Page images

Charles Kingsley, and the author of Tom Brown, they will suffice to suggest the others. All in all, were we to include in the catalogue of "British Novelists since Scott," all who have written novels with some degree of popular success from the date of the first Waverley Novels to the present time, the catalogue, I believe, would include over a hundred names.1 You will understand that I do not suppose included in this catalogue the contemporary American writers of prose fiction. These also have been numerous, and there have been among them, as you know, writers whose works have interested as powerfully on this side of the Atlantic as on the other; but, except by implication, I do not take them into


If a list of the British novelists since Scott seems formidable, how much more formidable would be the sight of the novels produced by them gathered into one heap! On this point allow me to present you with some statistics. The British Museum authorities cannot be sure that they receive copies of all the novels published in the British Islands; but it is

The names cited by me are those of the writers with whose works my own acquaintance, direct or indirect, chances to be greatest; but, in the list prefixed to the second volume of Mr. Jeaffreson's Novels and Novelists (1858), I count thirtyfive additional names, and every season is adding fresh ones.

likely that their collection is more complete, for the period with which we are now concerned, than any other that exists. Now, I have been informed that the number of novels standing on the shelves of the British Museum Library as having been published in Britain in the year 1820-i. e. when the Waverley Novels were at the height of their popularity—is 26 in all, counting 76 volumes; that, ten years later, or in 1830, when the Waverley series was nearly finished, the yield to the Library in this department had increased to 101 books, or 205 volumes within the year; that, twenty years later, or in 1850, the yield was 98 books or 210 volumes; and that for the year 1856, the yield was 88 books or 201 volumes. Taking these data as approximately accurate, they give us the curious fact that the annual yield of British novels had been quadrupled by the time of Scott's death as compared with what it had been when he was in the middle of his Waverley series-having risen from 26 a-year, or a new novel every fortnight, to about 100 a-year, or nearly two new novels every week; and, moreover, that this proportion of about 100 new novels every year, or two every week, has continued pretty steady since Scott's death, or, if there has been any change, has fallen off lately rather than increased. Making an average calculation from

these facts, I find that there may have been in all about 3,000 novels, counting about 7,000 separate volumes, produced in these islands since the publication of "Waverley." And this corresponds pretty well with a calculation made on independent grounds. In the London Book Catalogue, giving a classified Index of all books published in Great Britain from the year 1816 to the year 1851 inclusive, the novels or works of prose fiction occupy twenty-two pages, and amount to about 3,300 separate entries. In this list, however, reprints of old novels as well as translations and reprints of imported novels are included. Balancing these against the probable yield of the six years, from 1852 to 1857 inclusive, not embraced in the Catalogue, I believe that my calculation, as just stated, may pass as near the truth.

Now, you don't expect me to have read, during my pilgrimage, these 7,000 volumes of British novels. The thing is practicable. It is satisfactory to think that, by sticking to two novels a-week, any one who chooses may, at the present rate, keep up with the velocity of the novel-producing apparatus at work among us, and not have a single novel of deficit when he balances at the year's end. But I have not done it. I have read a good many novels-perhaps specimens, at least, of all our best novelists; but, in what I have to say, I have no objection that you

should consider me as one speaking of the composition of the mass, in virtue of having inserted the tasting-scoop into it at a good many points; and I shall trust a good deal to your own acquaintance with recent novels for the extension and correction, as well as for the corroboration, of my statements. What I propose to do is, first, to classify, in some sort of manner, the British novels that have made their appearance in the interval between Scott and our two great living representatives of a distinct style of prose fiction, Dickens and Thackeraytracing certain general features in the miscellaneous aggregate, and alluding, as far as my knowledge serves me, to certain works of peculiar mark; then to say something of Dickens and Thackeray especially, and of their effects on Prose Fiction; then, to indicate certain tendencies of British novel-writing discernible, I think, in the works of one or two writers who have come into the field since Dickens and Thackeray were in divided possession of it; and lastly, in continuation of this, and by way of appropriate close to these lectures, to indulge in a few speculations as to the possibilities of the British Novel of the future.

In a classification of British novels from the date of Scott's first occupation of the domain of Prose

Fiction, it is in accordance with what we might expect that we should find a considerable space occupied by (1) THE NOVEL OF SCOTTISH LIFE AND MANNERS, either in direct imitation of Scott, or in continuation and extension of his patriotic illustrations. This is, accordingly, what we do find. By far the largest proportion of those whom we have named as Scottish writers of fiction after Scott-Galt, Mrs. Johnstone, Miss Ferrier, Hogg, Allan Cunningham, Lockhart, Wilson, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, Picken, and Moir-devoted by far the largest proportion of their labour in this walk to the composition of pictures and stories of Scottish life. In all of them, so far as they followed this line of fiction, Scott's influence may be traced; but there are few of them in whom-whether by reason of independent peculiarities of their minds, or by reason of their having been natives of other parts of Scotland than that to which Scott belonged, or by reason of their having gone through different courses of Scottish experience from his-a peculiar and original vein of Scotticism is not discernible. Thus, in Hogg we have more of the humble shepherd-life of the Scottish Lowlands; in Galt and Picken, more of the shrewd Westcountry Scottish life; and, I may add, in Hugh Miller's Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland,

« PreviousContinue »