Page images

pose, who write to inculcate High-Church | venience under the form of letters, as letters
expanded till they become novels. A gen-
uine novelist who should put his work into
the unnatural shape of a correspondence
would probably find it a very awkward ex-
pedient; but Richardson gradually worked
up to the novel from the conception of a col-
lection of letters; and his method, therefore,
came spontaneously to him. He started
from the plan of writing letters to illustrate
a certain point of morality, and to make
them more effective attributed them to a fic-
titious character. The result was the gigan-
tic tract called Pamela distinctly the
worst of his works of which it is enough
to say at present that it succeeds neither in
being moral nor in amusing. It shows, how-
ever, a truly amazing fertility in a specially
feminine art. We have all suffered from

or Low-Church principles, or to prove that
society at large is out of joint; but a di-
rect intention to prove that men ought not
to steal or get drunk, or commit any other
atrocities, is generally considered to be be-
side the novelist's purpose, and its intro-
duction to be a fault of art. Indeed there
is much to be said against it. In our youth
we used to read a poem about a cruel little
boy who went out to fish and was punished
by somehow becoming suspended by his
chin from a hook in the larder. It never
produced much effect upon us, because we
felt that the accident was, to say the
least, rather exceptional; at most, we fished
on, and were careful about the larder.
The same principle applies to the poetic
justice dealt by most novelists. When
Richardson kills off his villains by violent the propensity of some female minds (the
deaths, we know too well that many vil- causes of which we will not attempt to ana-
lains live to a good old age, leave hand-lyze) for pouring forth indefinite floods of
some fortunes, and are buried under the correspondence. We know the heartless
handsomest of tombstones, with the most fashion in which some ladies, even in these
elegant of epitaphs. This very rough de- days of penny postage, will fill a sheet of
vice for inculcating morality is of course note-paper and proceed to cross their writing
ineffectual, and produces some artistic till the page becomes a chequer-work of un-
blemishes. The direct exhortations to his intelligible hieroglyphics. But we may feel
readers to be good are still more annoying; gratitude in looking back to the days when
no human being can long endure a mix-time hung heavier, and letter-writing was a
ture of preaching and story-telling. For more serious business. The letters of those
Heaven's sake, we exclaim, tell us what times may recall the fearful and wonderful
happens to Clarissa, and don't stop to labours of tapestry in which ladies employed
prove that honesty is the best policy! In their needles by way of killing time. The
a wider sense, however, the seriousness of monuments of both kinds are a fearful indi-
Richardson's purpose is of high value. He cation of the ennui from which the perpetra-
is so keenly in earnest; so profoundly in- tors must have suffered. We pity those who
terested about his characters; so deter- endured the toil as we pity the prisoners
mined to make us enter into their motives, whose patient ingenuity has carved a pas-
that he cannot help being carried away; sage through a stone wall with a rusty nail.
if he never spares an opportunity of giving Richardson's heroines, and his heroes too, for
us a lecture, at least his zeal in setting that matter, would have been portents at
forth an example never flags for an in- any time. We will take an example at
stant. The effort to give us an ideally hazard. Miss Byron, on the 22nd of March,
perfect character seems to stimulate his writes a letter of fourteen pages. The same
imagination, and leads to a certain inten- day she follows it up by two of six and of
sity of realization which we are apt to miss twelve pages respectively. On the 23rd
in the novelists without a purpose. He is she leads off with a letter of eighteen pages,
always, as it were, writing at high-pressure and another of ten. On the 24th she gives
and under a sense of responsibility.
us two, filling together thirty pages, at the
end of which she remarks that she is forced
to lay down her pen, and then adds a post-
script of six ; on the 25th she confines herself
to two pages; but after a Sunday's rest she
makes another start of equal vigour. In
three days, therefore, she covers ninety-six
pages. Two of the pages are about equal to
one in this magazine. Consequently in
three days' correspondence, referring to the
events of the day, she would fill forty-eight
pages of the Cornhill Magazine, a task,


The method which he adopts lends itself very conveniently to heighten this effect. may be reckoned as another feminine peculiarity in Richardson, that he had an inordinate propensity to letter-writing. As a boy he wrote love-letters for the young women of the neighbourhood. When he was grown up he was led to write novels by the admiration expressed for his strange fertility in this direction. Richardson's novels, indeed, are not so much novels put for con

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

the magnitude of which may be appreciated | least, the slightest account of the way in by any one who will try the experiment. which she came by the knowledge would be We should say that she must have written enough to satisfy us for all purposes of ficabout ten hours a day, and are not surprised tion. Richardson is not content with this, at her remark that she has on one occasion and elaborately demonstrates that she might only managed two hours' sleep. have known a number of minute details which it is perfectly plain that a real Miss Byron could never have known, and thus dashes into our faces an improbability which we should have been quite content to pass unnoticed.

It would, of course, be the height of pedantry to dwell upon this, as though a fictitious personage were to be in all respects bounded by the narrow limits of human capacity. It is not the object of a really good novelist, nor does it come within the legitimate means of high art in any department, to produce an actual illusion. Showmen in some foreign palaces call upon us to admire paintings which we cannot distinguish from bas-reliefs; the deception is, of course, a mere trick, and the paintings are simply childish. On the stage we do not require to believe that the scenery is really what it imitates, and the attempt to introduce scraps of real life is a clear proof of a low artistic aim. Similarly a novelist is not only justified in writing so as to prove that his work is fictitious; but he almost necessarily hampers himself, to the prejudice of his work, if he imposes upon himself the condition that his book shall be capable of being mistaken for a genuine narrative. Every good novelist lets us into secrets about the private thoughts of his characters which it would be impossible to obtain in real life. When Mr. Pendennis relates the history of the Newcomes, he very properly gives us long conversations, and even soliloquies and meditations, of which a real Mr. Pendennis must have been necessarily ignorant. We do not, therefore, blame Richardson because his characters have a power of writing which no mortal could ever attain. His fault, indeed, is exactly the contrary. He very erroneously fancies that he is bound to convince us of the possibility of all his machinery, and often produces the very shock to our belief which he seeks to avoid. He is constantly trying to account by elaborate devices for the fertile correspondence of his characters, when it is perfectly plain that they are simply writing for purposes of the fiction. We should never have asked a question as to the authenticity of the letters, if he did not force the question upon us; and no art can induce us for a moment to accept the proffered illusion. For example, Miss Byron gives us a long account of conversations between persons whom she did not know, which took place ten years before. It is much better that the impossibility should be frankly accepted, on the clear ground that authors of novels, and consequently their creatures, have the prerogative of omniscience. At

The method, however, of telling the story by the correspondence of the actors produces more important effects. The ninetysix pages we have noticed are all devoted to the proceedings of three days. They are filled, for the most part, with interminable conversations. The story advances by a very few steps; but we know all that every one of the persons concerned has to say about the matter. We discover what was Sir Charles Grandison's relation at a particular time to a certain Italian lady, Clementina. We are told exactly what view he took of his own position, what view Clementina took of it; what Miss Byron had to say to Sir Charles on the subject, and what advice her relations bestowed upon Miss Byron. Then we have all the sentiments of Sir Charles Grandison's sisters, and of his brothers-in-law, and of his reverend old tutor; and the sentiments of all the Lady Clementina's family, and the incidental remarks of a number of subordinate actors. In short, we see the characters all round in all their relations to each other, in every possible variation and permutation; we are present at all the discussions which take place before every step, and watch the gradual variation of all the phases of the positions. We get the same sort of elaborate familiarity with every aspect of affairs that we should receive from reading a bluebook full of some prolix diplomatic correspondence; indeed, Sir Charles Grandison closely resembles such a blue-book, for the plot is carried on mainly by elaborate negotiations between three different families, with proposals, and counter proposals, and amended proposals, and a final settlement of the very complicated business by a deliberate signing of two different sets of articles. One of them, we need hardly say, is a marriage settlement; the other is a definite treaty between the lady who is not married and her family, the discussion of which occupies many pages. The extent to which we are drawn into the minutest details may be inferred from the fact that nearly a volume is given to marrying Sir Charles Grandison to Miss Byron, after all


difficulties have been surmounted. We three, they may be entertained with a sehave at full length all the discussions by ries of pictures of character and manners which the day is fixed, and all the remarks skilfully contrasted and brilliantly coloured, of the unfortunate lovers of both parties, though with a limited allowance of incident. and all the criticisms of both families, and Within his own sphere, no writer exceeds finally an elaborate account of the ceremony, him in clearness and delicacy of conception. with the names of the persons who went in We may doubt whether even Miss Austen's the separate coaches, the dresses of the female characters are more skilfully develbride and bridesmaids, and the sums which oped. Sir Charles gave away to the village girls who strewed flowers on the pathway. Surely the feminine element in Richardson's character was a little in excess.

In another way, the machinery of a fictitious correspondence is rather troublesome. As the author never appears in his own person, he is often obliged to trust his characThe result of all this is a sort of Dutch ters with trumpeting their own virtues. painting of extraordinary minuteness. The Sir Charles Grandison has to tell us himself art reminds us of the patient labour of a of his own virtuous deeds: how he disarms line engraver, who works for days at mak- ruffians who attack him in overwhelming ing out one little bit of minute stippling numbers, and converts evil-doers by impresand cross-hatching. The characters are dis- sive advice; and, still more awkwardly, he played to us step by step and line by line. has to repeat the amazing compliments We are gradually forced into familiarity which everybody is always paying him. with them by a process resembling that by Richardson does his best to evade the neceswhich we learn to know people in real life. sity; he couples all his virtuous heroes with We are treated to few set analyses or sum- friendly confidants, who relieve the virtuous mary descriptions, but by constantly reading heroes of the tiresome task of self-adulation; their letters and listening to their talk we he supplies the heroes themselves with elabogradually form an opinion of the actors. rate reasons for overcoming their modesty, We see them, too, all round; instead of, as and makes them apologise profusely for the is usual in modern novels, regarding them unwelcome task. Still, ingenious as his exsteadily from one point of view; we know pedients may be, and willing as we are to what each person thinks of every one else, make allowance for the necessities of his and what every one else thinks of him; they task, we cannot quite free ourselves from are brought into a stereoscopic distinctness an unpleasant suspicion as to the simplicity by combining the different aspects of their of his characters. Clarissa is comparatively character. Of course, a method of this free from this fault, though Clarissa takes a kind involves much labour on the part both questionable pleasure in uttering the finest of writer and reader. It is evident that sentiments and posing herself as a model of Richardson did not think of amusing a stray virtue. But in Sir Charles Grandison, the half-hour in a railway or in a club smoking. fulsome interchange of flattery becomes of room; he counted upon readers who would fensive even in fiction. The virtuous charapply themselves seriously to a task, in the acters give and receive an amount of eulohope of improving their morals as much as gy enough to turn the strongest stomachs. of gaining some harmless amusement. But How amiable is A.! says B.; how virtuous it must also be said that, considering the is C., and how marvellously witty is D. cumbrous nature of the process, the spirit And then A., C., and D. go through the with which it is applied is wonderful. Rich- same performance, adding a proper compli ardson's own interest in his actors never ment to B. in place of the exclamation apflags. The distinct style of every corre-propriate to themselves. The only parallel spondent is faithfully preserved with singu- in modern times is to be found at some of lar vivacity. When we have read a few the public dinners, where every man proletters we are never at a loss to tell, from poses his neighbour's health with a tacit unthe style alone of any short passage, who is derstanding that he is himself to furnish the the imaginary author. Consequently, read- text for a similar oration. But then at diners who can bear to have their amusement ners people have the excuse of a state of diluted, who are content with an impercep- modified sobriety. tibly slow development of plot, and can watch without impatience the approach of a foreseen incident through a couple of volumes, may find the prolixity less intolerable than might be expected. If they will be content to skip two letters out of every

This fault is, as we have said, aggravated by the epistolary method. That method makes it necessary that each person should display his or her own virtues, as in an exhibition of gymnastics the performers walk round and show their muscles. But the

fault lies a good deal deeper. Every writer, | Sir Charles is a man absolutely without a consciously or unconsciously, puts himself fault, or at least with faults visible only on into his novels, and exhibits his own charac- a most microscopic observation. In fact, ter even more distinctly than that of his the only fault to which Sir Charles himself heroes. Shakespeare must have had a pleads guilty, in seven volumes, is that he strong dash of Hamlet in his composition, or once rather loses his temper. Two ruffians he could not have drawn Hamlet's charac- try to bully him in his own house, and even ter. And Richardson, the head of a little draw their swords upon him. Sir Charles circle of conscientious admirers of each so far forgets himself as to draw his own other's virtues, could not but reproduce on sword, disarm both of his opponents, and a different scale the tone of his own society. turn them out of doors. He cannot forgive The Grandisons, and the families of Miss himself, he says, that he has been "provoked Byron and Clementina merely repeat a by two such men to violate the sanctity of practice with which he was tolerably famil- his own house." His only excuse is, "that iar at home; whilst his characters represent there were two of them; and that tho' I to some extent the idealised Richardson drew, yet I had the command of myself so himself; and this leads us to the most far as only to defend myself, when I might essential characteristic of his novels. The have done with them what I pleased." greatest woman in France, according to According to Richardson, this venial offence Napoleon's brutal remark, was the woman is the worst blot on Sir Charles's character. who had the most children. In a different We certainly do not blame him for the atsense, the saying may pass for truth. The tempt to draw an ideally perfect hero. It greatest writer is the one who has produced is a perfectly legitimate aim in fiction, and the largest family of immortal children. the only question can be whether he has Those of whom it can be said that they have succeeded: for Richardson's own commenreally added a new type to the fictitious dation cannot be taken as quite sufficient, world, are indeed few in number. Cervan- neither can we quite accept the ingenious tes is in the front rank of all imaginative artifice by which all the secondary characcreators, because he has given birth to Don ters perform as decoy-birds to attract our Quixote and Sancho Panza. Richardson's admiration. They do their very best to inliterary representatives are far indeed be- duce us to join in their hymns of praise. low these, but Richardson too may boast," Grandison," says a Roman Catholic bishop, that in his narrower sphere of thought he has invented two characters that have still a strong vitality. They show all the weaknesses inseparable from the age and country of their origin. They are far inferior to the highest ideals of the great poets of the world; they are cramped and deformed by the frigid conventionalities of their century and the narrow society in which they move and live. But for all that they stir the emotions of a distant generation with power enough to show that their author must have pierced below the surface into the deeper and more perennial springs of human passion. These two characters are of course Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison; and we may endeavour shortly to analyze the sources of their enduring interest.

Sir Charles Grandison has passed into a proverb. When Carlyle calls Lafayette a Grandison-Cromwell, he hits off one of those admirable nicknames which paint a character for us at once. Sir Charles Grandison is the model fine gentleman of the eighteenth century, the master of correct deportment, the unimpeachable representative of the old school. Richardson tells us with a certain naïveté that he has been accused of describing an impossible character; that

"were he one of us, might except canonization." "How," exclaims his uncle, after a conversation with his paragon of a nephew, "how shall I bear my own littleness?" Α party of reprobates about town have a long dispute with him, endeavouring to force him into a duel. At the end of it one of them exclaims admiringly," Curse me, if I believe there is such another man in the world!" "I never saw a hero till now," says another. "I had rather have Sir C. Grandison for my friend than the greatest prince on earth," says a third. "I had rather," replies his friend, "be Sir C. Grandison for this one past hour than the Great Mogul all my life." And the general conclusion is, "what poor toads are we!" "This man shows us," as a lady declares, "that goodness and greatness are synonymous words;" and when his sister marries, she complains that her brother "has long made all other men indifferent to her. Such an infinite difference!" In the evening, according to custom, she dances a minuet with her bridegroom, but whispers a friend that she would have performed better had she danced with her brother.

The structure, however, of the story itself is the best illustration of Sir Charles's

admirable qualities. The plot is very sim- | grandmother. The plot of the novel deple. He rescues Miss Byron from an at- pends upon an attraction for the fair sex tempt at a forcible abduction. Miss Byron, which is apparently irresistible; and the according to her friends, is the queen of her men, if they are virtuous, rejoice to sit adsex, and is amongst women what Sir Charles miringly at his feet, and if they are vicious is amongst men. Of course, they straight-retire abashed from his presence, to entreat his good advice when they are upon their deathbeds.


way fall in love. Sir Charles, however,
shows symptoms of a singular reserve, which
is at last explained by the fact that he is
already half engaged to a noble Italian lady,
Clementina. He has promised in fact to
marry her if certain objections on the score
of his country and religion can be sur-
mounted. The interest lies chiefly in the
varying inclinations of the balance, at one
moment favorable to Miss Byron, and at
another to the "saint and angel" Clemen-
tina. When Miss Byron thinks that Sir
Charles will be bound in honour to marry
Clementina, she begins to pine; "she visi-
bly falls away; and her fine complexion
her friends "watch in silent love
every turn of her mild and patient eye,
every change of her charming countenance;
for they know too well to what to impute
the malady which has approached the best
of hearts; they know that the cure cannot
be within the art of the physician." When
Clementina fears that the scruples of her
relatives will separate her from Sir Charles,
she takes the still more decided step of
going mad, and some of her madness would
be very touching if it were not a trifle too
much after the conventional pattern of mad
women in novels and on the stage. Whilst
these two ladies are breaking their hearts
about Sir Charles, they do justice to each
other's merits; Harriet will never be happy
unless she knows that the admirable Clem-
entina has reconciled herself to the loss of
her adored; when Clementina finds herself
finally separated from her lover, she sin
cerely implores Sir Charles to marry her
more fortunate rival. Never was there such
a display of fine feeling and utter absence
of jealousy. Meanwhile a lovely ward
of Sir Charles finds it necessary to her
peace of mind to be separated from her
guardian; and another beautiful, but rather
less admirable, Italian actually follows him
to England to persuade him to accept her
hand. Four ladies-all of them patterns
of all physical, moral, and intellectual ex-
cellence, are breaking their hearts; and
though they are so excellent, that they
overcome their natural jealousy, they can
scarcely look upon any other man after
having known this model of all his sex. In-
deed, every woman who approaches him
fills desperately in love with him, unless
she is his sister or old enough to be his

All this is easy enough. A novelist can make his women fall in love with his hero, as easily as, with a stroke of the pen, he can endow him with fifty thousand a year, or bestow upon him every virtue under heaven. Neither has he any difficulty in making him the finest dancer in England, or giving him such marvellous skill with the small-sword that he can avoid the sin of duelling by instantaneously disarming his most formidable opponents. The real question is, whether he can animate this conglomerate of all conceivable virtues with a real human soul, set him before us as a living and breathing reality, and make us feel that if we had known him, we too should have been ready to swell the full chorus of admiration. It is rather more difficult to convey the impression which a perusal of his correspondence and conversation leaves upon an unprejudiced mind. Does Sir Charles, when we come to know him intimately for with the ample materials provided, we really seem to know him fairly support the amazing burden thrown upon him? Do we feel a certain disappointment when we meet the man whom all ladies love, and in whom every gentleman confesses a superior nature?

There are two anecdotes about Sir Charles which seem to us to indicate his character better than any elaborate analysis. Voltaire, we know, ridiculed the proud English, who with the same scissors cut off the heads of their kings and the tails of their horses. To this last weakness Sir Charles was superior. His horses, says Miss Byron, "are not docked; their tails are only tied up when they are on the road." She would wish to find some fault with him, but as she forcibly says, " if he be of opinion that the tails of these noble animals are not only a natural ornament, but of real use to defend them from the vexatious insects that in summer are so apt to annoy them, how far from a dispraise is this humane consideraation!" The other anecdote is of a differ ent kind. When Sir Charles goes to church he does not, like some other gentlemen, bow low to the ladies of his acquaintance, and then to others of the gentry. No!" Sir Charles had first other devoirs to pay. He paid us his second compliments." From these two exemplary actions we must infer

« PreviousContinue »