian principles, with his Italian proverbs, and his study of Buffon, he deserves to be painted in the garden of the Casino by some Leslie (not, of course, Randal). We are not sure to which of his Mentors, the Italian doctor with his morals, or the Hazledean parson with his religion, the hero, Leonard Fairfield, owed his clear limitations of the axiom that “knowledge is power,' and his antidote to the seditious stuffing of the tinker's bag. Who has not met a Richard Avenel, even if we cannot all imagine the fête at which Mrs. Fairfield so inopportunely complicates matters by claiming relationship with him ? The central interest, however, is in Leonard, the ingenuous, struggling, poet-student, who wooes literature, until, to quote the Laureate, hem
* On with toil of heart and knees and hands,
His path upward and prevailed.' And that which heightens this interest, as we follow the novelist in his delineation of this character, is the reflection that he, a scholar, a poet, and a striver after fame, has himself gone through, not indeed the vexations of narrow means and lack of name, but at any rate the freaks and fickleness of criticism, the lottery of success, the hope deferred, and the hundred hindrances that stand between the laurel and him who would grasp it. And literature owes its thanks to Sir Edward B. Lytton for adding to his evidently sympathetic portraiture of his poet-hero Leonard, the discriminative sketches of two other types of men of letters, Henry Norreys and John Burley; and for drawing a clear line between knowledge acquired and kept by discipline of natural powers and steady application, and that knowledge which poor Burley wielded to so little purpose—the knowledge that smells of the brandy-bottle.' The author's sympathy with the young and enthusiastic-especially if they happen to be wooers of any of the Muses—has, in truth, the power of keeping our interest in Leonard's career from that tendency to flag which a story with no other fault but its length is apt to provoke. One of the prettiest scenes in young Leonard's history is that in which the self-reliant but inexperienced lad chivalrously takes upon himself, as he is working his way up to London with the scantiest resources, the charge of fatherless and guardianless Helen Digby. What a pretty picture do they form as they sit together by the waters of
* 'My Novel,' vol. i. p. 86.
the Brent! Listen to the little girl's sadder experience, contrasting with Leonard's youthful sanguineness.
· And so this London is really very vast?-very?' he repeated inquisitively. Very !' answered Helen, as abstractedly
* she plucked the cowslips near her, and let them fall into the running waters. See how the flowers are carried down the stream! They are lost now. London is to us what the river is to the flowers—very vast—very strong;' and she added, after a pause—very cruel." '
' *Cruel! ah, it has been so to you ; but now! now I will take
you!' he smiled triumphantly; and his smile was beautiful both in its pride and its kindness.' *
This is surely a bit of a charming prose idyll.
The heroines of "My Novel' (for there are two_Violante, whose mission is to ennoble, while that of Helen is to console the object of her love) are a decided improvement upon the sketchy Blanche and rather insipid Fanny of The Caxtons.' Helen may here and there seem tame, but that is not out of keeping with a character subdued by early trials and repression : and if Violante is a trifle too fiery and haughty of spirit, it must be remembered that she is a princess, though she knows it not, and inherits the temperament of her warmer cline. The inferior characters—e.g. Sprott, Stirn, John Avenel, the True-blue voter and his Puritan wife-are excellently drawn, and very true to nature and experience. We may add to the other recommendations of My Novel' this further one, that its author does precisely the right thing as regards the difficult question of introducing old favourites out of former novels. Had some of our novelists produced “The Caxtons,' they would have been made to figure again and again in an unlimited series of continuationnovels. We never turn over a page of a new novel by one of our pleasantest novel-writers but we dread to stumble old friends the Duke of Omnium, Lady Dumbello, Archdeacon Grantley, or Mr. Palliser. Now, into the plot or action of My Novel,' Sir Edward will not allow the Caxton family to enter : how beit, in the initial chapters of almost every book their family conclave sits as a committee of taste, and, by interpreting obscurities, or helping us to appreciate the dramatis persone, to some extent serves the purpose of the Greek chorus. Before passing on from the contemplation of My Novel,' we must add to our high estimate of the learning, observation, and kindly views of life which are developed in this work equally with “The Caxtons,' the further remark, that had it been the anonymous * "My Novel,' vol. i. p. 271.
production of one whose style was unfamiliar, we should have been still convinced, from abundant internal evidence, that its writer was one who had heretofore ventured-and ventured nobly -upon the field of poetry as well as of prose.
And traces, we think, of the same poet's hand and heart are distinguishable in the third Novel of the Caxtonian series, 'What will he do with it?' No one less gifted with the power of throwing himself at will into all the joyous feelings of youth and of life in its heyday could have carried on through four octavo volumes the reader's interest in the loves of Lionel and Sophy: nor would it have been possible, save for a shrewd yet kindly observer of human nature, to have made the morbid eccentricity of Guy Darrell endurable for so long a space. To own the truth, though no novelist repeats himself less than the subject of our remarks, a novel in four volumes is a dangerous experiment upon the patience of a reading public; and it requires consummate skill, liveliness, and variety of interest to chain the attention beyond the statutable limits of time-honoured prescription. The plot of What will he do with it?' is wonderfully skilful. The scenes are crowded, but not over-crowded, with actors. The author so contrives that his dramatis personæ never hustle one another : their entrances and exits are regulated with the utmost regard to the dramatic interest, and the exigencies of due variety. One character indeed in “What will he do with it?' is pre-eminently
sui generis,' and worthy of a very high rank among creations of fiction—that of poor old Waife. It would be safe to attribute poetic genius to the portrayer of so finely-conceived a character, combining as it does a womanly tenderness and capacity of selfdevotion with a man-of-the-world's shrewd insight into life and manners, and a vagabond's ready wit and resource for all emergencies. The old man, who becomes convict, actor, basketmaker, vagabond, by turns, and all to shield from disgrace an unredeemed, irreclaimable scamp of a son, and whose life and wits are devoted to the nurture of the supposed daughter of this scoundrel with a chcerfulness which the reader feels cannot coexist with real guilt, is surely a portrait worthy of as high a position as any in the Caxtonian gallery, and fit to rank even
primus inter pares' with Austin Caxton and Riccabocca. What a true touch of nature is that which makes this banned outcast from society as young and buoyant of spirit at times as if trouble had never darkened his doors, nor weighed down that strong frame which still keeps the old man from failing utterly until his name is cleared and his innocence vindicated. It is only deserved shame that can, or ought to, permanently depress. Aš in My Novel,' so here the repulsive characters have some sparks of
human feeling left in them. The shameless villain, Jasper Loseley, is represented as having some prickings of conscience when he is brought face to face with a father whose hoary head the sin of his offspring has bowed in disgrace. An ordinary novelist would have made him brave it out. And the deceived, betrayed, embittered Arabella Crane is woman still, after every rude shock to love and faith ; nay, in spite of the 'spretæ injuria formæ,' a marvel of devotion to the worthless wretch to whom she owes nothing but dishonour. We are not sure indeed that Arabella Crane is not, after Waife, the most original character in What will he do with it?' Fairthorns, Frank Vances, Colonel Morley, and George Morley are to be met with in novels, if not in actual life; but then they are seldom so well put on the stage as in these volumes. The goodness and piety of the young clergyman, George, is not obtrusive, but just sufficiently dwelt upon to give virtue its proper triumph, and to recommend it in the only way open to the writer of fiction. Whether he could really have forborne stuttering when he ventured to lecture the stately Guy Darrell, or whether that formidable personage would have submitted to his lecture, may be a matter of some little doubt. a
A very good scene in this novel is that in which this same Darrell and his fashionable bachelor friend Colonel Morley talk over matrimony, and in which occurs Darrell's concise criticism on the inexpediency of marrying a widow-'no dainty so flavourless as a heart warmed up again. The colonel is one of those who manages matches for others—trots out for his friend every imaginable variety of the marriageable young lady, and yet himself moves to and fro amidst the attractions of so many charmers unscorched and heartwhole.
Yet not in the description of fashionable saloons or manorhouse interiors is our novelist most to our fancy. He is at his best when he throws himself into the free and light-hearted converse of Vance and Lionel-into the boating excursions, and Lionel's row back with Sophy to the Surrey cottage. These are little glimpses of youth unfettered by worldly prudence, and of interchanges of thought and fancy, which knowledge of the world will render more constrained. He is wellnigh unequalled in his pictures of summer-life on the Thames, quiet scenes of out-door life near Montfort-court or the jointure-house at Twickenham, peopled by little groups such as one might see on Dresden china, and such as carry us out of ourselves into what Sir Bulwer Lytton calls 'a hall in the courts of nature.' It is relish for young life and out-door scenery that makes the author's pen move so pleasantly. He can appreciate the old English
poetry which chimes to the babble of the waters and the riot of the birds; and just as that poetry is the freshest which the outdoor life has most nourished, so there is no surer sign of the rich vitality, which finds its raciest joys in sources the most innocent, than the child-like taste for that out-door life.' *
Our author is possessed likewise of another great secret, of holding fast, after the meridian of life, the freshness of its morning; for he tells us, in the person of Colonel Alban Morley,
Would you through life be up to the height of your centuryalways in the prime of man's reason, without crudeness and without decline-live habitually while young with persons older, and when old with persons younger than yourself.' It seems to us that this recipe is a sovereign one for retaining the poetic gift as well as the more prosaic “reason :' for the intercourse of elders will temper and keep within bounds the exuberance of a young man's fancy, while the brightness of the young will revivify the old man's muse. In an early chapter of What will he do with it?' there is a capital passage à propos of the obtuseness of the world at large as regards the recognition of a man of genius. In such cases the world at large is honestly obtuse.
But they, surely, are few who, having read the Caxtonian novels, persist in withholding from their author the credit of being a man of genius, as well as learning and industry and great poetic gifts.
But it is time to take into consideration the collection of poems, which, refitted by experience for its voyage, Sir E. Bulwer Lytton has launched anew upon the sea of criticism, and which, as he expresses it in his graceful dedication to Dr. Kennedy, he hopes may some day become better known to his countrymen.' They are various in form, length, and character; but all bear the impress of those graces of mind and heart which adorn and render popular the Caxtonian novels, contemplation backed by learning and study, and kindliness of tone resulting from long experience of human nature. These gifts, it is granted, do not of themselves make a poet, yet the addition of them to the requisites for the poetic character is surely not unimportant, especially when the topic under consideration is the likelihood of their owner becoming through his poetry more or less a household word among his countrymen. And it is, above all, not irrelevant to remark upon these in the present instance, because towards a freer and more familiar acquaintance and understanding between author and public it is a great and necessary step that the mind of the latter should be disabused of preconceptions arising out of the
* What will he do with it?' Book vii, ch. xxii.