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THE DEATH OF SATIRE.

The literary historian who is to pseudo-classicism of the epigrammatic, write the story of the complex litera- antithetic school of Pope and his conture of the nineteenth century, will temporaries. They satirized not life, trace, as colors and figures are traced

but manners. Swift alone, following in tapestries, a gradual fading of the with sayage rancour in the footsteps bright strands of epic and satiric of the laughing Rabelais, produced poetry amid the preponderance of the original and spontaneous work. Later lyric. Following the major threads of came Churchill and Wolcott, laying formal English satire as they run suc- sturdily about them with their bludcessively from Dryden to Swift, from geon-like couplets. Finally, in a new Swift to Pope, and from Pope to century, the galled and resentful Byron Churchill, Gifford, and Byron, he will snatched up the mask left by Pope, finally find them fled in modern times, and through it petulantly pronounced as if for a last refuge, to the domain of his English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. the New World. Beyond the nucleus The voice was the voice of Byron, but they form in the work of certain the language and form were those of American writers to wbich reference Pope. All subsequent satirists borshall be made later, they reappear, so rowed their arms from the keen-witted far as the present shows, no more. dwarf of Twickenham-all who wrote

It is this strange, exotic, and ana- satire wrote it according to his model. chronistic development and decay of

Who has not wearied of the tiresome, satire, which we are here to consider, interminable, heroic couplets of the as well as the causes that have oper- prolific authors and casual satirists of ated against the wider influence and the eighteenth century and those of the appreciation of what was once a vital beginning of the nineteenth? They force in Uterature.

poured their satiric matter into slavish There can be no doubt that satire forms and faithfully followed a desper se, whether personal or general, is potic fashion. out of accord with the spirit of the Heine, through the medium of a fortime. Its lightnings and thunders may

eign tongue, was the first to embody awaken astonishment or afflict an in

and blend the satirical with the lyrical dividual, but to-day they seem power

note, and to show the possibilities of less to shatter prejudice or custom.

irreverent laughter. Flinging aside Humanity, discerning progress with the lofty denunciatory declamation of clearer eyes, and with stumbling steps

the old satirists, the German singer achieving it, hearkens rather to the smote with laughing lips, gracefully voice of tolerance than of condemna. throwing his glittering javelins of wit tion. This mental atmosphere, essen

at what seemed most

and tially and ethically optimistic, is one in sacred, often pouring his bitterest sarwhich the nettles and cacti of satire casm into his sweetest songs. This cannot flourish.

scintillating, sentimental satire was the The satire which attained such per- offspring of a union between the rose fection in the eighteenth century was

of Romanticism and the acrid aloe of the product of a pedantic, artificial age. his own experience. His genius conIt reflected and imitated the literary

verted the rod of the censor into a flute forms and fashions of the ancients, on which he piped, by turns, the and was dominated by the elegant sweetest strains or the most biting

secure

blasts, or intermingled both. His influ- lested in their strongholds, but timid ence was not unfelt in England. It and tender-hearted, or, at least, indifswept in, about 1830, with the wave of ferent reviewers, loth to damn the bad, enthusiasm over the newly-discovered and exhausting their powers of panetreasures of German literature, of gyric upon the passable commonplaces which Carlyle was the first prophet wherewith the presses flooded them. and path-finder. Thenceforth satire Mediocrity, observe, has to-day atwas divided and sub-divided again tained a certain respectable level. and again, until it lost all its old iden- This is true, not only of literary, but tity, its classic and long-established of all art, and of society in general. character. It underwent, by all who Ruskin ventures to criticise Whistler; presumed to use it, a constant adulter- Whistler invokes the aid of the law, ation, diffusion, and metamorphosis. and points out how enemies may It lost its dignity and importance as be made. In England an iron-armored an individual unit, and became sub- law of libel protects the character of servient to other ends. After passing the good and the bad alike; in America and sifting through the successive pe- the myriad-voiced irreverence and disriods of the Romantic, the Idealistic, regard for authority bar out the domand Naturalistic, through Transcenden- inance of any censor. The newspapers, tal and later Æstheticism, and finally, too, with their swift, infallible readithrough modern Realism, satire, as we ness, forestall and render inept any behold it to-day, is scarcely recogniz- attempt to write satire of consequence able. The old satire seems certainly on occasions of consequence. Ere indead. What survives is a new, hybrid, dignation or protest brings inspiration, and harmless thing.

the event lies dead in the past and The most obvious vehicles for the interest is cold. It has also become diluted and indirect satire of modern the function of the journals to act as times are, beyond doubt, the novel and censors of morality or taste 80 far as the stage. Poetic forms are almost their catering to public prejudice or monopolized by the purely lyric. In- their own interests will permit. Here dignation or enthusiasm for reform, or is a power enormous indeed, but ren. personal vindication or revenge, now dered singularly ineffectual by the seldom fire men to rail in rhyme. The necessarily superficial mode of its voice of righteous wrath, wise admoni- presentation and its ephemeral-interest. tion or awful prophecy, speaking as In the novel, then, and on the stage with the burning Hps of an Ezekiel or must modern satire seek its field. By an Isaiah, is dumb or unbeard in this example and by portrayal of human life, age of many voices. Vehemence and and not by criticism of it, nor by direct uncompromising attack are not consid- precept or punishment, is mankind to ered in taste, and denunciation of be lessoned and disciplined. In an age shams is thought to be actuated by of anæsthetic and apathetic nature, the intolerance private malignance. nauseous, medicinal satiric draught This, it would seem, is a direct out- must be sweetened, the bitter pill disgrowth of an epoch of productive guised with sugar; the satire must be mediocrity, which, banded together by enforced under the guise of amusea certain sentiment among its represen- ment. Modern culture, with its hedontatives, resents anything that may istic and Epicurean tendencies and perprove a danger to all. Softer senti- versions, finds this not unacceptable, ments sway the censor, and the critics but for corrective purposes this Janusare no longer tyrants, safe and unmo- faced presentment is, unfortunately, a

or

is

palpable failure. The vague moral is ated. In vain the scornful, prejudiced undone

by

the amusement, the Giffords shot his vigorous and venomdisguised lesson annulled by ous volleys into this ethereal literathe laugh. All lacks serious point ture; uncongenial to satire it thrived and emphasis. In the satiric com- and survived, and his own perished edies of the ancients, the forces of with the dominance of the older school lampoon and ridicule attacked vice and he sought to defend. Byron's onslaught folly in open warfare; the avowed pur- upon the poets and critics was the last pose was to render them odious. echo of the school of Pope. Into his There was no confusion nor conceal- Vision of Judgment he had, however, ment of means or end. When Aris- infused a strain of Dantesque sublimtophanes attacked the innovators of ity, which, heretofore, had been forreligion, philosophy, or politics in eign to satire. The satire of Shelley, Greece, every Athenian cobbler knew though it comprises one-twelfth of his that it was Socrates who was ridiculed work, has little significance. In the in Clouds, Euripides in the Frogs and Anti-Jacobin we have some indication Acharnians, and Cleon the demagogue of a new note, some original satiric iu the Knights. The principle and the document of that time, and in the droll person satirized were apparent enough, rhymes and clever parodies of George and the satire, frank and outright in Canning, some evidence of the tenspeech and form, worked plainly dency of satire towards humor. towards its goal.

Life became more complex, new It was Molière, casting ridicule and visions broke upon the world, metascorn upon whole classes of society, physics, analyzing the soul, proclaimed who first set up a model for the satire it subject to improvement. Humanity of the modern stage. Although he sel- assumed another and more sacred asdom attacked concrete individualities, pect. In England part of this was due his types were common and unmistak, to the growth of ideas fertilized by the able, his manner sure and merciless.' blood of the French Revolution, that The last of this school, as exemplified grim satiric tragedy of the rights of in the English satiric drama, was Sher- man, to sublime ideals beaming from idan, brilliantly bringing to a seemly the celestial thought of Goethe, and to close the light, licentious school of a new and broader humanitarianism. eighteenth-century comedy which took As we glance backward and listen for satire as an excuse for its existence. the voice of the time that followed Pope in England, Boileau in France, close upon this period, we seem to see and Lessing in Germany, the latter ap- the weird, looming figure of Professor plying satire to art as well as to liter- Teufelsdrochk in contention with the ary criticism, had left their corrective Zeit-Geist, and to hear the sonorous influence upon public taste, which was voice of Carlyle rising in a vast proalready rising to a loftier level in the test against the spiritual slave. Satire new century.

here found another form, another In England, the thistles and nettles voice, another prophet. Nor is Samuel of satire found little room to grow in Butler, the author of Erewhon, to be those pleasant natural fields and ten- overlooked with his once-pithy work derly-nurtured gardens, full of flowers done on the model of Gulliver. On the of sensuous and desirous beauty and Continent Heine sparkled and sang, spiritual introspection wbich the new smiling sardonically. poetry of Shelley and Keats, and the In the last quarter of the nineteenth human naïveté of Wordsworth cre- century, poetical satire, like the satiric

drama long before, appeared to be extinct. The Arthurian inspiration in literature laid a spell with its Merlinwand upon the tongue of censure. There were at times weak, sporadic attempts, such as The Age, by Bailey, the author of Festus. Only when combined with humor was satire permitted to speak, and on the stage it appeared only in conjunction with humor and music, as in the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Robbed of its seriousness, it fell into inanition-the laugh annulled the lesson—the eagle fell pierced by the shaft his own wing had feathered. Then the problem play was born, and conscious satire was changed into the form of a riddle, debate, or question, whose solution or conclusion involved either approval or condemnation on the spectator's part. As Balzac, objectively and magnificently, created his Comédie Humaine, analyzing society with the happy fire of his genius, so Ibsen, searching with merciless and mordant precision, based his dark Tragédie Humaine upon the disease and ill-being he found in the body of modern mankind. His iron scalpel dissected the living framework of the soul, the icy and terrible mirror of his implacable art disclosed to us our wan and weary faces, sick with civilization. Like Goethe, he placed his finger upon Humanity, and said: “Thou ailest here and here."

Ibsen paved the way for the latest phase of what was once the satiric drama, but is now represented by such ultra-original comedy as that of Mr. Bernard Shaw. This loosely-constructed, unformal theatrical craft consists of an irregular combination of more or less witty dialogue bearing upon modern, social, and economic evils, sometimes treated in a manner 80 facetious as to seem insincere and superficial. Shaw's "discussions,” however, are not held between human beings, but rather between the incarna

tions and embodiments of those gigantic fungus-growths, saprophytes, and economic monsters which have sprung from the soil of our latter-day civilization. Indubitably Shaw is a force for social reform, his shapeless drama is based upon well-shaped beliefs, and, in its own way, achieves its end. He uses laughter both as a lever and a light.

The story of satire, as exemplified in the form of the novel, does not run a parallel course with the satiric drama, nor share the same fate as satiric poetry. Inspired by Cervantes and Le Sage, it attained strength and splendor in Fielding, reaching later on in his great disciple, Thackeray, a subtlety of expression and form and a marvellous comprehensiveness. As a censor of the manners and morality of the English upper classes, as a worldly sermonizer and satirist of society, Thackeray remains unique. Dickens, assuming a humbler view-point and discarding cen. sure in his characterization, trespassed upon the borders of caricature. But already Thackeray and Dickens stand in the dim dusk of a period close in time, but remote in ideas and manners.

The current of modern satire was set entirely in the direction of humor; it sought ess to censure than to amuse, less to punish than to please. When mingled with comicality and pathos in writers like Hood and Jerrold, it became still more innocuous, and underwent an easy degeneration which was, at the same time the development of a new school of humorists.

The verbal adroitness, the deft felicity of phrase and figure, the cunning craftsmanship in literary technicalities, the acute critical insight, the smooth agility in rhyme and repartee, not to overlook the proneness to punning-all these were distinguishing features of the succeeding galaxy of humorists, of which Tom Hood the younger, Charles Stuart Calverly and

Austin Dobson were the bright partic- the satire alone. Their appeal was ular lights. They discovered the se- made through their pungent humor, cret of investing the obviously solemn quaint characterization, and kindly huor the trivial daily commonplaces with man quality. The satire was entirely appearances of the ludicrous or with involved with its humor, indeed, subtouches of sentiment. Their fineness ordinated to it. There is now little of touch and form and their command warrant for still classing Lowell as the of supple English gave strength and foremost American satirist, though his clarity unto the humoristic speech of work is certainly the best known. that day, despite the growing laxity of Judged by the sharpest, most classic the language in its connection with standards of satire, the superiority of a journalism.

comparatively obscure Western satirA study of the decay and the decline ist, Ambrose Bierce, in substance, of satire could not be considered com- strength, and style, becomes plain. plete without paying a respectful at- Unlike Lowell, he is, however, under tention to certain parallel tendencies the disadvantage of never having deand influences that affected its voted his splendid powers to any great expression in America. It will be movement of his time. The lover of necessary, therefore, first to sweep satire at its best will find keen enjoywith a glance the meagre history of ment and much surprise in such works satire in the United States. The first of his as Black Beetles in Amber and professed satirist to appear was John Shapes of Clay. Trumbull, writing during and after the Swift's dictum that mankind give so war of the Revolution and upon ready an acceptance to satire because themes connected with it. His most in it everyone recognizes the failings pretentious, but now forgotten, work is of his fellows and never his own and McFingal, the finest imitation of Hudi- is therefore not displeased, no longer bras ever produced. After Trumbull's. seems valid in our day. Despite the for more than fifty years, no satire of ineradicable delight felt at the discomany consequence appeared. Then in fiture or defeat by literary wit of men the famous Biglow Papers of James or measures obnoxious to us, it is inRussell Lowell, written during the dubitably true that the modern mind is Mexican War in 1846 and the Civil not in athy with the means of War in 1861-65, satire again became a satire. It resents personal censorship force, drawing the popular laughter, as it does punishment. It classes the scorn, and indignation upon whatso- spiritual whip, flaying-knife, brandingever Lowell found ripe for his wit. irons, and pillory of the satirist with Like the ancient Atellanae Fabulae and those mechanical instruments of torthe Fescennini verses, these Yankee ture which civilization no longer tolersatires were cast in a rude vernacular- ates. Reform, the true end of all the rustic idiom and dialect of the New satire, is slowly to be brought about by England farmer. The petty Puritan- reason, and not by flagellation. The ical social institutions, the filibustering futility of satire appears particularly expeditions, the slave question and se- pronounced in republics, where, in cession, political quackery, and other spite of the freedom of speech and be legitimate themes all came under Low- cause of it, aggregate man is loth to ell's pen. Limited in interest as these pay reverence to self-assumed moral or verses

were through localisms and literary dictatorship—though he may dialect, their success in England would accept a financial or a political one. It be the more remarkable were it due to is to be remarked, too, that with the

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