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the modesty so characteristic of a truly great mind—“I may venture to say, that with the increase of knowledge in every direction, we find continually less and less reason for believing that the diversified races of men are separated from each other by insurmountable barriers; and it is with much gratification that I find this to be the ultimate conviction of the great author of Kosmos."
Art. III.-1. Bleak House. By CHARLES DICKENS. London:
Bradbury and Evans. 2. The Nerocomes. By W. M. THACKERAY. London : Bradbury and Evans.
Every one who has dipped into the popular tales and light literature of the day, must have remarked the strong undercurrent of hatred to evangelical religion which flows through a very large portion of that species of composition. The writers usually have not the manliness to announce themselves disbelievers in the peculiar doctrines of the gospel, or to declare open war against them; not, we believe, from any personal dread of the reproach attaching to the profession of infidelity, or rationalism, or socinianism, but, more probably, because such avowal might alarm the public, and exclude their writings from circles to which they are now unsuspectingly admitted. Like the Kafirs, they fight behind the bush,--firing their shots from a position where no one can easily join them in fair and open warfare ; in reality doing their utmost to damage the cause of evangelical religion, but ready, if attacked, to shelter themselves under the pretext that their object is merely to expose to wholesome ridicule the extravagances and follies of some of its more wild and hypocritical professors. We would be very far, indeed, from objecting to a moderate and well-regulated use of satire, even in dealing with so solemn a subject as religion. Nowhere is that weapon wielded with more effect than in the sacred Scriptures themselves, against the absurdities of idolatry. But there is no weapon which a conscientious and honourable mind will handle with more caution, even on a common subject, or with more scrupulous anxiety to do injustice to no one. A man of honour-a true gentleman—will shrink instinctively from the injustice of pouring promiscuously upon a whole class, embracing confessedly many noble characters, the ridicule due to some of the mixed multitude that follows it. A man of sense and benevolence, whose real desire is not merely to amuse his readers, but to purify society, will be careful to avoid representations which may raise a laugh among the thoughtless, but must arouse the merited indignation of all true and trusty labourers for the world's good. Even a man of the world, of ordinary discrimination, alive to the maxim of Rochefoucault, that “hypocrisy is the homage which Vice renders to Virtue,” —so far from representing the hypocrite as the type of the class to which he professes to belong, will, from his very hypocrisy, infer the existence of a nobler and purer order, whose virtues he pretends to possess, that he may share the honour of their good name. Now, we do not hesitate to assert, that the practical effect, at least, of the representations of the class of writers whom we have in view is to confound all these distinctions, and to cover the whole evangelical community with the odium and the ridicule due to a few of its more extreme and fanatical members. Unhappily the device is one to which the opponents of the truth have long been accustonied to resort. The extravagances of the Anabaptists of Munster were diligently ascribed by Roman Catholics to the whole Reformed Church ; the follies of the Gibbites, or Sweet Singers, have often been imputed, by unfriendly historians, to the entire body of the Scotch Covenanters; and the wild schemes and expectations of the Fifth Monarchy men have been fathered, en masse, on the English Puritans. It is much easier to meet such misrepresentations on the field of history than on that of romance. The want of data for determining the precise representative value of each character introduced into a romance, creates a difficulty in dealing with this case, which hardly exists in the other. Still, we believe that there are sufficient materials for bringing a verdict against the authors of the class of works which we have in view, as guilty of doing very gross and shameful injustice to the cause and supporters of earnest religion. Considering the vast circulation and great popularity of many works of this class,—the avidity with which they are devoured by the young,—the unsuspecting confidence with which their representations are received by the unwary,—and the pernicious effect which they must exercise in inflaming their prejudices against true godliness, -we cannot deem the subject either unimportant in itself, or unsuitable for discussion in our pages. It may be, too, that the examination of it will enable us to strike out a few useful hints to the office-bearers and members of evangelical churches; we may discover a few “ loose screws" requiring to be tightened, or a few points of attack needing to be strengthened; certain defects may be found in the tone and temper of the evangelical community, very far indeed from justifying the representations of its assailants, but which, if remedied, would render the injustice of these attacks still more flagrant, and give the Christian citadel, even to its enemies, an aspect of higher beauty and more impregnable strength.
That such writers as Dickens and Thackeray should be able to give a correct representation of the spirit, sentiments, and manners of religious men, is as decided an impossibility as that a painter should be able to paint a landscape which he has scarcely seen, or embody on canvas the spirit of a transaction which he does not understand. Whatever society these men may have cultivated, none will more readily admit than themselves, that they have been very seldom in that of professors of religion. With play-actors, and artists, and litterateurs, -with professional men, and parliamentary men, and public men generally,—with people of fashion, both in town and country,—with the frequenters of clubs and the denizens of pot-houses,—with military men and naval men, - with policeserjeants and detective officers, with publishers, editors, and penny-a-liners,—they have doubtless enjoyed the best opportunities of becoming acquainted. Some of them, too, we can believe, have had very fair opportunities of acquainting themselves with the natural history of fast-livers, whether literary or not; and, amid the toil of their Herculean efforts to overthrow a Puritan Sabbath, could doubtless enjoy a nice recreation by describing one of these spirited men attempting to pacify a clamorous tradesman, or to elude the vigilance of a criminal officer, or even passing a few weeks in the select society of turnkeys and gaolers. That many of our popular writers have seen a vast deal of society, in all these varied aspects, we do not doubt ; and we readily admit that the remarkable imitative faculty of some of them, with their lively dramatic power, has enabled them to pourtray much that they have seen with great fidelity and good effect. Thoroughly familiar with life in all these aspects, they have been able to catch its really incongruous or ludicrous features, and in many cases to apply their satire fairly and well. But what opportunities have they had of becoming acquainted with the life, habits, and sentiments of religious men? Or what means of learning with accuracy what is really incongruous or ludicrous there? Do they number any persons of religion among their private friends? Are they deeply read in the biographies of Bickersteth and Simeon, of Chalmers and Buxton, of Robert and James Haldane, or even of Sarah Martin and Sandy Paterson? Are they frequenters of Exeter Hall, or have they ever sat at a mission board, or been present at the deliberations of a religious society? Have they enjoyed the hospitalities of the
of scenes are not ofiable presum horo
“ Clapham sect,” listened to the “expositions” which they ridicule, or witnessed the fawning servility which they denounce? We question whether there be one of these inquiries which these men would not answer with a derisive negative, provided they were not aware of the purpose for which it was put; and if so, what credit can be due to their descriptions of scenes with which they would be the first to acknowledge that they are not familiar? And how can they escape the charge of unpardonable presumption, in meddling with what demands peculiarly minute and thorough knowledge of a subject,--attempting to indicate what is incongruous and ludicrous about it,-criticising the relations and proportions of what they have never seen?
Nor is it only their want of acquaintance with religious men that disqualifies such writers for the task which they undertake so thoughtlessly. The sentiments, motives, and aims of these men are beyond the sphere of their sympathies, and in most cases, doubtless, beyond their comprehension. “It is not uninstructive to remark,” says Hugh Miller, “how the peculiar ability of pourtraying character in this form (the dramatic), is so exactly proportioned to the general intellectual power of the writer who possesses it. No dramatist, whatever he may attempt, ever draws taller men than himself; as water in a bent tube rises to exactly the same height in the two limbs, so intellect in the character produced rises to but the level of the intellect of the producer, .... Viewed with reference to this simple rule, the higher characters of Scott, Dickens, and Shakspeare curiously indicate the intellectual stature of the men who produced them. Scott's higher characters possess massive good sense, great shrewdness, much intelligence; they are always very superior, if not always great men; and by a careful arrangement of drapery, and much study of position and attitude, they play their parts wonderfully well. The higher characters of Dickens do not stand by any means so high; the fluid in the original tube rests at a lower level; and no one seems better aware of the fact than Dickens himself. He knows his proper walk; and, content with expatiating in a comparatively humble province of human life and character, rarely stands on tiptoe, in the vain attempt to pourtray an intellect taller than his own. The intellectual range of Shakspeare rises, on the other hand, to the highest level of man."*
This acute and striking remark as to the ability of dramatists to pourtray the intellectual, though not equally applicable to the subject of moral and religious character, is never
* “First Impressions of England and its People," p. 256.
theless appropriate thus far, that no dramatist can ever delineate a character with truth and skill, or rather cause a character to delineate itself, whose chief moral elements belong to a sphere beyond the reach of his sympathies. From peculiar considerations, he may learn to respect such a character; but whether he respect it or not, he will not, if he bo wise, attempt to delineate it dramatically. The writer from whom we have just quoted conjectures, that Shakspeare's respect for the piety of his daughter, "good Mistress Hall," — if not his own appreciation of divine things,-may account for the remarkable fact, that though there are scenes in Shakspeare's earlier plays, from which, as eternity neared upon his view, he could have derived little satisfaction, there is yet no Old Mortality among them; and though both Queen Elizabeth and King James hated puritanism with a perfect hatred, and such a laugh at its expense as Shakspeare could have raised would have been doubtless a high luxury, he yet drew for their amusement no Mause Headriggs or Gabriel Kettledrummles.* Even the claims of natural affection and regard for pious relatives, however, have not always restrained men of genius, without religion, from attempting the delineation, or rather ridicule of religious character. Sir Walter Scott, who had so good cause to refrain from this unhallowed work, attempted it in "Old Mortality”—with what measure of truth, let Dr M Crie's masterly review of that production testify. Our modern writers address themselves to the business as lightly and carelessly as they would go to work in describing a wedding or a fair; and the result is just what might be expected from men attempting a task for which they are incapacitated, both intellectually and inorally—the production of a series of caricatures, which prove that their dislike of evangelical religion is equalled only by their inability to comprehend it.
But we must liow proceed to introduce more particularly to our readers some of the persons that figure as “religious” characters in the works under review. Of the writings of Dickens and Thackeray, we have selected “ Bleak House” and “The Newcomes," because they are the latest productions of their respective authors—(The Newcomes being little more than begun)—and therefore most fresh in the public mind. “Bleak House" contains a considerable variety of religious or religiously - philanthropic persons. First in the list is Miss Barbary, the aunt or godmother of young Esther Summerson, in whose words a considerable portion of the tale is given, and who is one of its chief heroines. Poor Esther was the
* Ben Jouson was not so careful. In his comedy of the “ Alchymist,” he ridiculed the Puritans, and their use of Scripture phrases. .