Essays in Little
Andrew Lang

Part 2 out of 4

Vers qui les rouges-gorges
Et le doux rossignol
Prenaient leur vol!

So this poem of the fountain of youth begins, "tout file d'or," and
closes when the dusk is washed with silver -

"A l'heure ou sous leurs voiles
Les tremblantes etoiles
Brodent le ciel changeant
De fleurs d'argent."

The "Stalactites" might detain one long, but we must pass on after
noticing an unnamed poem which is the French counterpart of Keats'
"Ode to a Greek Urn":

"Qu'autour du vase pur, trop beau pour la Bacchante,
La verveine, melee e des feuilles d'acanthe,
Fleurisse, et que plus bas des vierges lentement
S'avancent deux e deux, d'un pas sur et charmant,
Les bras pendants le long de leurs tuniques droites
Et les cheyeux tresses sur leurs tetes etroites."

In the same volume of the definite series of poems come "Les
Odelettes," charming lyrics, one of which, addressed to Theophile
Gautier, was answered in the well-known verses called "L'Art." If
there had been any rivalry between the writers, M. De Banville would
hardly have cared to print Gautier's "Odelette" beside his own. The
tone of it is infinitely more manly: one seems to hear a deep,
decisive voice replying to tones far less sweet and serious. M. De
Banville revenged himself nobly in later verses addressed to
Gautier, verses which criticise the genius of that workman better,
we think, than anything else that has been written of him in prose
or rhyme.

The less serious poems of De Banville are, perhaps, the better known
in this country. His feats of graceful metrical gymnastics have
been admired by every one who cares for skill pure and simple. "Les
Odes Funambulesques" and "Les Occidentales" are like ornamental
skating. The author moves in many circles and cuts a hundred
fantastic figures with a perfect ease and smoothness. At the same
time, naturally, he does not advance nor carry his readers with him
in any direction. "Les Odes Funambulesques" were at first unsigned.
They appeared in journals and magazines, and, as M. de Banville
applied the utmost lyrical skill to light topics of the moment, they
were the most popular of "Articles de Paris." One must admit that
they bore the English reader, and by this time long scholia are
necessary for the enlightenment even of the Parisian student. The
verses are, perhaps, the "bird-chorus" of French life, but they have
not the permanent truth and delightfulness of the "bird-chorus" in
Aristophanes. One has easily too much of the Carnival, the masked
ball, the debardeurs, and the pierrots. The people at whom M. De
Banville laughed are dead and forgotten. There was a certain M.
Paul Limayrac of those days, who barked at the heels of Balzac, and
other great men, in the Revue des Deux Mondes. In his honour De
Banville wrote a song which parodied all popular aspirations to be a
flower. M. Limayrac was supposed to have become a blossom:

"Sur les coteaux et dans les landes
Voltigeant comme un oiseleur
Buloz en ferait des guirlandes
Si Limayrac devenait fleur!"

There is more of high spirits than of wit in the lyric, which became
as popular as our modern invocation of Jingo, the god of battles.
It chanced one night that M. Limayrac appeared at a masked ball in
the opera-house. He was recognised by some one in the crowd. The
turbulent waltz stood still, the music was silent, and the dancers
of every hue howled at the critic

"Si Paul Limayrac devenait fleur!"

Fancy a British reviewer, known as such to the British public, and
imagine that public taking a lively interest in the feuds of men of
letters! Paris, to be sure, was more or less of a university town
thirty years ago, and the students were certain to be largely
represented at the ball.

The "Odes Funambulesques" contain many examples of M. De Banville's
skill in reviving old forms of verse--triolets, rondeaux, chants
royaux, and ballades. Most of these were composed for the special
annoyance of M. Buloz, M. Limayrac, and a M. Jacquot who called
himself De Mirecourt. The rondeaux are full of puns in the refrain:
"Houssaye ou c'est; lyre, l'ire, lire," and so on, not very
exhilarating. The pantoum, where lines recur alternately, was
borrowed from the distant Malay; but primitive pantoum, in which the
last two lines of each stanza are the first two of the next, occur
in old French folk-song. The popular trick of repetition, affording
a rest to the memory of the singer, is perhaps the origin of all
refrains. De Banville's later satires are directed against
permanent objects of human indignation--the little French debauchee,
the hypocritical friend of reaction, the bloodthirsty chauviniste.
Tired of the flashy luxury of the Empire, his memory goes back to
his youth -

"Lorsque la levre de l'aurore
Baisait nos yeux souleves,
Et que nous n'etions pas encore
La France des petits creves."

The poem "Et Tartufe" prolongs the note of a satire always popular
in France--the satire of Scarron, Moliere, La Bruyere, against the
clerical curse of the nation. The Roman Question was Tartufe's
stronghold at the moment. "French interests" demanded that Italy
should be headless.

"Et Tartufe? Il nous dit entre deux cremus
Que pour tout bon Francais l'empire est e Rome,
Et qu'ayant pour aieux Romulus et Remus
Nous tetterons la louve e jamais--le pauvre homme."

The new Tartufe worships St. Chassepot, who once, it will not be
forgotten, "wrought miracles"; but he has his doubts as to the
morality of explosive bullets. The nymph of modern warfare is
addressed as she hovers above the Geneva Convention, -

"Quoi, nymphe du canon raye,
Tu montres ces pudeurs risibles
Et ce petit air effraye
Devant les balles exploisibles?"

De Banville was for long almost alone among poets in his freedom
from Weltschmerz, from regret and desire for worlds lost or
impossible. In the later and stupider corruption of the Empire,
sadness and anger began to vex even his careless muse. She had
piped in her time to much wild dancing, but could not sing to a
waltz of mushroom speculators and decorated capitalists. "Le Sang
de la Coupe" contains a very powerful poem, "The Curse of Venus,"
pronounced on Paris, the city of pleasure, which has become the city
of greed. This verse is appropriate to our own commercial

"Vends les bois ou dormaient Viviane et Merlin!
L'Aigle de mont n'est fait que pour ta gibeciere;
La neige vierge est le pour fournir ta glaciere;
Le torrent qui bondit sur le roc sybillin,
Et vole, diamant, neige, ecume et poussiere,
N'est plus bon qu'e tourner tes meules de moulin!"

In the burning indignation of this poem, M. De Banville reaches his
highest mark of attainment. "Les Exiles" is scarcely less
impressive. The outcast gods of Hellas, wandering in a forest of
ancient Gaul, remind one at once of the fallen deities of Heine, the
decrepit Olympians of Bruno, and the large utterance of Keats's
"Hyperion." Among great exiles, Victor Hugo, "le pere le-bas dans
l'ile," is not forgotten:

"Et toi qui l'accueillis, sol libre et verdoyant,
Qui prodigues les fleurs sur tes coteaux fertiles,
Et qui sembles sourire e l'ocean bruyant,
Sois benie, ile verte, entre toutes les iles."

The hoarsest note of M. De Banville's lyre is that discordant one
struck in the "Idylles Prussiennes." One would not linger over
poetry or prose composed during the siege, in hours of shame and
impotent scorn. The poet sings how the sword, the flashing
Durendal, is rusted and broken, how victory is to him -

" . . . qui se cela
Dans un trou, sous la terre noire."

He can spare a tender lyric to the memory of a Prussian officer, a
lad of eighteen, shot dead through a volume of Pindar which he
carried in his tunic.

It is impossible to leave the poet of gaiety and good-humour in the
mood of the prisoner in besieged Paris. His "Trente Six Ballades
Joyeuses" make a far more pleasant subject for a last word. There
is scarcely a more delightful little volume in the French language
than this collection of verses in the most difficult of forms, which
pour forth, with absolute ease and fluency, notes of mirth, banter,
joy in the spring, in letters, art, and good-fellowship.

"L'oiselet retourne aux forets;
Je suis un poete lyrique," -

he cries, with a note like a bird's song. Among the thirty-six
every one will have his favourites. We venture to translate the
"Ballad de Banville":


"I know Cythera long is desolate;
I know the winds have stripped the garden green.
Alas, my friends! beneath the fierce sun's weight
A barren reef lies where Love's flowers have been,
Nor ever lover on that coast is seen!
So be it, for we seek a fabled shore,
To lull our vague desires with mystic lore,
To wander where Love's labyrinths, beguile;
There let us land, there dream for evermore:
'It may be we shall touch the happy isle.'

"The sea may be our sepulchre. If Fate,
If tempests wreak their wrath on us, serene
We watch the bolt of Heaven, and scorn the hate
Of angry gods that smite us in their spleen.
Perchance the jealous mists are but the screen
That veils the fairy coast we would explore.
Come, though the sea be vexed, and breakers roar,
Come, for the breath of this old world is vile,
Haste we, and toil, and faint not at the oar;
'It may be we shall touch the happy isle.'

"Grey serpents trail in temples desecrate
Where Cypris smiled, the golden maid, the queen,
And ruined is the palace of our state;
But happy loves flit round the mast, and keen
The shrill wind sings the silken cords between.
Heroes are we, with wearied hearts and sore,
Whose flower is faded and whose locks are hoar.
Haste, ye light skiffs, where myrtle thickets smile;
Love's panthers sleep 'mid roses, as of yore:
'It may be we shall touch the happy isle.'


"Sad eyes! the blue sea laughs, as heretofore.
All, singing birds, your happy music pour;
Ah, poets, leave the sordid earth awhile;
Flit to these ancient gods we still adore:
'It may be we shall touch the happy isle.'"

Alas! the mists that veil the shore of our Cythera are not the
summer haze of Watteau, but the smoke and steam of a commercial

It is as a lyric poet that we have studied M. De Banville. "Je ne
m'entends qu'e la meurique," he says in his ballad on himself; but
he can write prose when he pleases.

It is in his drama of Gringoire acted at the Theatre Francais, and
familiar in the version of Messrs. Pollock and Besant, that M. De
Banville's prose shows to the best advantage. Louis XI. is supping
with his bourgeois friends and with the terrible Olivier le Daim.
Two beautiful girls are of the company, friends of Pierre Gringoire,
the strolling poet. Presently Gringoire himself appears. He is
dying of hunger; he does not recognise the king, and he is promised
a good supper if he will recite the new satirical "Ballade des
Pendus," which he has made at the monarch's expense. Hunger
overcomes his timidity, and, addressing himself especially to the
king, he enters on this goodly matter:

"Where wide the forest boughs are spread,
Where Flora wakes with sylph and fay,
Are crowns and garlands of men dead,
All golden in the morning gay;
Within this ancient garden grey
Are clusters such as no mail knows,
Where Moor and Soldan bear the sway:
This is King Louis' orchard close!

"These wretched folk wave overhead,
With such strange thoughts as none may say;
A moment still, then sudden sped,
They swing in a ring and waste away.
The morning smites them with her ray;
They toss with every breeze that blows,
They dance where fires of dawning play:
This is King Louis' orchard close!

"All hanged and dead, they've summoned
(With Hell to aid, that hears them pray)
New legions of an army dread,
Now down the blue sky flames the day;
The dew dies off; the foul array
Of obscene ravens gathers and goes,
With wings that flap and beaks that flay:
This is King Louis' orchard close!


"Prince, where leaves murmur of the May,
A tree of bitter clusters grows;
The bodies of men dead are they!
This is King Louis' orchard close!

Poor Gringoire has no sooner committed himself, than he is made to
recognise the terrible king. He pleads that, if he must join the
ghastly army of the dead, he ought, at least, to be allowed to
finish his supper. This the king grants, and in the end, after
Gringoire has won the heart of the heroine, he receives his life and
a fair bride with a full dowry.

Gringoire is a play very different from M. De Banville's other
dramas, and it is not included in the pretty volume of "Comedies"
which closes the Lemerre series of his poems. The poet has often
declared, with an iteration which has been parodied by M. Richepin,
that "comedy is the child of the ode," and that a drama without the
"lyric" element is scarcely a drama at all. While comedy retains
either the choral ode in its strict form, or its representative in
the shape of lyric enthusiasm (le lyrisme), comedy is complete and
living. Gringoire, to our mind, has plenty of lyric enthusiasm; but
M. De Banville seems to be of a different opinion. His republished
"Comedies" are more remote from experience than Gringoire, his
characters are ideal creatures, familiar types of the stage, like
Scapin and "le beau Leandre," or ethereal persons, or figures of old
mythology, like Diana in Diane au Bois, and Deidamia in the piece
which shows Achilles among women. M. De Banville's dramas have
scarcely prose enough in them to suit the modern taste. They are
masques for the delicate diversion of an hour, and it is not in the
nature of things that they should rival the success of blatant
buffooneries. His earliest pieces--Le Feuilleton d'Aristophane
(acted at the Odeon, Dec. 26th, 1852), and Le Cousin du Roi (Odeon,
April 4th, 1857)--were written in collaboration with Philoxene
Boyer, a generous but indiscreet patron of singers.

"Dans les salons de Philoxene
Nous etions quatre-vingt rimeurs,"

M. De Banville wrote, parodying the "quatre-vingt ramuers" of Victor
Hugo. The memory of M. Boyer's enthusiasm for poetry and his
amiable hospitality are not unlikely to survive both his
compositions and those in which M. De Banville aided him. The
latter poet began to walk alone as a playwright in Le Beau Leandre
(Vaudeville, 1856)--a piece with scarcely more substance than the
French scenes in the old Franco-Italian drama possess. We are taken
into an impossible world of gay non-morality, where a wicked old
bourgeois, Orgon, his daughter Colombine, a pretty flirt, and her
lover Leandre, a light-hearted scamp, bustle through their little
hour. Leandre, who has no notion of being married, says, "Le ciel
n'est pas plus pur que mes intentions." And the artless Colombine
replies, "Alors marions-nous!" To marry Colombine without a dowry
forms, as a modern novelist says, "no part of Leandre's profligate
scheme of pleasure." There is a sort of treble intrigue. Orgon
wants to give away Colombine dowerless, Leandre to escape from the
whole transaction, and Colombine to secure her dot and her husband.
The strength of the piece is the brisk action in the scene when
Leandre protests that he can't rob Orgon of his only daughter, and
Orgon insists that he can refuse nothing except his ducats to so
charming a son-in-law. The play is redeemed from sordidness by the
costumes. Leandre is dressed in the attire of Watteau's
"L'Indifferent" in the Louvre, and wears a diamond-hilted sword.
The lady who plays the part of Colombine may select (delightful
privilege!) the prettiest dress in Watteau's collection.

This love of the glitter of the stage is very characteristic of De
Banville. In his Deidamie (Odeon, Nov. 18th, 1876) the players who
took the roles of Thetis, Achilles, Odysseus, Deidamia, and the
rest, were accoutred in semi-barbaric raiment and armour of the
period immediately preceding the Graeco-Phoenician (about the eighth
century B.C.). Again we notice the touch of pedantry in the poet.
As for the play, the sombre thread in it is lent by the certainty of
Achilles' early death, the fate which drives him from Deidamie's
arms, and from the sea king's isle to the leagues under the fatal
walls of Ilion. Of comic effect there is plenty, for the sisters of
Deidamie imitate all the acts by which Achilles is likely to betray
himself--grasp the sword among the insidious presents of Odysseus,
when he seizes the spear, and drink each one of them a huge beaker
of wine to the confusion of the Trojans. {1} On a Parisian audience
the imitations of the tone of the Odyssey must have been thrown
away. For example, here is a passage which is as near being Homeric
as French verse can be. Deidamie is speaking in a melancholy mood:

"Heureux les epoux rois assis dans leur maison,
Qui voient tranquillement s'enfuir chaque saison -
L'epoux tenant son sceptre, environne de gloire,
Et l'epouse filant sa quenouille d'ivoire!
Mais le jeune heros que, la glaive e son franc!
Court dans le noir combat, les mains teintes de sang,
Laisse sa femme en pleurs dans sa haute demeure."

With the accustomed pedantry, M. De Banville, in the scene of the
banquet, makes the cup-bearer go round dealing out a little wine,
with which libation is made, and then the feast goes on in proper
Homeric fashion. These overwrought details are forgotten in the
parting scenes, where Deidamie takes what she knows to be her last
farewell of Achilles, and girds him with his sword:

"La lame de l'epee, en sa forme divine
Est pareille e la feuille austere du laurier!"

Let it be noted that each of M. De Banville's more serious plays
ends with the same scene, with slight differences. In Florise
(never put on the stage) the wandering actress of Hardy's troupe
leaves her lover, the young noble, and the shelter of his castle, to
follow where art and her genius beckon her. In Diane au Bois the
goddess "that leads the precise life" turns her back on Eros, who
has subdued even her, and passes from the scene as she waves her
hand in sign of a farewell ineffably mournful. Nearer tragedy than
this M. De Banville does not care to go; and if there is any deeper
tragedy in scenes of blood and in stages strewn with corpses, from
that he abstains. His Florise is perhaps too long, perhaps too
learned; and certainly we are asked to believe too much when a kind
of etherealised Consuelo is set before us as the prima donna of old
Hardy's troupe:

"Mais Florise n'est pas une femme. Je suis
L'harmonieuse voix que berce vos ennuis;
Je suis la lyre aux sons divers que le poete
Fait resonner et qui sans lui serait muette -
Une comedienne enfin. Je ne suis pas
Une femme."

An actress who was not a woman had little to do in the company of
Scarron's Angelique and Mademoiselle de l'Estoile. Florise, in
short, is somewhat too allegorical and haughty a creature; while
Colombine and Nerine (Vaudeville, June 1864) are rather tricksy imps
than women of flesh and blood. M. De Banville's stage, on the
whole, is one of glitter and fantasy; yet he is too much a Greek for
the age that appreciates "la belle Helene," too much a lyric
dramatist to please the contemporaries of Sardou; he lends too much
sentiment and dainty refinement to characters as flimsy as those of
Offenbach's drama.

Like other French poets, M. De Banville has occasionally deigned to
write feuilletons and criticisms. Not many of these scattered
leaves are collected, but one volume, "La Mer de Nice" (Poulet-
Malassis et De Broise, Paris, 1861), may be read with pleasure even
by jealous admirers of Gautier's success as a chronicler of the
impressions made by southern scenery.

To De Banville (he does not conceal it) a journey to a place so far
from Paris as the Riviera was no slight labour. Even from the
roses, the palms, the siren sea, the wells of water under the fronds
of maiden-hair fern, his mind travels back wistfully to the city of
his love.

"I am, I have always been, one of those devotees of Paris who visit
Greece only when they gaze on the face, so fair and so terrible, of
the twice-victorious Venus of the Louvre. One of those obstinate
adorers of my town am I, who will never see Italy, save in the glass
that reflects the tawny hair of Titian's Violante, or in that dread
isle of Alcinous where Lionardo shows you the mountain peaks that
waver in the blue behind the mysterious Monna Lisa. But the Faculty
of Physicians, which has, I own, the right to be sceptical, does not
believe that neuralgia can be healed by the high sun which Titian
and Veronese have fixed on the canvas. To me the Faculty prescribes
the real sun of nature and of life; and here am I, condemned to
learn in suffering all that passes in the mind of a poet of Paris
exiled from that blessed place where he finds the Cyclades and the
islands blossoming, the vale of Avalon, and all the heavenly homes
of the fairies of experience and desire."

Nice is Tomi to this Ovid, but he makes the best of it, and sends to
the editor of the Moniteur letters much more diverting than the
"Tristia." To tell the truth, he never overcomes his amazement at
being out of Paris streets, and in a glade of the lower Alps he
loves to be reminded of his dear city of pleasure. Only under the
olives of Monaco, those solemn and ancient trees, he feels what
surely all men feel who walk at sunset through their shadow--the
memory of a mysterious twilight of agony in an olive garden.

"Et ceux-ci, les pales oliviers, n'est-ce pas de ces heures desolees
ou, comme torture supreme, le Sauveur acceptait en son ame
l'irreparable misere du doute, n'est-ce pas alors qu'il ont appris
de lui e courber le front sous le poids imperieux des souvenirs?"

The pages which M. De Banville consecrates to the Villa Sardou,
where Rachel died, may disenchant, perhaps, some readers of Mr.
Matthew Arnold's sonnet. The scene of Rachel's death has been
spoiled by "improvements" in too theatrical taste. All these notes,
however, were made many years ago; and visitors of the Riviera,
though they will find the little book charming where it speaks of
seas and hills, will learn that France has greatly changed the city
which she has annexed. As a practical man and a Parisian, De
Banville has printed (pp. 179-81) a recipe for the concoction of the
Marseilles dish, bouillabaisse, the mess that Thackeray's ballad
made so famous. It takes genius, however, to cook bouillabaisse;
and, to parody what De Banville says about his own recipe for making
a mechanical "ballade," "en employment ce moyen, on est sur de faire
une mauvaise, irremediablement mauvaise bouillabaisse." The poet
adds the remark that "une bouillabaisse reussie vaut un sonnet sans

There remains one field of M. De Banville's activity to be shortly
described. Of his "Emaux Parisiens," short studies of celebrated
writers, we need say no more than that they are written in careful
prose. M. De Banville is not only a poet, but in his "Petit Traite
de Poesie Francaise" (Bibliotheque de l'Echo de la Sorbonne, s.d.) a
teacher of the mechanical part of poetry. He does not, of course,
advance a paradox like that of Baudelaire, "that poetry can be
taught in thirty lessons." He merely instructs his pupil in the
material part--the scansion, metres, and so on--of French poetry.
In this little work he introduces these "traditional forms of
verse," which once caused some talk in England: the rondel,
rondeau, ballade, villanelle, and chant royal. It may be worth
while to quote his testimony as to the merit of these modes of
expression. "This cluster of forms is one of our most precious
treasures, for each of them forms a rhythmic whole, complete and
perfect, while at the same time they all possess the fresh and
unconscious grace which marks the productions of primitive times."
Now, there is some truth in this criticism; for it is a mark of
man's early ingenuity, in many arts, to seek complexity (where you
would expect simplicity), and yet to lend to that complexity an
infantine naturalness. One can see this phenomenon in early
decorative art, and in early law and custom, and even in the
complicated structure of primitive languages. Now, just as early,
and even savage, races are our masters in the decorative use of
colour and of carving, so the nameless master-singers of ancient
France may be our teachers in decorative poetry, the poetry some
call vers de societe. Whether it is possible to go beyond this, and
adapt the old French forms to serious modern poetry, it is not for
any one but time to decide. In this matter, as in greater affairs,
securus judicat orbis terrarum. For my own part I scarcely believe
that the revival would serve the nobler ends of English poetry. Now
let us listen again to De Banville.

"In the rondel, as in the rondeau and the ballade, all the art is to
bring in the refrain without effort, naturally, gaily, and each time
with novel effect and with fresh light cast on the central idea."
Now, you can TEACH no one to do that, and M. De Banville never
pretends to give any recipes for cooking rondels or ballades worth
reading. "Without poetic VISION all is mere marquetery and cabinet-
maker's work: that is, so far as poetry is concerned--nothing." It
is because he was a poet, not a mere craftsman, that Villon was and
remains the king, the absolute master, of ballad-land." About the
rondeau, M. De Banville avers that it possesses "nimble movement,
speed, grace, lightness of touch, and, as it were, an ancient
fragrance of the soil, that must charm all who love our country and
our country's poetry, in its every age." As for the villanelle, M.
De Banville declares that it is the fairest jewel in the casket of
the muse Erato; while the chant royal is a kind of fossil poem, a
relic of an age when kings and allegories flourished. "The kings
and the gods are dead," like Pan; or at least we no longer find them
able, by touch royal or divine, to reanimate the magnificent chant

This is M. De Banville's apology in pro lyra sua, that light lyre of
many tones, in whose jingle the eternal note of modern sadness is
heard so rarely. If he has a lesson to teach English versifiers,
surely it is a lesson of gaiety. They are only too fond of rue and
rosemary, and now and then prefer the cypress to the bay. M. De
Banville's muse is content to wear roses in her locks, and perhaps
may retain, for many years, a laurel leaf from the ancient laurel
tree which once sheltered the poet at Turbia.


The Greek language is being ousted from education, here, in France,
and in America. The speech of the earliest democracies is not
democratic enough for modern anarchy. There is nothing to be
gained, it is said, by a knowledge of Greek. We have not to fight
the battle of life with Hellenic waiters; and, even if we had,
Romaic, or modern Greek, is much more easily learned than the old
classical tongue. The reason of this comparative ease will be plain
to any one who, retaining a vague memory of his Greek grammar, takes
up a modern Greek newspaper. He will find that the idioms of the
modern newspaper are the idioms of all newspapers, that the grammar
is the grammar of modern languages, that the opinions are expressed
in barbarous translations of barbarous French and English
journalistic cliches or commonplaces. This ugly and undignified
mixture of the ancient Greek characters, and of ancient Greek words
with modern grammar and idioms, and stereotyped phrases, is
extremely distasteful to the scholar. Modern Greek, as it is at
present printed, is not the natural spoken language of the peasants.
You can read a Greek leading article, though you can hardly make
sense of a Greek rural ballad. The peasant speech is a thing of
slow development; there is a basis of ancient Greek in it, with
large elements of Slavonic, Turkish, Italian, and other imposed or
imported languages. Modern literary Greek is a hybrid of revived
classical words, blended with the idioms of the speeches which have
arisen since the fall of the Roman Empire. Thus, thanks to the
modern and familiar element in it, modern Greek "as she is writ" is
much more easily learned than ancient Greek. Consequently, if any
one has need for the speech in business or travel, he can acquire as
much of it as most of us have of French, with considerable ease.
People therefore argue that ancient Greek is particularly
superfluous in schools. Why waste time on it, they ask, which could
be expended on science, on modern languages, or any other branch of
education? There is a great deal of justice in this position. The
generation of men who are now middle-aged bestowed much time and
labour on Greek; and in what, it may be asked, are they better for
it? Very few of them "keep up their Greek." Say, for example, that
one was in a form with fifty boys who began the study--it is odds
against five of the survivors still reading Greek books. The
worldly advantages of the study are slight: it may lead three of
the fifty to a good degree, and one to a fellowship; but good
degrees may be taken in other subjects, and fellowships may be
abolished, or "nationalised," with all other forms of property.

Then, why maintain Greek in schools? Only a very minute percentage
of the boys who are tormented with it really learn it. Only a still
smaller percentage can read it after they are thirty. Only one or
two gain any material advantage by it. In very truth, most minds
are not framed by nature to excel and to delight in literature, and
only to such minds and to schoolmasters is Greek valuable.

This is the case against Greek put as powerfully as one can state
it. On the other side, we may say, though the remark may seem
absurd at first sight, that to have mastered Greek, even if you
forget it, is not to have wasted time. It really is an educational
and mental discipline. The study is so severe that it needs the
earnest application of the mind. The study is averse to indolent
intellectual ways; it will not put up with a "there or thereabouts,"
any more than mathematical ideas admit of being made to seem
"extremely plausible." He who writes, and who may venture to offer
himself as an example, is naturally of a most slovenly and
slatternly mental habit. It is his constant temptation to "scamp"
every kind of work, and to say "it will do well enough." He hates
taking trouble and verifying references. And he can honestly
confess that nothing in his experience has so helped, in a certain
degree, to counteract those tendencies--as the labour of thoroughly
learning certain Greek texts--the dramatists, Thucydides, some of
the books of Aristotle. Experience has satisfied him that Greek is
of real educational value, and, apart from the acknowledged and
unsurpassed merit of its literature, is a severe and logical
training of the mind. The mental constitution is strengthened and
braced by the labour, even if the language is forgotten in later

It is manifest, however, that this part of education is not for
everybody. The real educational problem is to discover what boys
Greek will be good for, and what boys will only waste time and
dawdle over it. Certainly to men of a literary turn (a very minute
percentage), Greek is of an inestimable value. Great poets, even,
may be ignorant of it, as Shakespeare probably was, as Keats and
Scott certainly were, as Alexandre Dumas was. But Dumas regretted
his ignorance; Scott regretted it. We know not how much Scott's
admitted laxity of style and hurried careless habit might have been
modified by a knowledge of Greek; how much of grace, permanence, and
generally of art, his genius might have gained from the language and
literature of Hellas. The most Homeric of modern men could not read
Homer. As for Keats, he was born a Greek, it has been said; but had
he been born with a knowledge of Greek, he never, probably, would
have been guilty of his chief literary faults. This is not certain,
for some modern men of letters deeply read in Greek have all the
qualities of fustian and effusiveness which Longinus most despised.
Greek will not make a luxuriously Asiatic mind Hellenic, it is
certain; but it may, at least, help to restrain effusive and
rhetorical gabble. Our Asiatic rhetoricians might perhaps be even
more barbarous than they are if Greek were a sealed book to them.
However this may be, it is, at least, well to find out in a school
what boys are worth instructing in the Greek language. Now, of
their worthiness, of their chances of success in the study, Homer
seems the best touchstone; and he is certainly the most attractive
guide to the study.

At present boys are introduced to the language of the Muses by
pedantically written grammars, full of the queerest and most arid
metaphysical and philological verbiage. The very English in which
these deplorable books are composed may be scientific, may be
comprehensible by and useful to philologists, but is utterly heart-
breaking to boys.

Philology might be made fascinating; the history of a word, and of
the processes by which its different forms, in different senses,
were developed, might be made as interesting as any other story of
events. But grammar is not taught thus: boys are introduced to a
jargon about matters meaningless, and they are naturally as much
enchanted as if they were listening to a chimaera bombinans in
vacuo. The grammar, to them, is a mere buzz in a chaos of nonsense.
They have to learn the buzz by rote; and a pleasant process that is-
-a seductive initiation into the mysteries. When they struggle so
far as to be allowed to try to read a piece of Greek prose, they are
only like the Marchioness in her experience of beer: she once had a
sip of it. Ten lines of Xenophon, narrating how he marched so many
parasangs and took breakfast, do not amount to more than a very
unrefreshing sip of Greek. Nobody even tells the boys who Xenophon
was, what he did there, and what it was all about. Nobody gives a
brief and interesting sketch of the great march, of its history and
objects. The boys straggle along with Xenophon, knowing not whence
or whither:

"They stray through a desolate region,
And often are faint on the march."

One by one they fall out of the ranks; they mutiny against Xenophon;
they murmur against that commander; they desert his flag. They
determine that anything is better than Greek, that nothing can be
worse than Greek, and they move the tender hearts of their parents.
They are put to learn German; which they do not learn, unluckily,
but which they find it comparatively easy to shirk. In brief, they
leave school without having learned anything whatever.

Up to a certain age my experiences at school were precisely those
which I have described. Our grammar was not so philological,
abstruse and arid as the instruments of torture employed at present.
But I hated Greek with a deadly and sickening hatred; I hated it
like a bully and a thief of time. The verbs in [Greek text]
completed my intellectual discomfiture, and Xenophon routed me with
horrible carnage. I could have run away to sea, but for a strong
impression that a life on the ocean wave "did not set my genius," as
Alan Breck says. Then we began to read Homer; and from the very
first words, in which the Muse is asked to sing the wrath of
Achilles, Peleus' son, my mind was altered, and I was the devoted
friend of Greek. Here was something worth reading about; here one
knew where one was; here was the music of words, here were poetry,
pleasure, and life. We fortunately had a teacher (Dr. Hodson) who
was not wildly enthusiastic about grammar. He would set us long
pieces of the Iliad or Odyssey to learn, and, when the day's task
was done, would make us read on, adventuring ourselves in "the
unseen," and construing as gallantly as we might, without grammar or
dictionary. On the following day we surveyed more carefully the
ground we had pioneered or skirmished over, and then advanced again.
Thus, to change the metaphor, we took Homer in large draughts, not
in sips: in sips no epic can be enjoyed. We now revelled in Homer
like Keats in Spenser, like young horses let loose in a pasture.
The result was not the making of many accurate scholars, though a
few were made; others got nothing better than enjoyment in their
work, and the firm belief, opposed to that of most schoolboys, that
the ancients did not write nonsense. To love Homer, as Steele said
about loving a fair lady of quality, "is a liberal education."

Judging from this example, I venture very humbly to think that any
one who, even at the age of Cato, wants to learn Greek, should begin
where Greek literature, where all profane literature begins--with
Homer himself. It was thus, not with grammars in vacuo, that the
great scholars of the Renaissance began. It was thus that Ascham
and Rabelais began, by jumping into Greek and splashing about till
they learned to swim. First, of course, a person must learn the
Greek characters. Then his or her tutor may make him read a dozen
lines of Homer, marking the cadence, the surge and thunder of the
hexameters--a music which, like that of the Sirens, few can hear
without being lured to the seas and isles of song. Then the tutor
might translate a passage of moving interest, like Priam's appeal to
Achilles; first, of course, explaining the situation. Then the
teacher might go over some lines, minutely pointing out how the
Greek words are etymologically connected with many words in English.
Next, he might take a substantive and a verb, showing roughly how
their inflections arose and were developed, and how they retain
forms in Homer which do not occur in later Greek. There is no
reason why even this part of the lesson should be uninteresting. By
this time a pupil would know, more or less, where he was, what Greek
is, and what the Homeric poems are like. He might thus believe from
the first that there are good reasons for knowing Greek; that it is
the key to many worlds of life, of action, of beauty, of
contemplation, of knowledge. Then, after a few more exercises in
Homer, the grammar being judiciously worked in along with the
literature of the epic, a teacher might discern whether it was worth
while for his pupils to continue in the study of Greek. Homer would
be their guide into the "realms of gold."

It is clear enough that Homer is the best guide. His is the oldest
extant Greek, his matter is the most various and delightful, and
most appeals to the young, who are wearied by scraps of Xenophon,
and who cannot be expected to understand the Tragedians. But Homer
is a poet for all ages, all races, and all moods. To the Greeks the
epics were not only the best of romances, the richest of poetry; not
only their oldest documents about their own history,--they were also
their Bible, their treasury of religious traditions and moral
teaching. With the Bible and Shakespeare, the Homeric poems are the
best training for life. There is no good quality that they lack:
manliness, courage, reverence for old age and for the hospitable
hearth; justice, piety, pity, a brave attitude towards life and
death, are all conspicuous in Homer. He has to write of battles;
and he delights in the joy of battle, and in all the movement of
war. Yet he delights not less, but more, in peace: in prosperous
cities, hearths secure, in the tender beauty of children, in the
love of wedded wives, in the frank nobility of maidens, in the
beauty of earth and sky and sea, and seaward murmuring river, in sun
and snow, frost and mist and rain, in the whispered talk of boy and
girl beneath oak and pine tree.

Living in an age where every man was a warrior, where every city
might know the worst of sack and fire, where the noblest ladies
might be led away for slaves, to light the fire and make the bed of
a foreign master, Homer inevitably regards life as a battle. To
each man on earth comes "the wicked day of destiny," as Malory
unconsciously translates it, and each man must face it as hardily as
he may.

Homer encourages them by all the maxims of chivalry and honour. His
heart is with the brave of either side--with Glaucus and Sarpedon of
Lycia no less than with Achilles and Patroclus. "Ah, friend," cries
Sarpedon, "if once escaped from this battle we were for ever to be
ageless and immortal, neither would I myself fight now in the
foremost ranks, nor would I urge thee into the wars that give
renown; but now--for assuredly ten thousand fates of death on every
side beset us, and these may no man shun, nor none avoid--forward
now let us go, whether we are to give glory or to win it!" And
forth they go, to give and take renown and death, all the shields
and helms of Lycia shining behind them, through the dust of battle,
the singing of the arrows, the hurtling of spears, the rain of
stones from the Locrian slings. And shields are smitten, and
chariot-horses run wild with no man to drive them, and Sarpedon
drags down a portion of the Achaean battlement, and Aias leaps into
the trench with his deadly spear, and the whole battle shifts and
shines beneath the sun. Yet he who sings of the war, and sees it
with his sightless eyes, sees also the Trojan women working at the
loom, cheating their anxious hearts with broidery work of gold and
scarlet, or raising the song to Athene, or heating the bath for
Hector, who never again may pass within the gates of Troy. He sees
the poor weaving woman, weighing the wool, that she may not defraud
her employers, and yet may win bread for her children. He sees the
children, the golden head of Astyanax, his shrinking from the
splendour of the hero's helm. He sees the child Odysseus, going
with his father through the orchard, and choosing out some apple
trees "for his very own." It is in the mouth of the ruthless
Achilles, the fatal, the fated, the swift-footed hero with the hands
of death, that Homer places the tenderest of his similes.
"Wherefore weepest thou, Patroclus, like a fond little maid, that
runs by her mother's side, praying her mother to take her up,
snatching at her gown, and hindering her as she walks, and tearfully
looking at her till her mother takes her up?--like her, Patroclus,
dost thou softly weep."

This is what Chesterfield calls "the porter-like language of Homer's
heroes." Such are the moods of Homer, so full of love of life and
all things living, so rich in all human sympathies, so readily moved
when the great hound Argus welcomes his master, whom none knew after
twenty years, but the hound knew him, and died in that welcome.
With all this love of the real, which makes him dwell so fondly on
every detail of armour, of implement, of art; on the divers-coloured
gold-work of the shield, on the making of tires for chariot-wheels,
on the forging of iron, on the rose-tinted ivory of the Sidonians,
on cooking and eating and sacrificing, on pet dogs, on wasps and
their ways, on fishing, on the boar hunt, on scenes in baths where
fair maidens lave water over the heroes, on undiscovered isles with
good harbours and rich land, on ploughing, mowing, and sowing, on
the furniture of houses, on the golden vases wherein the white dust
of the dead is laid,--with all this delight in the real, Homer is
the most romantic of poets. He walks with the surest foot in the
darkling realm of dread Persephone, beneath the poplars on the
solemn last beach of Ocean. He has heard the Siren's music, and the
song of Circe, chanting as she walks to and fro, casting the golden
shuttle through the loom of gold. He enters the cave of the Man
Eater; he knows the unsunned land of the Cimmerians; in the summer
of the North he has looked, from the fiord of the Laestrygons, on
the Midnight Sun. He has dwelt on the floating isle of AEolus, with
its wall of bronze unbroken, and has sailed on those Phaeacian barks
that need no help of helm or oar, that fear no stress either of wind
or tide, that come and go and return obedient to a thought and
silent as a dream. He has seen the four maidens of Circe, daughters
of wells and woods, and of sacred streams. He is the second-sighted
man, and beholds the shroud that wraps the living who are doomed,
and the mystic dripping from the walls of blood yet unshed. He has
walked in the garden closes of Phaeacia, and looked on the face of
gods who fare thither, and watch the weaving of the dance. He has
eaten the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus, and from the hand of Helen
he brings us that Egyptian nepenthe which puts all sorrow out of
mind. His real world is as real as that in Henry V., his enchanted
isles are charmed with the magic of the Tempest. His young wooers
are as insolent as Claudio, as flushed with youth; his beggar-men
are brethren of Edie Ochiltree; his Nausicaa is sister to Rosalind,
with a different charm of stately purity in love. His enchantresses
hold us yet with their sorceries; his Helen is very Beauty: she has
all the sweetness of ideal womanhood, and her repentance is without
remorse. His Achilles is youth itself, glorious, cruel, pitiful,
splendid, and sad, ardent and loving, and conscious of its doom.
Homer, in truth, is to be matched only with Shakespeare, and of
Shakespeare he has not the occasional wilfulness, freakishness, and
modish obscurity. He is a poet all of gold, universal as humanity,
simple as childhood, musical now as the flow of his own rivers, now
as the heavy plunging wave of his own Ocean.

Such, then, as far as weak words can speak of him, is the first and
greatest of poets. This is he whom English boys are to be ignorant
of, if Greek be ousted from our schools, or are to know only in the
distorting mirror of a versified, or in the pale shadow of a prose
translation. Translations are good only as teachers to bring men to
Homer. English verse has no measure which even remotely suggests
the various flow of the hexameter. Translators who employ verse
give us a feeble Homer, dashed with their own conceits, and moulded
to their own style. Translators who employ prose "tell the story
without the song," but, at least, they add no twopenny "beauties"
and cheap conceits of their own.

I venture to offer a few examples of original translation, in which
the mannerisms of poets who have, or have not, translated Homer, are
parodied, and, of course (except in the case of Pope), exaggerated.
The passage is the speech of the Second-sighted Man, before the
slaying of the wooers in the hall:-

"Ah! wretched men, what ill is this ye suffer? In night are swathed
your heads, your faces, your knees; and the voice of wailing is
kindled, and cheeks are wet with tears, and with blood drip the
walls, and the fair main beams of the roof, and the porch is full of
shadows, and full is the courtyard, of ghosts that hasten hellward
below the darkness, and the sun has perished out of heaven, and an
evil mist sweeps up over all."

So much for Homer. The first attempt at metric translation here
given is meant to be in the manner of Pope:

"Caitiffs!" he cried, "what heaven-directed blight
Involves each countenance with clouds of night!
What pearly drop the ashen cheek bedews!
Why do the walls with gouts ensanguined ooze?
The court is thronged with ghosts that 'neath the gloom
Seek Pluto's realm, and Dis's awful doom;
In ebon curtains Phoebus hides his head,
And sable mist creeps upward from the dead."

This appears pretty bad, and nearly as un-Homeric as a translation
could possibly be. But Pope, aided by Broome and Fenton, managed to
be much less Homeric, much more absurd, and infinitely more
"classical" in the sense in which Pope is classical:

"O race to death devote! with Stygian shade
Each destined peer impending fates invade;
With tears your wan distorted cheeks are drowned;
With sanguine drops the walls are rubied round:
Thick swarms the spacious hall with howling ghosts,
To people Orcus and the burning coasts!
Nor gives the sun his golden orb to roll,
But universal night usurps the pole."

Who could have conjectured that even Pope would wander away so far
from his matchless original? "Wretches!" cries Theoclymenus, the
seer; and that becomes, "O race to death devote!" "Your heads are
swathed in night," turns into "With Stygian shade each destined
peer" (peer is good!) "impending fates invade," where Homer says
nothing about Styx nor peers. The Latin Orcus takes the place of
Erebus, and "the burning coasts" are derived from modern popular
theology. The very grammar detains or defies the reader; is it the
sun that does not give his golden orb to roll, or who, or what?

The only place where the latter-day Broome or Fenton can flatter
himself that he rivals Pope at his own game is -

"What pearly drop the ashen cheek bedews!"

This is, if possible, MORE classical than Pope's own -

"With tears your wan distorted cheeks are drowned."

But Pope nobly revindicates his unparalleled power of translating
funnily, when, in place of "the walls drip with blood," he writes -

"With sanguine drops the walls are rubied round."

Homer does not appear to have been acquainted with rubies; but what
of that? And how noble, how eminently worthy of Pope it is to add
that the ghosts "howl"! I tried to make them gibber, but ghosts DO
gibber in Homer (though not in this passage), so Pope, Fenton,
Broome, and Co., make them howl.

No, Pope is not lightly to be rivalled by a modern translator. The
following example, a far-off following of a noted contemporary poet,
may be left unsigned -

"Wretches, the bane hath befallen, the night and the blight of your
Sweeps like a shroud o'er the faces and limbs that were gladsome
And the dirge of the dead breaketh forth, and the faces of all men
are wet,
And the walls are besprinkled with blood, and the ghosts in the
gateway are met,
Ghosts in the court and the gateway are gathered, Hell opens her
And the sun in his splendour is shrouded, and sickens in spasm of

The next is longer and slower: the poet has a difficulty in telling
his story:

"Wretches," he cried, "what doom is this? what night
Clings like a face-cloth to the face of each, -
Sweeps like a shroud o'er knees and head? for lo!
The windy wail of death is up, and tears
On every cheek are wet; each shining wall
And beauteous interspace of beam and beam
Weeps tears of blood, and shadows in the door
Flicker, and fill the portals and the court -
Shadows of men that hellwards yearn--and now
The sun himself hath perished out of heaven,
And all the land is darkened with a mist."

That could never be mistaken for a version by the Laureate, as
perhaps any contemporary hack's works might have been taken for
Pope's. The difficulty, perhaps, lies here: any one knows where to
have Pope, any one knows that he will evade the mot propre, though
the precise evasion he may select is hard to guess. But the
Laureate would keep close to his text, and yet would write like
himself, very beautifully, but not with an Homeric swiftness and
strength. Who is to imitate him? As to Mr. William Morris, he
might be fabled to render [Greek text] "niddering wights," but
beyond that, conjecture is baffled. {2} Or is THIS the kind of
thing? -

"Niddering wights, what a bane do ye bear, for your knees in the
And your heads and your faces, are shrouded, and clamour that knows
not delight
Rings, and your cheeks are begrutten, and blood is besprent on the
Blood on the tapestry fair woven, and barrow-wights walk in the
Fetches and wraiths of the chosen of the Norns, and the sun from the
Shudders, and over the midgarth and swan's bath the cloud-shadows

It may be argued that, though this is perhaps a translation, it is
not English, never was, and never will be. But it is quite as like
Homer as the performance of Pope.

Such as these, or not so very much better than these as might be
wished, are our efforts to translate Homer. From Chapman to Avia,
or Mr. William Morris, they are all eminently conscientious, and
erroneous, and futile. Chapman makes Homer a fanciful, euphuistic,
obscure, and garrulous Elizabethan, but Chapman has fire. Pope
makes him a wit, spirited, occasionally noble, full of points, and
epigrams, and queer rococo conventionalisms. Cowper makes him slow,
lumbering, a Milton without the music. Maginn makes him pipe an
Irish jig:-

"Scarcely had she begun to wash
When she was aware of the grisly gash!"

Lord Derby makes him respectable and ponderous. Lord Tennyson makes
him not less, but certainly not more, than Tennysonian. Homer, in
the Laureate's few fragments of experiment, is still a poet, but he
is not Homer. Mr. Morris, and Avia, make him Icelandic, and
archaistic, and hard to scan, though vigorous in his fetters for all
that. Bohn makes him a crib; and of other translators in prose it
has been said, with a humour which one of them appreciates, that
they render Homer into a likeness of the Book of Mormon.

Homer is untranslatable. None of us can bend the bow of Eurytus,
and make the bow-string "ring sweetly at the touch, like the
swallow's song." The adventure is never to be achieved; and, if
Greek is to be dismissed from education, not the least of the
sorrows that will ensue is English ignorance of Homer.


The editor of a great American newspaper once offered the author of
these lines a commission to explore a lost country, the seat of a
fallen and forgotten civilisation. It was not in Yucatan, or
Central Africa, or Thibet, or Kafiristan, this desolate region, once
so popular, so gaudy, so much frequented and desired. It was only
the fashionable novels of the Forties, say from 1835 to 1850, that I
was requested to examine and report upon. But I shrank from the
colossal task. I am no Mr. Stanley; and the length, the
difficulties, the arduousness of the labour appalled me. Besides, I
do not know where that land lies, the land of the old Fashionable
Novel, the Kor of which Thackeray's Lady Fanny Flummery is the
Ayesha. What were the names of the old novels, and who were the
authors, and in the circulating library of what undiscoverable
watering-place are they to be found? We have heard of Mrs. Gore, we
have heard of Tremayne, and Emilia Wyndham, and the Bachelor of the
Albany; and many of us have read Pelham, or know him out of
Carlyle's art, and those great curses which he spoke. But who was
the original, or who were the originals, that sat for the portrait
of the "Fashionable Authoress," Lady Fanny Flummery? and of what
work is Lords and Liveries a parody? The author is also credited
with Dukes and Dejeuners, Marchionesses and Milliners, etc. Could,
any candidate in a literary examination name the prototypes? "Let
mantua-makers puff her, but not men," says Thackeray, speaking of
Lady Fanny Flummery, "and the Fashionable Authoress is no more.
Blessed, blessed thought! No more fiddle-faddle novels! When will
you arrive, O happy Golden Age!"

Well, it has arrived, though we are none the happier for all that.
The Fashionable Novel has ceased to exist, and the place of the
fashionable authoress knows her no more. Thackeray plainly detested
Lady Fanny. He writes about her, her books, her critics, her
successes, with a certain bitterness. Can it be possible that a
world which rather neglected Barry Lyndon was devoted to
Marchionesses and Milliners? Lady Fanny is represented as having
editors and reviewers at her feet; she sits among the flowers, like
the Sirens, and around her are the bones of critics corrupt in
death. She is puffed for the sake of her bouquets, her dinners, her
affabilities and condescensions. She gives a reviewer a great
garnet pin, adorned wherewith he paces the town. Her adorers
compare her to "him who sleeps by Avon." In one of Mr. Black's
novels there is a lady of this kind, who captivates the tribe of
"Log Rollers," as Mr. Black calls them. This lady appears to myself
to be a quite impossible She. One has never met her with her wiles,
nor come across her track, even, and seen the bodies and the bones
of those who perished in puffing her. Some persons of rank and
fashion have a taste for the society of some men of letters, but
nothing in the way of literary puffery seems to come of it. Of
course many critics like to give their friends and acquaintances an
applausive hand, and among their acquaintances may be ladies of
fashion who write novels; but we read nowhere such extraordinary
adulations as Augustus Timson bestowed on Lady Fanny. The
fashionable authoress is nearly extinct, though some persons write
well albeit they are fashionable. The fashionable novel is as dead
as a door nail: Lothair was nearly the last of the species. There
are novelists who write about "Society," to be sure, like Mr.
Norris; but their tone is quite different. They do not speak as if
Dukes and Earls were some strange superior kind of beings; their
manner is that of men accustomed to and undazzled by Earls, writing
for readers who do not care whether the hero is a lord or a
commoner. They are "at ease," though not terribly "in Zion."
Thackeray himself introduces plenty of the peerage, but it cannot be
said that he is always at ease in their society. He remembers that
they are lords, and is on his guard, very often, and suspicious and
sarcastic, except, perhaps when he deals with a gentleman like Lord
Kew. He examines them like curious wild animals in the Jardin des
Plantes. He is an accomplished naturalist, and not afraid of the
lion; but he remembers that the animal is royal, and has a title.
Mr. Norris, for instance, shows nothing of this mood. Mr. Trollope
was not afraid of his Dukes: he thought none the worse of a man
because he was the high and puissant prince of Omnium. As for most
novelists, they no longer paint fashionable society with enthusiasm.
Mr. Henry James has remarked that young British peers favour the
word "beastly,"--a point which does not always impress itself into
other people so keenly as into Mr. Henry James. In reading him you
do not forget that his Tufts are Tufts. But then Tufts are really
strange animals to the denizens of the Great Republic. Perhaps the
modern realism has made novelists desert the world where Dukes and
Dowagers abound. Novelists do not know very much about it; they are
not wont to haunt the gilded saloons, and they prefer to write about
the manners which they know. A very good novel, in these strange
ruinous times, might be written with a Duke for hero; but nobody
writes it, and, if anybody did write it in the modern manner, it
would not in the least resemble the old fashionable novel.

Here a curious point arises. We have all studied the ingenious lady
who calls herself Ouida. Now, is Ouida, or rather was Ouida in her
early state sublime, the last of the old fashionable novelists, or
did Thackeray unconsciously prophesy of her when he wrote his
burlesque Lords and Liveries? Think of the young earl of Bagnigge,
"who was never heard to admire anything except a coulis de
dindonneau e la St. Menehould, . . . or the bouquet of a flask of
Medoc, of Carbonnell's best quality, or a goutte of Marasquin, from
the cellars of Briggs and Hobson." We have met such young
patricians in Under Two Flags and Idalia. But then there is a
difference: Ouida never tells us that her hero was "blest with a
mother of excellent principles, who had imbued his young mind with
that morality which is so superior to all the vain pomps of the
world." But a hero of Ouida's might easily have had a father who
"was struck down by the side of the gallant Collingwood in the Bay
of Fundy." The heroes themselves may have "looked at the Pyramids
without awe, at the Alps without reverence." They do say "Corpo di
Bacco," and the Duca de Montepulciano does reply, "E' bellissima
certamente." And their creator might conceivably remark "Non cuivis
contigit." But Lady Fanny Flummery's ladies could not dress as
Ouida's ladies do: they could not quote Petronius Arbiter; they had
never heard of Suetonius. No age reproduces itself. There is much
of our old fashionable authoress in Ouida's earlier tales; there is
plenty of the Peerage, plenty of queer French in old novels and
Latin yet more queer; but where is the elan which takes archaeology
with a rush, which sticks at no adventure, however nobly incredible?
where is the pathos, the simplicity, the purple splendour of Ouida's
manner, or manners? No, the spirit of the world, mirroring itself
in the minds of individuals, simpered, and that simper was Lady
Fanny Flummery. But it did many things more portentous than
simpering, when it reflected itself in Ouida.

Is it that we do no longer gape on the aristocracy admiringly, and
write of them curiously, as if they were creatures in a Paradise?
Is it that Thackeray has converted us? In part, surely, we are just
as snobbish as ever, though the gods of our adoration totter to
their fall, and "a hideous hum" from the mob outside thrills through
the temples. In fiction, on the other hand, the world of fashion is
"played out." Nobody cares to read or write about the dear duchess.
If a peer comes into a novel he comes in, not as a coroneted
curiosity, but as a man, just as if he were a dentist, or a
stockbroker. His rank is an accident; it used to be the essence of
his luminous apparition. I scarce remember a lord in all the many
works of Mr. Besant, nor do they people the romances of Mr. Black.
Mr. Kipling does not deal in them, nor Mr. George Meredith much; Mr.
Haggard hardly gets beyond a baronet, and HE wears chain mail in
Central Africa, and tools with an axe. Mrs. Oliphant has a Scotch
peer, but he is less interesting and prominent than his family
ghost. No, we have only Ouida left, and Mr. Norris--who writes
about people of fashion, indeed, but who has nothing in him of the
old fashionable novelist.

Is it to a Republic, to France, that we must look for our
fashionable novels--to France and to America. Every third person in
M. Guy de Maupassant's tales has a "de," and is a Marquis or a
Vicomte. As for M. Paul Bourget, one really can be happy with him
in the fearless old fashion. With him we meet Lord Henry Bohun, and
M. De Casal (a Vicomte), and all the Marquises and Marquises; and
all the pale blue boudoirs, and sentimental Duchesses, whose hearts
are only too good, and who get into the most complicated amorous
scrapes. That young Republican, M. Bourget, sincerely loves a
blason, a pedigree, diamonds, lace, silver dressing cases, silver
baths, essences, pomatums, le grand luxe. So does Gyp: apart from
her wit, Gyp is delightful to read, introducing us to the very best
of bad company. Even M. Fortune du Boisgobey likes a Vicomte, and
is partial to the noblesse, while M. Georges Ohnet is accused of
entering the golden world of rank, like a man without a wedding
garment, and of being lost and at sea among his aristocrats. They
order these things better in France: they still appeal to the fine
old natural taste for rank and luxury, splendour and refinement.
What is Gyp but a Lady Fanny Flummery reussie,--Lady Fanny with the
trifling additional qualities of wit and daring? Observe her noble
scorn of M. George Ohnet: it is a fashionable arrogance.

To my mind, I confess, the decay of the British fashionable novel
seems one of the most threatening signs of the times. Even in
France institutions are much more permanent than here. In France
they have fashionable novels, and very good novels too: no man of
sense will deny that they are far better than our dilettantism of
the slums, or our religious and social tracts in the disguise of
romance. If there is no new tale of treasure and bandits and fights
and lions handy, may I have a fashionable novel in French to fall
back upon! Even Count Tolstoi does not disdain the genre. There is
some uncommonly high life in Anna Karenine. He adds a great deal of
psychology, to be sure; so does M. Paul Bourget. But he takes you
among smart people, who have everything handsome about them--titles,
and lands, and rents. Is it not a hard thing that an honest British
snob, if he wants to move in the highest circles of fiction, must
turn to French novelists, or Russian, or American? As to the
American novels of the elite and the beau monde, their elegance is
obscured to English eyes, because that which makes one New Yorker
better than another, that which creates the Upper Ten Thousand (dear
phrase!) of New York, is so inconspicuous. For example, the
scientific inquirer may venture himself among the novels of two
young American authors. Few English students make this voyage of
exploration. But the romances of these ingenious writers are
really, or really try to be, a kind of fashionable novels. It is a
queer domain of fashion, to be sure, peopled by the strangest
aborigines, who talk and are talked about in a language most
interesting to the philologist. Here poor Lady Fanny Flummery would
have been sadly to seek, for her characters, though noble, were
moral, and her pen was wielded on the side of Church and State. But
these western fashionables have morals and a lingo of their own,
made in equal parts of the American idioms and of expressions
transferred from the jargon of Decadence and the Parnassiculet
Contemporain. As one peruses these novels one thinks of a new tale
to be told--The Last of the Fashionables, who died away, like the
buffalo and the grisly bear, in some canon or forest of the Wild
West. I think this distinguished being, Ultimus hominum
venustiorum, will find the last remnants of the Gentlemanly Party in
some Indian tribe, Apaches or Sioux. I see him raised to the rank
of chief, and leading the red-skinned and painted cavaliers on the
war-path against the Vulgarians of the ultimate Democracy. To
depict this dandy chief would require the art at once of a Cooper
and a Ouida. Let me attempt -


By this time the Sioux were flying in all directions, mowed down by
the fire of Gatling and Maxim guns. The scrub of Little Big Horn
Creek was strewn with the bodies of writhing braves. On the livid
and volcanic heights of Mount Buncombe, the painted tents were
blazing merrily. But on a mound above the creek, an ancient
fortress of some long-forgotten people, a small group of Indian
horsemen, might be observed, steady as rocks in the refluent tide of
war. The fire from their Winchester repeaters blazed out like the
streamers of the Northern Lights. Again and again the flower of the
United States army had charged up the mound, only to recoil in
flight, or to line the cliff with their corpses. The First Irish
Cuirassiers had been annihilated: Parnell's own, alas! in the heat
of the combat had turned their fratricidal black-thorns on
M'Carthy's brigade, and these two gallant squadrons were mixed and
broken, falling beneath the blows of brothers estranged.

But at last the fire from the Redmen on the bluff slackened and grew
silent. The ammunition was exhausted. There was a movement in the
group of braves. Crazy Horse and Bald Coyote turned to Four Hair-
Brushes, who sat his steed Atalanta, last winner of the last Grand
National, with all the old careless elegance of the Row.

"Four Hair-Brushes," said Crazy Horse (and a tear rolled down his
painted cheek), "nought is left but flight."

"Then fly," said Four Hair-Brushes, languidly, lighting a cigarette,
which he took from a diamond-studded gold etui, the gift of the
Kaiser in old days.

"Nay, not without the White Chief," said Bald Coyote; and he seized
the reins of Four Hair-Brushes, to lead him from that stricken

"Vous etes trop vieux jeu, mon ami," murmured Four Hair-Brushes, "je
ne suis ni Edouard II., ni Charles Edouard e Culloden. Quatre-
brosses meurt, mais il ne se rend pas."

The Indian released his hold, baffled by the erudition and the calm
courage of his captain.

"I make tracks," he said; and, swinging round so that his horse
concealed his body, he galloped down the bluff, and through the
American cavalry, scattering death from the arrows which he loosed
under his horse's neck.

Four Hair-Brushes was alone.

Unarmed, as ever, he sat, save for the hunting-whip in his right

"Scalp him!" yelled the Friendly Crows.

"Nay, take him alive: a seemlier knight never backed steed!" cried
the gallant Americans.

From their midst rode a courteous cavalier, Captain John Barry, the
scholar, the hero of sword and pen.

"Yield thee, Sir Knight!" he said, doffing his kepi in martial

Four Hair-Brushes replied to his salute, and was opening his curved
and delicate lips to speak, when a chance bullet struck him full in
the breast. He threw up his arms, reeled, and fell. The gallant
American, leaping from saddle to ground, rushed to raise his head.

Through the war-paint he recognised him.

"Great Heaven!" he cried, "it is--"

"Hush!" whispered Four Hair-Brushes, with a weary smile: "let
Annesley de Vere of the Blues die unnamed. Tell them that I fell in

He did, indeed. Under his feathered and painted cloak Barry found
that Annesley, ever careful of his figure, ever loyal in love, the
last of the Dandies, yet wore the corset of Madame de Telliere. It
was wet with his life-blood.

"So dies," said Barry, "the last English gentleman."


"I thought how some people's towering intellects and splendid
cultivated geniuses rise upon simple, beautiful foundations hidden
out of sight." Thus, in his Letters to Mrs. Brookfield, Mr.
Thackeray wrote, after visiting the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral,
with its "charming, harmonious, powerful combination of arches and
shafts, beautiful whichever way you see them developed, like a fine
music." The simile applies to his own character and genius, to his
own and perhaps to that of most great authors, whose works are our
pleasure and comfort in this troublesome world. There are critics
who profess a desire to hear nothing, or as little as may be, of the
lives of great artists, whether their instrument of art was the pen,
or the brush, or the chisel, or the strings and reeds of music.
With those critics perhaps most of us agree, when we read books that
gossip about Shelley, or Coleridge, or Byron. "Give us their
poetry," we say, "and leave their characters alone: we do not want
tattle about Claire and chatter about Harriet; we want to be happy
with 'The Skylark' or 'The Cloud.'" Possibly this instinct is
correct, where such a poet as Shelley is concerned, whose life, like
his poetry, was as "the life of winds and tides," whose genius,
unlike the skylark's, was more true to the point of heaven than the
point of home. But reflection shows us that on the whole, as Mr.
Thackeray says, a man's genius must be builded on the foundations of
his character. Where that genius deals with the mingled stuff of
human life--sorrow, desire, love, hatred, kindness, meanness--then
the foundation of character is especially important. People are
sometimes glad that we know so little of Shakespeare the man; yet
who can doubt that a true revelation of his character would be not
less worthy, noble and charming than the general effect of his
poems? In him, it is certain, we should always find an example of
nobility, of generosity, of charity and kindness and self-
forgetfulness. Indeed, we find these qualities, as a rule, in the
biographies of the great sympathetic poets and men of genius of the
pen--I do not say in the lives of rebels of genius, "meteoric poets"
like Byron. The same basis, the same foundations of rectitude, of
honour, of goodness, of melancholy, and of mirth, underlie the art
of Moliere, of Scott, of Fielding, and as his correspondence shows,
of Thackeray.

It seems probable that a complete biography of Thackeray will never
be written. It was his wish to live in his works alone: that wish
his descendants respect; and we must probably regard the Letters to
Mr. and Mrs. Brookfield as the last private and authentic record of
the man which will be given, at least to this generation. In these
Letters all sympathetic readers will find the man they have long
known from his writings--the man with a heart so tender that the
world often drove him back into a bitterness of opposition, into an
assumed hardness and defensive cynicism. There are readers so
unluckily constituted that they can see nothing in Thackeray but
this bitterness, this cruel sense of meanness and power of analysing
shabby emotions, sneaking vanities, contemptible ambitions. All of
us must often feel with regret that he allowed himself to be made
too unhappy by the spectacle of failings so common in the world he
knew best, that he dwelt on them too long and lashed them too
complacently. One hopes never to read "Lovel the Widower" again,
and one gladly skips some of the speeches of the Old Campaigner in
"The Newcomes." They are terrible, but not more terrible than life.
Yet it is hard to understand how Mr. Ruskin, for example, can let
such scenes and characters hide from his view the kindness,
gentleness, and pity of Thackeray's nature. The Letters must open
all eyes that are not wilfully closed, and should at last overcome
every prejudice.

In the Letters we see a man literally hungering and thirsting after
affection, after love--a man cut off by a cruel stroke of fate from
his natural solace, from the centre of a home.

"God took from me a lady dear,"

he says, in the most touching medley of doggerel and poetry, made
"instead of writing my Punch this morning." Losing "a lady dear,"
he takes refuge as he may, he finds comfort as he can, in all the
affections within his reach, in the society of an old college friend
and of his wife, in the love of all children, beginning with his
own; in a generous liking for all good work and for all good

Did any man of letters except Scott ever write of his rivals as
Thackeray wrote of Dickens? Artists are a jealous race. "Potter
hates potter, and poet hates poet," as Hesiod said so long ago.
This jealousy is not mere envy, it is really a strong sense of how
things ought to be done, in any art, touched with a natural
preference for a man's own way of doing them. Now, what could be
more unlike than the "ways" of Dickens and Thackeray? The subjects
chosen by these great authors are not more diverse than their
styles. Thackeray writes like a scholar, not in the narrow sense,
but rather as a student and a master of all the refinements and
resources of language. Dickens copies the chaff of the street, or
he roams into melodramatics, "drops into poetry"--blank verse at
least--and touches all with peculiarities, we might say mannerisms,
of his own. I have often thought, and even tried to act on the
thought, that some amusing imaginary letters might be written, from
characters of Dickens about characters of Thackeray, from characters
of Thackeray about characters of Dickens. They might be supposed to
meet each other in society, and describe each other. Can you not
fancy Captain Costigan on Dick Swiveller, Blanche Amory on Agnes,
Pen on David Copperfield, and that "tiger" Steerforth? What would
the family solicitor of "The Newcomes" have to say of Mr.
Tulkinghorn? How would George Warrington appreciate Mr. Pickwick?
Yes, the two great novelists were as opposed as two men could be--in
manner, in style, in knowledge of books, and of the world. And yet
how admirably Thackeray writes about Dickens, in his letters as in
his books! How he delights in him! How manly is that emulation
which enables an author to see all the points in his rival, and not
to carp at them, but to praise, and be stimulated to keener effort!

Consider this passage. "Have you read Dickens? O! it is charming!
Brave Dickens! It has some of his very prettiest touches--those
inimitable Dickens touches which make such a great man of him, and
the reading of the book has done another author a great deal of

Thackeray is just as generous, and perhaps more critical, in writing
of Kingsley. "A fine, honest, go-a-head fellow, who charges a
subject heartily, impetuously, with the greatest courage and
simplicity; but with narrow eyes (his are extraordinarily brave,
blue and honest), and with little knowledge of the world, I think.
But he is superior to us worldlings in many ways, and I wish I had
some of his honest pluck."

I have often wished that great authors, when their days of creation
were over, when "their minds grow grey and bald," would condescend
to tell us the history of their books. Sir Walter Scott did
something of this kind in the prefaces to the last edition of the
Waverley Novels published during his life. What can be more
interesting than his account, in the introduction to the "Fortunes
of Nigel," of how he worked, how he planned, and found all his plots
and plans overridden by the demon at the end of his pen! But Sir
Walter was failing when he began those literary confessions; good as
they are, he came to them too late. Yet these are not confessions
which an author can make early. The pagan Aztecs only confessed
once in a lifetime--in old age, when they had fewer temptations to
fall to their old loves: then they made a clean breast of it once
for all. So it might be with an author. While he is in his
creative vigour, we want to hear about his fancied persons, about
Pendennis, Beatrix, Becky, not about himself, and how he invented
them. But when he has passed his best, then it is he who becomes of
interest; it is about himself that we wish him to speak, as far as
he modestly may. Who would not give "Lovel the Widower" and
"Philip" for some autobiographical and literary prefaces to the
older novels? They need not have been more egotistic than the
"Roundabout Papers." They would have had far more charm. Some
things cannot be confessed. We do not ask who was the original Sir
Pitt Crawley, or the original Blanche Amory. But we might learn in
what mood, in what circumstances the author wrote this passage or

The Letters contain a few notes of this kind, a few literary
confessions. We hear that Emmy Sedley was partly suggested by Mrs.
Brookfield, partly by Thackeray's mother, much by his own wife.
There scarce seems room for so many elements in Emmy's personality.
For some reason ladies love her not, nor do men adore her. I have
been her faithful knight ever since I was ten years old and read
"Vanity Fair" somewhat stealthily. Why does one like her except
because she is such a thorough woman? She is not clever, she is not
very beautiful, she is unhappy, and she can be jealous. One pities
her, and that is akin to a more tender sentiment; one pities her
while she sits in the corner, and Becky's green eyes flatter her oaf
of a husband; one pities her in the poverty of her father's house,
in the famous battle over Daffy's Elixir, in the separation from the
younger George. You begin to wish some great joy to come to her:
it does not come unalloyed; you know that Dobbin had bad quarters of
an hour with this lady, and had to disguise a little of his
tenderness for his own daughter. Yes, Emmy is more complex than she
seems, and perhaps it needed three ladies to contribute the various
elements of her person and her character. One of them, the jealous
one, lent a touch to Helen Pendennis, to Laura, to Lady Castlewood.
Probably this may be the reason why some persons dislike Thackeray
so. His very best women are not angels. {3} Are the very best women
angels? It is a pious opinion--that borders on heresy.

When the Letters began to be written, in 1847, Thackeray had his
worst years, in a worldly sense, behind him. They were past: the
times when he wrote in Galignani for ten francs a day. Has any
literary ghoul disinterred his old ten-franc articles in Galignani?
The time of "Barry Lyndon," too, was over. He says nothing of that
masterpiece, and only a word about "The Great Hoggarty Diamond." "I
have been re-reading it. Upon my word and honour, if it doesn't
make you cry, I shall have a mean opinion of you. It was written at
a time of great affliction, when my heart was very soft and humble.
Amen. Ich habe auch viel geliebt." Of "Pendennis," as it goes on,
he writes that it is "awfully stupid," which has not been the
verdict of the ages. He picks up materials as he passes. He dines
with some officers, and perhaps he stations them at Chatteris. He
meets Miss G-, and her converse suggests a love passage between Pen
and Blanche. Why did he dislike fair women so? It runs all through
his novels. Becky is fair. Blanche is fair. Outside the old
yellow covers of "Pendennis," you see the blonde mermaid, "amusing,
and clever, and depraved," dragging the lover to the sea, and the
nut-brown maid holding him back. Angelina, of the "Rose and the
Ring," is the Becky of childhood; she is fair, and the good Rosalba
is brune. In writing "Pendennis" he had a singular experience. He
looked over his own "back numbers," and found "a passage which I had
utterly forgotten as if I had never read or written it." In
Lockhart's "Life of Scott," James Ballantyne says that "when the
'Bride of Lammermoor' was first put into his hands in a complete
shape, he did not recollect one single incident, character, or
conversation it contained." That is to say, he remembered nothing
of his own invention, though his memory of the traditional parts was
as clear as ever. Ballantyne remarks, "The history of the human
mind contains nothing more wonderful." The experience of Thackeray
is a parallel to that of Scott. "Pendennis," it must be noted, was
interrupted by a severe illness, and "The Bride of Lammermoor" was
dictated by Sir Walter when in great physical pain. On one occasion
Thackeray "lit upon a very stupid part of 'Pendennis,' I am sorry to
say; and yet how well written it is! What a shame the author don't
write a complete good story! Will he die before doing so? or come
back from America and do it?"

Did he ever write "a complete, good story"? Did any one ever do
such a thing as write a three-volume, novel, or a novel of equal
length, which was "a complete, good story"? Probably not; or if any
mortal ever succeeded in the task, it was the great Alexander Dumas.
"The Three Musketeers," I take leave to think, and "Twenty Years
After," are complete good stories, good from beginning to end,
stories from beginning to end without a break, without needless
episode. Perhaps one may say as much for "Old Mortality," and for
"Quentin Durward." But Scott and Dumas were born story-tellers;
narrative was the essence of their genius at its best; the current
of romance rolls fleetly on, bearing with it persons and events,
mirroring scenes, but never ceasing to be the main thing--the
central interest. Perhaps narrative like this is the chief success
of the novelist. He is triumphant when he carries us on, as Wolf,
the famous critic, was carried on by the tide of the Iliad, "in that
pure and rapid current of action." Nobody would claim this especial
merit for Thackeray. He is one of the greatest of novelists; he
displays human nature and human conduct so that we forget ourselves
in his persons, but he does not make us forget ourselves in their
fortunes. Whether Clive does or does not marry Ethel, or Esmond,
Beatrix, does not very greatly excite our curiosity. We cannot ring
the bells for Clive's second wedding as the villagers celebrated the
bridal of Pamela. It is the development of character, it is the
author's comments, it is his own personality and his unmatched and
inimitable style, that win our admiration and affection. We can
take up "Vanity Fair," or "Pendennis," or "The Newcomes," just where
the book opens by chance, and read them with delight, as we may read
Montaigne. When one says one can take up a book anywhere, it
generally means that one can also lay it down anywhere. But it is
not so with Thackeray. Whenever we meet him he holds us with his
charm, his humour, his eloquence, his tenderness. If he has not, in
the highest degree, the narrative power, he does possess, in a
degree perhaps beyond any other writer of English, that kind of
poetic quality which is not incompatible with prose writing.

A great deal has been said about prose poetry. As a rule, it is
very poor stuff. As prose it has a tendency to run into blank
verse; as poetry it is highly rhetorical and self-conscious. It
would be invidious and might be irritating to select examples from
modern masters of prose-poetry. They have never been poets. But
the prose of a poet like Milton may be, and is, poetical in the true
sense; and so, upon occasions, was the prose of Thackeray. Some
examples linger always in the memory, and dwell with their music in
the hearing. One I have quoted elsewhere; the passage in "The
Newcomes" where Clive, at the lecture on the Poetry of the Domestic
Affections, given by Sir Barnes Newcome, sees Ethel, whom he has

"And the past, and its dear histories, and youth and its hopes and
passions, and tones and looks, for ever echoing in the heart and
present in the memory--those, no doubt, poor Clive saw and heard as
he looked across the great gulf of time and parting and grief, and
beheld the woman he had loved for many years." "The great gulf of
time, and parting, and grief,"--some of us are on the farther side
of it, and our old selves, and our old happiness, and our old
affections beyond, grow near, grow clear, now and then, at the sight
of a face met by chance in the world, at the chance sound of a
voice. Such are human fortunes, and human sorrows; not the worst,
not the greatest, for these old loves do not die--they live in
exile, and are the better parts of our souls. Not the greatest, nor
the worst of sorrows, for shame is worse, and hopeless hunger, and a
life all of barren toil without distractions, without joy, must be
far worse. But of those myriad tragedies of the life of the poor,
Thackeray does not write. How far he was aware of them, how deeply
he felt them, we are not informed. His highest tragedy is that of
the hunger of the heart; his most noble prose sounds in that meeting
of Harry Esmond with Lady Castlewood, in the immortal speech which
has the burden, "bringing your sheaves with you!" All that scene
appears to me no less unique, no less unsurpassable, no less
perfect, than the "Ode to the Nightingale" of Keats, or the Lycidas
of Milton. It were superfluous to linger over the humour of
Thackeray. Only Shakespeare and Dickens have graced the language
with so many happy memories of queer, pleasant people, with so many
quaint phrases, each of which has a kind of freemasonry, and when
uttered, or recalled, makes all friends of Thackeray into family
friends of each other. The sayings of Mr. Harry Foker, of Captain
Costigan, of Gumbo, are all like old dear family phrases, they live
imperishable and always new, like the words of Sir John, the fat
knight, or of Sancho Panza, or of Dick Swiveller, or that other
Sancho, Sam Weller. They have that Shakespearian gift of being ever
appropriate, and undyingly fresh.

These are among the graces of Thackeray, these and that inimitable
style, which always tempts and always baffles the admiring and
despairing copyist. Where did he find the trick of it, of the words
which are invariably the best words, and invariably fall exactly in
the best places? "The best words in the best places," is part of
Coleridge's definition of poetry; it is also the essence of
Thackeray's prose. In these Letters to Mrs. Brookfield the style is
precisely the style of the novels and essays. The style, with
Thackeray, was the man. He could not write otherwise. But
probably, to the last, this perfection was not mechanical, was not
attained without labour and care. In Dr. John Brown's works, in his
essay on Thackeray, there is an example of a proof-sheet on which
the master has made corrections, and those corrections bring the
passage up to his accustomed level, to the originality of his
rhythm. Here is the piece:-

"Another Finis, another slice of life which Tempus edax has
devoured! And I may have to write the word once or twice, perhaps,
and then an end of Ends. [Finite is ever and Infinite beginning.]
Oh, the troubles, the cares, the ennui, [the complications,] the
repetitions, the old conversations over and over again, and here and
there all the delightful passages, the dear, the brief, the forever-

"[And then] A few chapters more, and then the last, and behold
Finis itself coming to an end, and the Infinite beginning."

"How like music this," writes Dr. John Brown--"like one trying the
same air in different ways, as it were, searching out and sounding
all its depths!" The words were almost the last that Thackeray
wrote, perhaps the very last. They reply, as it were, to other
words which he had written long before to Mrs. Brookfield.

"I don't pity anybody who leaves the world; not even a fair young
girl in her prime; I pity those remaining. On her journey, if it
pleases God to send her, depend on it there's no cause for grief,
that's but an earthly condition. Out of our stormy life, and
brought nearer the Divine light and warmth, there must be a serene
climate. Can't you fancy sailing into the calm?"

Ah! nowhere else shall we find the Golden Bride, "passionless bride,
divine Tranquillity."

As human nature persistently demands a moral, and, as, to say truth,
Thackeray was constantly meeting the demand, what is the lesson of
his life and his writings? So people may ask, and yet how futile is
the answer! Life has a different meaning, a different riddle, a
different reply for each of us. There is not one sphinx, but many
sphinxes--as many as there are women and men. We must all answer
for ourselves. Pascal has one answer, "Believe!" Moliere has
another, "Observe!" Thackeray's answer is, "Be good and enjoy!" but
a melancholy enjoyment was his. Dr. John Brown says:

"His persistent state, especially for the later half of his life,
was profoundly morne, there is no other word for it. This arose in
part from temperament, from a quick sense of the littleness and
wretchedness of mankind . . . This feeling, acting on a harsh and
savage nature, ended in the saeva indignatio of Swift; acting on the
kindly and sensitive nature of Mr. Thackeray, it led only to
compassionate sadness."

A great part of his life, and most of his happiness, lay in love.
"Ich habe auch viel geliebt," he says, and it is a hazardous kind of
happiness that attends great affection. Your capital is always at
the mercy of failures, of death, of jealousy, of estrangement. But
he had so much love to give that he could not but trust those
perilous investments.

Other troubles he had that may have been diversions from those. He
did not always keep that manly common sense in regard to criticism,
which he shows in a letter to Mrs. Brookfield. "Did you read the
Spectator's sarcastic notice of 'Vanity Fair'? I don't think it is
just, but think Kintoul (Rintoul?) is a very honest man, and rather
inclined to deal severely with his private friends lest he should
fall into the other extreme: to be sure he keeps out of it, I mean
the other extreme, very well."

That is the way to take unfavourable criticisms--not to go declaring
that a man is your enemy because he does not like your book, your
ballads, your idyls, your sermons, what you please. Why cannot
people keep literature and liking apart? Am I bound to think Jones
a bad citizen, a bad man, a bad householder, because his poetry
leaves me cold? Need he regard me as a malevolent green-eyed
monster, because I don't want to read him? Thackeray was not always
true in his later years to these excellent principles. He was
troubled about trifles of criticisms and gossip, bagatelles not
worth noticing, still less worth remembering and recording. Do not
let us record them, then.

We cannot expect for Thackeray, we cannot even desire for him, a
popularity like that of Dickens. If ever any man wrote for the
people, it was Dickens. Where can we find such a benefactor, and
who has lightened so many lives with such merriment as he? But
Thackeray wrote, like the mass of authors, for the literary class--
for all who have the sense of style, the delight in the best
language. He will endure while English literature endures, while
English civilisation lasts. We cannot expect all the world to share
our affection for this humourist whose mirth springs from his
melancholy. His religion, his education, his life in this
unsatisfying world, are not the life, the education, the religion of
the great majority of human kind. He cannot reach so many ears and
hearts as Shakespeare or Dickens, and some of those whom he reaches
will always and inevitably misjudge him. Mais c'est mon homme, one
may say, as La Fontaine said of Moliere. Of modern writers, putting
Scott aside, he is to me the most friendly and sympathetic. Great
genius as he was, he was also a penman, a journalist; and
journalists and penmen will always look to him as their big brother,
the man in their own line of whom they are proudest. As devout
Catholics did not always worship the greatest saints, but the
friendliest saints, their own, so we scribes burn our cheap incense
to St. William Makepeace. He could do all that any of us could do,
and he did it infinitely better. A piece of verse for Punch, a
paragraph, a caricature, were not beneath the dignity of the author
of "Esmond." He had the kindness and helpfulness which I, for one,
have never met a journalist who lacked. He was a good Englishman;
the boy within him never died; he loved children, and boys, and a
little slang, and a boxing match. If he had failings, who knew them
better than he? How often he is at once the boy at the swishing
block and Dr. Birch who does not spare the rod! Let us believe with
that beloved physician, our old friend Dr. John Brown, that "Mr.
Thackeray was much greater, much nobler than his works, great and
noble as they are." Let us part with him, remembering his own

"Come wealth or want, come good or ill,
Let young and old accept their part,
And bow before the awful Will,
And bear it with an honest heart."


"I cannot read Dickens!" How many people make this confession, with
a front of brass, and do not seem to know how poor a figure they
cut! George Eliot says that a difference of taste in jokes is a
great cause of domestic discomfort. A difference of taste in books,
when it is decided and vigorous, breaks many a possible friendship,
and nips many a young liking in the bud. I would not willingly seem
intolerant. A man may not like Sophocles, may speak disrespectfully
of Virgil, and even sneer at Herodotus, and yet may be endured. But
he or she (it is usually she) who contemns Scott, and "cannot read
Dickens," is a person with whom I would fain have no further
converse. If she be a lady, and if one meets her at dinner, she
must of course be borne with, and "suffered gladly." But she has
dug a gulf that nothing can bridge; she may be fair, clever and
popular, but she is Anathema. I feel towards her (or him if he
wears a beard) as Bucklaw did towards the person who should make
inquiries about that bridal night of Lammermoor.

But this admission does not mean that one is sealed of the tribe of
Charles--that one is a Dickensite pure and simple, convinced and
devout--any more than Mr. Matthew Arnold was a Wordsworthian.
Dickens has many such worshippers, especially (and this is an
argument in favour of the faith) among those who knew him in his
life. He must have had a wonderful charm; for his friends in life
are his literary partisans, his uncompromising partisans, even to
this day. They will have no half-hearted admiration, and scout him
who tries to speak of Dickens as of an artist not flawless, no less
than they scorn him who cannot read Dickens at all. At one time
this honourable enthusiasm (as among the Wordsworthians) took the
shape of "endless imitation." That is over; only here and there is
an imitator of the master left in the land. All his own genius was
needed to carry his mannerisms; the mannerisms without the genius
were an armour that no devoted David had proved, that none could
wear with success.

Of all great writers since Scott, Dickens is probably the man to
whom the world owes most gratitude. No other has caused so many sad
hearts to be lifted up in laughter; no other has added so much mirth
to the toilsome and perplexed life of men, of poor and rich, of
learned and unlearned. "A vast hope has passed across the world,"
says Alfred de Musset; we may say that with Dickens a happy smile, a
joyous laugh, went round this earth. To have made us laugh so
frequently, so inextinguishably, so kindly--that is his great good
deed. It will be said, and with a great deal of truth, that he has
purged us with pity and terror as well as with laughter. But it is
becoming plain that his command of tears is less assured than of
old, and I cannot honestly regret that some of his pathos--not all,
by any means--is losing its charm and its certainty of appeal.
Dickens's humour was rarely too obvious; it was essentially
personal, original, quaint, unexpected, and his own. His pathos was
not infrequently derived from sources open to all the world, and
capable of being drawn from by very commonplace writers. Little
Nells and Dombeys, children unhappy, overthrown early in the melee
of the world, and dying among weeping readers, no longer affect us
as they affected another generation. Mrs. Beecher Stowe and the
author of "Misunderstood," once made some people weep like anything
by these simple means. Ouida can do it; plenty of people can do it.
Dickens lives by virtue of what none but he can do: by virtue of
Sairey Gamp, and Sam Weller, and Dick Swiveller, and Mr. Squeers,
with a thousand other old friends, of whom we can never weary. No
more than Cleopatra's can custom stale their infinite variety.

I do not say that Dickens' pathos is always of the too facile sort,
which plays round children's death-beds. Other pathos he has, more
fine and not less genuine. It may be morbid and contemptible to
feel "a great inclination to cry" over David Copperfield's boyish
infatuation for Steerforth; but I feel it. Steerforth was a
"tiger,"--as Major Pendennis would have said, a tiger with his curly
hair and his ambrosial whiskers. But when a little boy loses his
heart to a big boy he does not think of this. Traddles thought of
it. "Shame, J. Steerforth!" cried Traddles, when Steerforth bullied
the usher. Traddles had not lost his heart, nor set up the big boy
as a god in the shrine thereof. But boys do these things; most of
us have had our Steerforths--tall, strong, handsome, brave, good-
humoured. Far off across the years I see the face of such an one,
and remember that emotion which is described in "David Copperfield,"
chap. xix., towards the end of the chapter. I don't know any other
novelist who has touched this young and absolutely disinterested
belief of a little boy in a big one--touched it so kindly and
seriously, that is there is a hint of it in "Dr. Birch's School

But Dickens is always excellent in his boys, of whom he has drawn
dozens of types--all capital. There is Tommy Traddles, for example.
And how can people say that Dickens could not draw a gentleman? The
boy who shouted, "Shame, J. Steerforth!" was a gentleman, if one may
pretend to have an opinion about a theme so difficult. The Dodger
and Charley Bates are delightful boys--especially Bates. Pip, in
the good old days, when he was the prowling boy, and fought Herbert
Pocket, was not less attractive, and Herbert himself, with his
theory and practice of the art of self-defence--could Nelson have
been more brave, or Shelley (as in Mr. Matthew Arnold's opinion)
more "ineffectual"? Even the boys at Dotheboys Hall are each of
them quite distinct. Dickens's boys are almost as dear to me as
Thackeray's--as little Rawdon himself. There is one exception. I
cannot interest myself in Little Dombey. Little David Copperfield
is a jewel of a boy with a turn for books. Doubtless he is created
out of Dickens's memories of himself as a child. That is true
pathos again, and not overwrought, when David is sent to Creakle's,
and his poor troubled mother dare hardly say farewell to him.

And this brings us back to that debatable thing--the pathos of
Dickens--from which one has been withdrawn by the attractions of his
boys. Little Dombey is a prize example of his pathos. Little Nell
is another. Jeffrey, of the Edinburgh Review, who criticised
"Marmion" and the "Lady of the Lake" so vindictively, shed tears
over Little Nell. It is a matter of taste, or, as Science might
say, of the lachrymal glands as developed in each individual. But
the lachrymal glands of this amateur are not developed in that
direction. Little Dombey and Little Nell leave me with a pair of
dry eyes. I do not "melt visibly" over Little Dombey, like the
weak-eyed young man who took out his books and trunk to the coach.
The poor little chap was feeble and feverish, and had dreams of
trying to stop a river with his childish hands, or to choke it with
sand. It may be very good pathology, but I cannot see that it is at
all right pathos. One does not like copy to be made out of the
sufferings of children or of animals. One's heart hardens: the
object is too manifest, the trick is too easy. Conceive a child of
Dombey's age remarking, with his latest breath, "Tell them that the
picture on the stairs at school is not Divine enough!" That is not
the delirium of infancy, that is art-criticism: it is the Athenaeum
on Mr. Holman Hunt. It is not true to nature; it is not good in
art: it is the kind of thing that appears in Sunday-school books
about the virtuous little boy who died. There is more true pathos
in many a page of "Huckleberry Finn." Yet this is what Jeffrey
gushed over. "There has been nothing like the actual dying of that
sweet Paul." So much can age enfeeble the intellect, that he who
had known Scott, and yet nibbled at his fame, descended to admiring
the feeblest of false sentiment. As for Little Nell, who also has
caused floods of tears to be shed, her case is sufficiently
illustrated by the picture in the first edition ("Master Humphrey's
Clock,", 1840, p. 210):

"'When I die
Put near me something that has loved the light,
And had the sky above it always.' Those
Were her words."

"Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead!"

The pathos is about as good as the prose, and THAT is blank verse.
Are the words in the former quotation in the least like anything
that a little girl would say? A German sentimentalist might have
said them; Obermann might have murmured them in his weaker moments.
Let us try a piece of domestic pathos by another hand. It is the
dawn of Waterloo.

"Heart-stained and shame-stricken, he stood at the bed's foot, and
looked at the sleeping girl. How dared he--who was he--to pray for
one so spotless! God bless her! God bless her! He came to the
bedside, and looked at the hand, the little soft hand, lying asleep,
and he bent over the pillow noiselessly towards the gentle pale
face. Two fair arms closed tenderly round his neck as he stooped
down. 'I am awake, George,' the poor child said, with a sob."

I know I am making enemies of a large proportion of the readers of
this page. "Odious, sneering beast!" is the quotation which they
will apply, perhaps unconscious of its origin, to a critic who is
humble but would fain be honest, to a critic who thinks that Dickens
has his weak places, and that his pathos is one of these. It cannot
be helped. Each of us has his author who is a favourite, a friend,
an idol, whose immaculate perfection he maintains against all
comers. For example, things are urged against Scott; I receive them
in the attitude of the deaf adder of St. Augustine, who stops one
ear with his tail and presses the other against the dust. The same
with Moliere: M. Scherer utters complaints against Moliere! He
would not convince me, even if I were convinced. So, with regard to
Dickens, the true believer will not listen, he will not be
persuaded. But if any one feels a little shaken, let him try it
another way. There is a character in M. Alphonse Daudet's "Froment
Jeune et Rissler Aine"--a character who, people say, is taken bodily
from Dickens. This is Desiree Delobelle, the deformed girl, the
daughter of un rate, a pretentious imbecile actor. She is poor,
stunted, laborious, toiling at a small industry; she is in love, is
rejected, she tries to drown herself, she dies. The sequence of
ideas is in Dickens's vein; but read the tale, and I think you will
see how little the thing is overdone, how simple and unforced it is,
compared with analogous persons and scenes in the work of the
English master. The idiotic yell of "plagiarism" has been raised,
of course, by critical cretins. M. Daudet, as I understand what he
says in "Trente Ans de Paris," had not read Dickens at all, when he
wrote "Froment Jeune"--certainly had not read "Our Mutual Friend."
But there is something of Dickens's genius in M. Daudet's, and that
something is kept much better in hand by the Frenchman, is more
subordinated to the principles of taste and of truth.

On the other hand, to be done with this point, look at Delobelle,
the father of Desiree, and compare him with Dickens's splendid
strollers, with Mr. Vincent Crummles, and Mr. Lenville, and the
rest. As in Desiree so in Delobelle, M. Daudet's picture is much
the more truthful. But it is truthful with a bitter kind of truth.
Now, there is nothing not genial and delightful in Crummles and Mrs.
Crummles and the Infant Phenomenon. Here Dickens has got into a
region unlike the region of the pathetic, into a world that welcomes
charge or caricature, the world of humour. We do not know, we never
meet Crummleses quite so unsophisticated as Vincent, who is "not a
Prussian," who "can't think who puts these things into the papers."
But we do meet stage people who come very near to this naivete of
self-advertisement, and some of whom are just as dismal as Crummles
is delightful.

Here, no doubt, is Dickens's forte. Here his genius is all pure
gold, in his successful studies or inventions of the humorous, of
character parts. One literally does not know where to begin or end
in one's admiration for this creative power that peopled our fancies
with such troops of dear and impossible friends. "Pickwick" comes


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