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story, to give the loose helter-skelter of a world of disconnected events. And not only had it no room for multiplicity; it stood in visible need of unity; and real unity can only come into the picture through character. Consequently there is no great drama without it, the principal apparent exceptions to this rule, such as the earlier plays of Shakespeare, being great, so far as they are great at all, as poetry, history or story, rather than as drama. The only thing dramatically great in them is indeed just their partial introduction of internality, of the study of character, into what would otherwise represent life as a mere external pageant of strange, exciting or amusing events. The essential condition of the drama is that it has to produce its effect within the space of two or three hours; and the insufficiency for that purpose of the loose method of the chronicle is obvious almost at once.
But it was not so obvious in other fields. Adventures as adventures, alike endless, meaningless and incredible, satisfied in the main the literary curiosity of the Middle Age. Chaucer came indeed for a moment to transform the mere picture of occurrences into an interpretation of human life, as Dante had read into it a still higher significance; but Chaucer's lesson, like Dante's, was on the whole lost with the teacher, and the story, whether in prose or verse, remained for centuries in an almost childish stage of externality. Boccaccio is not only the creator of Italian prose; he is a great artist. But in him, as in the authors of the Fabliaux, the mere intrigue is the principal thing; the study of character is elementary or non-existent. And so it remains, broadly speaking, down to the eighteenth century, with the partial exception of Cervantes. In Don Quixote we are, for a moment, allowed to see something like the soul of a man, a weak and broken soul indeed, but one full of beauty and truth, a soul that one can love. But it was still too early for the great lesson to be learnt; and the most famous of the many novels that owed their form to Cervantes is only a cleverer, more modern and more vulgar version of the old chronicle of adventures. Who has ever loved Le Sage's hero? The hour of the great novel was
? still not come. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the age of the drama, not of the novel; of
life seen on a stage, not of life studied in a book; and those who asked of art an insight into the meaning of life went for their answer to the theatre of Shakespeare or Molière or Racine, not to any book which they could read at home. The novel could not, in fact, have a real chance till the age of the printed book and the general habit of reading had come, till poetry had begun to share its supremacy with prose, till the beginnings of the arrival of the social and intellectual middle class, that is to say,
till the eighteenth century.
But then came a curious thing. The novel, which had hitherto paid almost no attention to character, took at once to paying too much. It is true that Defoe and Fielding still followed the old lines in the main. Robinson Crusoe is nothing but an individual placed in a singular situation, the consequences of which are set before us with amazing verisimilitude. The man himself is nothing. And though that cannot be said of Tom Jones and Parson Adams, it is still true of them that they are rather buried under their adventures. Fielding expects to interest us by what happens to them at least as much as by what they are. But the greatest English novelist of the eighteenth century was not Fielding, but Richardson. I am, of course, aware that this would not be universally admitted ; but to me, at any rate, it seems plain that, though Fielding was the more attractive man of the two, the saner thinker and even the better writer, he stands distinctly below Richardson as a master of the novelist's art. Clarissa is a thing quite out of Fielding's reach. He never approached its noble unity of conception. Compared with Clarissa, all his people seem superficial and external. He has never been inside the very soul of any of his creations, as Richardson has been inside the soul of Clarissa. It is a new world of imaginative power altogether that we come to when we pass from him to live, as Richardson can make us, in the most secret chambers of Clarissa's being, identify ourselves with her, and hang breathless for whole volumes on the slow-moving crisis of her fate.
Now Richardson, whose work it may be remarked had immense popularity and influence abroad, lays his chief stress on character. Johnson, though a great admirer of Richardson, is well known to have said that, if you were
to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so fretted that you would hang yourself.' No real Richardsonian would admit that. The story is, in fact, of absorbing interest; but the point is that it is interesting in the new way, not in the old. The stuff of the book is to be sought in the heart, mind and soul of Clarissa; the things which happen are only its illustrations. It is the most individual book that was ever written, and in that sense the most modern. For the real difference between ancient literature and modern-one which, in spite of much loose talk to-day about the corporate spirit in church and state, is continually growing wider-is the substitution of the individual for the state or the class or the family, as the centre of imaginative and dramatic interest. And Clarissa is the supreme instance of this. In her story we know nothing of state or church, and in her family we have nothing buta collection of impertinent obstacles to the free development of an individual soul. This overpowering interest in character was safe enough in the case of a born storyteller like Richardson. With him the stress laid on the inner life of an individual could not extinguish the plot altogether. Genius can in this way often manage to escape the dangers of its own age. But the fact that the novel had come to its own in a century given over as none before or since to the criticism of life and manners had its inevitable effect on others. And if we look at two famous stories by two very great men of letters, who, widely as they differed, were both very typical men of the eighteenth century and were the acknowledged chiefs of literature, each in his own country—if we look at Rasselas' and Candide,' we shall find that, where a man is not a born story-teller, he inevitably yields to the spirit of his age, and his story is buried in criticism of life and discussion of moral ideas. Plot, in fact, is nothing; the interest of character has destroyed it; and, as the life of the novel depends on the union of the two, the story as a story is dead. We read •Candide’ to laugh with it, and · Rasselas' perhaps to learn from it, but no one will ever again read either for the story.
The problem of the novel was therefore left over for the nineteenth century to solve. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as in the Middle Age, it had tended to be a mere succession of disconnected adventures,
superficial, external, accidental, neither influencing character nor influenced by it. In the eighteenth century it tends to become a moral essay. The interest now lies in character; but the plot, where there is one, is uninfluenced, and remains absurd and incredible, as in Candide' and even in the beautiful masterpiece of Goldsmith. The thing the future had to try to do was to realise the union by interaction of the external and internal, circumstance making itself felt as the destiny of character, and character asserting itself as the transforming architect of circumstance. But first of all the novel had to have its share in the general escape from the colourless abstraction of the eighteenth century. It had to recover the element of action, of poetry, of visible life. All that was, of course achieved by Scott with a splendour which carried him all over Europe. But Scott did not take his work seriously enough to grapple successfully with the artistic problem of the novelist. He can create the Antiquary, but he cannot create a rational or probable world of action for him to move in. Only perhaps in his most perfect story can he make the whole plot turn with complete dramatic probability round the character of Jeanie Deans; and, when he has done it, he shows by the slipshod and vulgar fairy-tale of the last chapters how little he values or understands his achievement.
Scott's greatness lay not in any working of art but in the careless abundance of the world that came to life at his will, and the genial sympathy with which he looked at every creature in it. “Here is God's plenty,' we say as we read him ; a plenty still full of waste and disorder and apparent inconsequence, as it is in the greater world outside. But while he, out of this abun
. dance of his, was pouring the riches of his genius into the treasury of the novel, there was a young woman who was putting into it two mites which, from the strict and narrow point of view of art, out-valued all his wealth. Jane Austen never 'gets out of the parlour’; nothing of importance happens in her novels; nothing great is ever said in them; but all that happens and all that is said belongs strictly to the persons who are the actors in the story. 'Pride and Prejudice' and Persuasion' may or may not be great novels, but perfect novels they unquestionably are. Here then, on a small scale, was
the goal attained, plot and character interacting in unity. Henceforth there is no step to be taken in artistic method; the development for the future is one not of method but of scale, not of art but of substance. The novel cannot be satisfied till it has tried to take all life, not Jane Austen's tiny fraction of life, for its province; and for that it will have to gain a wider experience, a deeper emotion, a profounder philosophy, a more scientific grasp of the forces which issue in the tragedy and comedy of human lives.
The effort to provide these is the history of the novel in the nineteenth century. That is, happily, not our present subject, for it would be a vast one. No previous century gave to the novel a twentieth or a fiftieth part of the literary energy given by the nineteenth. Everything in turn was poured into it: by Dickens an invincible belief in the value of life, an inexhaustible fountain of laughter and tears; by the Brontë sisters an almost Shakespearean power of tragedy; by George Eliot a seriousness both of mind and conscience, strange to what had previously been the least serious of literary forms; by Victor Hugo an exuberance of power that could include, as in an epic, the whole life of his age; by George Meredith a quality and quantity of brain which had never before been given to the novel; by Flaubert that infinite patience both of art and science which is not genius, but the instrument by which genius creates perfection. All these and other things, which in earlier centuries would have taken other shapes, took in the nineteenth century the shape of the novel. By the end of the century, aided by the decay of the drama, the once despised novel could claim to be the principal interpreter of the mind of the age, second only in dignity to poetry and far superior to it in general popularity.
Among those who in England did most to give it that position was William Makepeace Thackeray, the centenary of whose birth was widely celebrated last year. One of the best forms the celebration took was the issue by his old publishers of a Centenary Edition of his works, with Introductions by his daughter, Lady Ritchie. These Introductions are not, indeed, new. The bulk of them had already appeared in the Biographical Edition