Sidor som bilder

tractive to the general reader, interesting by his perfect mastery of them. On the hustings, in the committee-room, among officials of all ranks and in every kind of office, in the money-lender's sanctum, in the consulting-room of the eminent solicitor charged with great family secrets and vast responsibilities of money and management; in the counting-house, in the betting-ring, in the back shop of the small tradesman, in all the countless places where the material interests of life are discussed and managed, in all those where the contrarieties of human nature come into play in the warping and modifying of men's designs, he is entirely at home and in his element. There is no such master in the art of using small events, or incidents, or accidents, as he is, still leaving them small, and keeping them in their proper place. No writer has ever drawn such homogeneous and consistent pictures, and yet represented the heterogeneousness of the individual man or woman so truly as he. His modernness of spirit is perhaps his leading characteristic, though there is not a trace of deference to that latest, and now subsiding, development of it, sensationalism, to be found in his works. His accord with his age goes much deeper, is much more perfect. To him the aberration of taste which welcomed the coarse attractions of sensationalism could never have seemed otherwise than a passing error; he could always afford to compete with it, sure of beating it in the end. So it has not ever so slightly infected his style. The public, who eagerly swallowed the sensation poison for a time, simultaneously tasted his dainty dishes with uninjured powers of appreciation ; and now that the purveyors of golden-haired bigamists and gilded - saloon rascality have fallen into oblivion, hardly passing through the preliminary stages of disgust, Mr. Trollope's popu. larity is just what it was before a style arose which aimed at causing his to be decried as “slow” and “flat.” The

o ” world knows where to turn for the faithful portraiture of the present which alone it loves to study, under many aspects, and with the further advantage that the omitted aspects are those which it does not greatly care to have forced upon its attention. Want, misery, the sufferings of the poor, have no place in his later works. With a single exception, to be found in one of his Irish stories, the tragic element is as deficient in his novels as in Miss Austen's, which they resemble in homely fidelity and careful attention to details, carried through a range of subjects as much wider than hers as the sphere of his observation and the scope of his tastes. The awful calamities, the smashing catastrophes, the agonizing griefs of human life, he does not deal with, or deals with in a way that surrounds

[ocr errors]

them so skilfully and so naturally with the commonplace which we have always with us, that they are not tragic to our minds. Miss Austen did not touch them at all. When Sir Thomas Bertram's daughter “went off” from her husband with Henry Crawford, Miss Austen got away as soon as she possibly could, consistently with her due sense of the enorinity of Mrs. Rushworth's sin, from the shame and inisery it produced at Mansfield Park, and promptly huddled Maria out of sight with Mrs. Norris. She would not have handled a subject so shockingly ungenteel and necessarily agitating as murder for the world. Mr. Trollope is of a somewhat similar way of thinking; he does not, indeed, mind the gentility of the thing, but he is never agitating, and he rarely suffers his people to be agitated.

There is no lack of healthy emotions, or of unhealthy emotions, in Mr. Trollope's novels; he apportions them as they are apportioned, in fact, to human beings; but there is an absence of demonstrativeness, a quietude, perfectly in keeping with the standard of good breeding. He departs more frequently from verisimilitude in his practical disregard of the power of impulse than in any other respect. He gives to caution and forethought too large a share in character, too much sway in events ; he is apt to make persons to whom such calculating sagacity could hardly come naturally, balance the “ to be or not to be” of everything too calmly and too long. Numerous instances of this imputation of almost impossible cautiousness and self-restraint, this mental seesaw, present themselves on examination of his later novels; and it is remarkable that he most frequently represents their exercise precisely in that class of human affairs in which impulse is supposed most generally and legitimately to act, that is to say, in love affairs. “Shilly-shally,” the vulgar but expressive title which Mr. Charles Reade has given to his dramatic version of one of Mr. Trollope's latest novels, “ Ralph the Heir,” might be applied impartially to several of their number, the doings of whose young people would have been accounted impossible by the novelists of forty years ago, whose impassioned heroes were

As warm in love, as fierce in ire,
As he whose life-blood's current runs

Full of the Day-god's living fire ; and to whose beauteous and sentimental heroines “Love was still the Lord of all.” It is true that he sometimes permits his young people to make imprudent marriages, never, of course, descending to the three hundred-a-year level of proverbial and unpardonable recklessuess; but then, they discuss the matter

VOL. XIX.- NO. XXXVII. [New Serirs.]

[ocr errors]

2 D

so thoroughly, they take so much time about it, and there are so many contingencies of promise in the future, that the imprudence is filtered down until it ceases to be risky as a fact, or reprehensible as a precedent.

For a keen, minute, and accurate observer, Mr. Trollope is singularly free from morbidness. There is not in him any of the affected bonhomie, the last, the extreme form of weary contempt for one's kind, which Mr. Thackeray so often displayed when he had depicted some one as entirely vile or intolerably foolish, and then called on all men and brethren to look upon him kindly, inasmuch as they were as vile or as foolish as he. He is never carried by animal spirits into extravagance; but, on the other hand, 'inexorable ennui'is as yet far from him. A steady, kindly, good-humoured companionship with his photographic reproductions of his fellow-creatures is his usual attitude of mind. They do not hugely delight him, but they do not bore him. He does not worship them like Mr. Dickens, or pinch them like Mr. Thackeray, or cut them


alive like Balzac. He allots them average good luck, and Christian burial. He has his favourites, but he does not invariably make his readers share his predilections; he has also his hearty dislikes, his just anger and scorn, but they are not passionate, and he more frequently drops his villains out of sight, than brings them to a bad end before the eyes of the public. There is no very high morality in his writings, because he entirely lacks spirituality,; but he is one of the least immoral of modern novelists, a fact which gives his steady and unshaken popularity a welcome significance. His standard is moderate and comfortable, he has a clear and high sense of honour, and makes it evident that he holds firmly to the belief that honesty is the best policy. In his earlier works, especially in the Irish series, which is the least known, there are traces of religious feeling not to be found in his later serial novels, though there is a decorous recognition of the existence of religion in them all, and no doubt he means to imply that all his prosperous young menand maidens who are brought to the haven of matrimony after some not very serious tossings in not very storiny seas, where a lifeboat is always at hand, are prepared to make the best of both worlds. One of his recent masterpieces, Sir Thomas Underwood, the impenetrable lawyer in Ralph the Heir, is an unbeliever, and Mr. Trollope implies, though not very distinctly, that some of his gloom and isolation is imputable to that state of mind; but he also makes him the intellectual superior of all around him, thus lending his share to the perpetuation and strengthening of that subtly dangerous modern delusion that the absence of faith is an evidence of


talent. No writer, except Mr. Thackeray, has ever employed crime of the open and violent kind so sparingly, but the surviving novelist has written so much more voluminously that the parallel is only of kind, not of degree ; the diabolic is as far from him as the heroic type, but there is a perpetual strife of active motives, ambitions, and devices, a constant press and rustle of self-interest, among the respectable persons who fill his crowded pages, which deprive them of the faintest touch of romantic interest, while they keep up the impression of realism to the utmost. Worldliness is of the essence of these novels, sometimes in its baser, but oftener in its more elevated forms, and the author, quite unaffectedly pleading in many of them, that after all it is possible to set too high a value on wealth, station, and success, that love, and humility in aims and objects are not altogether despicable, never discards this worldliness, never rises above the standard of visible and sensible things. He does not grovel, but neither does he soar, and bien-etre, physical and moral, is as truly and exclusively the object of his belief and admiration as it was that of the most practical philosopher among Pagans, or as it is of the middleclass society of this day. Religion should not be either preached or paraded in novels, but we do not believe that a religious man, at any rate a religious Catholic, could keep his religion altogether out of his novels. It would inform the spirit which would inform the works, and though there might not be a passage in any of them directly referring to dogma or belief, it would make itself felt. There would be some more distant horizons, some supernatural motives, some souls unsatisfied with the good things of Dives, moderately, decorously, blamelessly allotted as they are by this writer of well-balanced judgment, and nicely-just observation; there would be some sense of the grace of God as a great factor in human character, and His Divine Will as a mighty reconciler and consoler. In short, there would be, insensibly, unintentionally perhaps, more about the souls which dwell in the ill or well-favoured bodies, and all the action would not be left to the bodies and the minds. Saints would not indeed play any part in such novels, but there would be, somehow, some recognition of saintliness, and all the tangles would not be made todisentangle themselves exclusively by caution and precaution. In Mr. Trollope's novels we find many sinners, according to the Catholic estimate of sin, among those whom he does not intend to present to us as sinful, and we find no saints at all. Saints are few, in truth, and their saintliness is mostly hidden, and wherein it consists is very hard to convey-even to conceive; but that which makes saints, the abiding sense of the supernatural, the life of the sonl


"hid with Christ, in God," is not, God be praised, quite out of the reach of an observer's investigation or divination; except indeed he does not know that it is-except that great and melancholy privation, spiritual blindness, be upon him, and he be dark to all that needs to be spiritually discerned. If in a series of novels written by a Catholic there were no trace of such discernment, then, in that well-nigh impossible case, it would be fair to say that spiritual blindness must positively exist. But, in the case of a Protestant novelist, such a judgment would be rash, and we have only to acknowledge the exceeding difficulty experienced by Catholics in apprehend. ing the point of view of such a novelist when he deals, as Mr. Trollope deals, with numerous and large sections of human society. He systematically excludes an element, a motive, a growing cause, an ever-active influence, which we systematically include, and therefore, to our minds, there is in his work a radical intellectual incompleteness which is most plain and pervading in the instances where his insight is most true, his observation most keen and just, and his artistic finish most perfect. His views of human nature are on the whole healthy and sound, but they lack the one thing which could give them completeness, the teaching of the Catholic Church upon the facts and the condition of human nature. The same holds good for the particular as for the general. His famous stories of the contending Churchmen are incomplete, not because the disputants do not understand that what they want is a Church, but because he does not see it, because he puts forward the rivalries, differences, and disputes as serious, and of import in themselves, whereas we know they are all equally foolish and without foundation. So we have to read them as it were doubly interpreted; by their own statement, and again by his kindly satire and delicate delineation, all unconscious that he himself is in the Dadalian maze. The mental struggles, the difficulties, the fluctuations which all his very good people undergo, not the sinners, but the virtuous and estimable, arise for the most part from the fact that they do not live under a law, that they have not sacraments, that their consciences are tender and undirected, that their feelings are sensitive and undisciplined. The struggles, the difficulties, and the fluctua. tions are very interesting to read about, but the study is an incomplete one, because the writer knows no better than they know what it is they lack, and his provisions for their all being comfortable and happy seem to us fugitive and futile. Concerning ordinary novels these considerations would not present themselves to us at all, but Mr. Trollope's novels suggest them, because they deal so much with the mental condition

« FöregåendeFortsätt »