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thorns, the majority of them self-planted, are festering in myriads of bosoms; the same false ambition and crooked devices are fermenting in a thousand hearts; the same malice, lying, and slandering in all their grades, petty and great, are issuing from legions of mouths, and the same mixture of kindness and generosity are checking and tempering the evil. You find yourself in the saloon where upon gala days you are a guest; in the house you frequent as a familiar friend; in the club of which you are a member; you meet there your acquaintances, you hear again the conversation which you have often heard before, and it is by no means unlikely that among the assembled company you may startled by coming upon the very image of yourself. Truth is never sacrificed to piquancy. The characters in the Newcomes' are not more witty, wise, or farcical than their prototypes; the dull, the insipid, and the foolish, speak according to their own fashion and not with the tongue of the author; the events which befall them are nowhere made exciting at the expense of probability. Just as the stream of life runs on through these volumes, so may it be seen to flow in the world itself by whoever takes up the same position on the bank.
A notion prevails that to keep thus close to reality precludes imagination, as if it was possible to furnish an entire novel-plot, persons, and conversations-exclusively or even mainly from memory. The difference between him who wanders in fancy's maze, and him who stoops to truth, is not that one creates and the other copies, but that the first goes further than nature and the second invents in obedience to its laws. Nor is it necessary to this end that every character should have its living counterpart. The diversities of men and women are like the infinite number of substances in the material world, which are made up of a few elementary bodies in varying proportions. In the case of our own kind familiarity with the elements enables the novelist to frame fresh compounds, and the reader to judge of their fidelity to nature. Though we may never have set eyes upon the identical personage, we can pronounce upon his qualities, and determine whether they are separately consistent with truth and in harmony with each other. For all the exactness with which Mr. Thackeray follows life, it will be found that each character is usually in its aggregate an original conception. The range is unusually wide, and from the most noble the Marquis of Farintosh down to little Miss Cann, the humble governess who gives lessons by the hour, the many persons of every degree who compose the miscellaneous group are marked by traits as distinctive as the features of their faces. Some of them appear and re-appear at long intervals, some grow up before the reader,
and in all the stages of their progress, and the various attitudes under which they are represented, there is still not a line out of drawing, not a touch out of place. There is always the same individuality, but it is modified by the changes which time and circumstances produce.
'So much the more our carver's excellence,
Which lets go by some sixteen years.'
It is indeed a marvellous perception of truth of character which can thus keep every member of the crowd so continuously faithful to his own nature, a rare tact which, without the least exaggeration, can impart interest to so much which in society is wearying and commonplace as well as to that which is intrinsically winning.
"However the exaltedness of some minds, or rather, as I shrewdly suspect, their insipidity and want of feeling or observation, may make them insensible to these light things, I mean such as characterise and paint nature, yet surely they are as weighty and much more useful than your grave discourses upon the mind, the passions, and what not.' So wrote Gray of the novels, French and English, of his day, but to no work of fiction is the opinion more emphatically applicable than to the 'Newcomes.' A writer who depicts life with perfect fidelity, and indulges in no corrupting descriptions of vice, must, whether he designs it or not, be a powerful moralist. The gloss which men put upon their motives, the meanness, the selfishness, the deceit which they endeavour to hide from the world and from themselves, are as palpable as the actions they have prompted, when the complete transaction is recorded in plain terms, with as little extenuation as malice. What a transparent device is a juggler's trick when the petty mechanism by which he works has been exposed to our gaze! But Mr. Thackeray has not left his moral to be inferred. He has taken care to point it for himself, and to show that he has a direct purpose of exposing the foibles and misdoings which most easily beset mankind. In the days of the 'Spectator,' Addison, with exquisite humour, laughed away many of the social follies of his age. Alongside the papers in which his delicate pencil had drawn with such refined satiric touches the weaknesses of beaux, belles, and country squires, were graver essays recommending industry, truth, and cheerfulness. Mr. Thackeray disclaims the assumption of the preacher's office, but in reality, while eschewing all hacknied discourses on virtue and vice, he enforces maxims as serious and as important, as any that are contained in the didactic parts of the Spectator, and much more impressive and profound. If he had flourished in the reign of Queen Anne he would have been a celebrated member of the group
group of wits who furnished such delightful miniatures of life, and such graceful little lectures for the reading public of that generation. He would have dealt out his knowledge of men and manners in fragments, cut his pictures to fit the diminutive frame of a daily sheet, and alternated social sketches with moral admonitions. He would have put Mrs. Hobson Newcome and her soirées into one number, and a formal dissertation upon hypocrisy into another. In obedience to the taste of the age, he now writes novels instead of essays, paints a large piece, crowded with figures, instead of a long line of single portraits, and blends together grave and gay, light railleries and stern upbraidings. The censors of Queen Anne's fashionable subjects paid particular attention to externals, to the fopperies of dress and the offences against good breeding; Mr. Thackeray, without neglecting these, goes a vast deal deeper, and in this respect is a more interesting and forcible castigator of the pomps and vanities, the licensed artifices and flagrant trickeries of the world. If the bad are not made good by the lesson, the good will at least be made better. Those who are not too dull or too hardened to learn will rise up from these volumes with an increased scorn of everything ungenerous, sordid, and deceptive, and there is no one so perfect that he will not stumble in his progress upon infirmities which are his own. Even Colonel Newcome himself, if he could have read his history, would have found something to mend.
To reduce what is loathsome and contemptible to its native deformity is only a part of the duty which devolves upon the faithful chronicler of human life. He has to make amiability attractive, and to win sympathy for modest worth. Mr. Thackeray has nobly redeemed in the Newcomes' the defect alleged against his former novels-that they were more employed in satirising evil than in setting forth excellence. His present production gains by the change. The larger infusion of benevolence, honour, and disinterestedness into the story makes it pleasanter to read, and gives, we think, a juster notion of the world. Though every character he has drawn has undoubtedly its counterpart,—the worthless, the crafty, the insignificant, and the foolish, much as they flourish in particular soils, are not, we will hope, so thick set as a rule as they appear in 'Vanity Fair.' Nor probably did Mr. Thackeray intend them to be considered as equitable representatives of the human race any more than he meant Charles Honeyman for an average sample of English divines. A novelist selects the characters which he conceives to be best suited to the turn of his talents, and describes the double-dealing of Tartuffe without the least purpose of impeaching the rectitude of Mr. Abraham
Adams. To this we must add, that much as bad and good people are mixed up in the world, and many as are the points at which they come into contact, those who strive for particular objects chiefly associate with the persons through whom they can get what they desire. They avoid the rest and are avoided by them. 'The poor and the deceitful man meet together,' says Solomon; the Lord lighteneth both their eyes.' The discrimination, that is to say, with which Providence has endowed them shows each that what he seeks is not to be obtained from the other, and they recognise that their course is by different ways. Thus when Mr. Thackeray undertakes in 'Vanity Fair' to follow the black sheep in their wanderings, it is not unnatural that their path should never lie long together with the whiter portion of the flock. Altogether the charge of cynicism, so often urged against him, was always exaggerated, and is now become an anachronism. Some asserted, in spite of a hundred signal and touching proofs to the contrary, that he had no belief in goodness. Others mistook his delicate and often subtle irony for grave injunctions to practise the misdeeds he condemned. With many more, the objection was not the indignant remonstrance of virtue, but the angry cry of vice surprised in its ambush. People found themselves turned inside out, their frailties hung as badges about their necks, written upon their backs, pinned upon their sleeves. The natural impulse was to deny the resemblance, and declare the exposure a calumny.
'Fiction holds a double mirror,
One for truth, and one for error:
That looks hideous, fierce and frightful:
This is flattering and delightful;
That we throw away as foul,
Sit by this and dress the soul.'
Another indictment preferred against Mr. Thackeray is that he encourages the notion that to go certain lengths in sinning is our appointed course, and that it is necessary to wade through polluted streams to get into clear waters. Novelists may fairly, if they please, exercise their fancy in framing beings of ideal perfection, though, contrary to a common opinion, we believe that it requires a stronger effort of genius to represent men and women as they are than as they ought to be. It demands no great knowledge of human nature to personify the virtues. But because a novelist declines this course and depicts the existing world, instead of drawing from his abstract notions of morality, it is a perverse and unwarrantable reading of his intentions to say that he holds up licentiousness for imitation. To state, and state truly, that particular things have been, and according to all expe
rience will be, is not to maintain that they must be,—to assert that they are usual is not to insist that they are inevitable. Mrs. Opie wrote a book called Illustrations of Lying,' to show how pervading was the vice. Was this to constitute her a patron of falsehood? Far from being obnoxious to the charge which has been made against him, no writer of fiction has surpassed Mr. Thackeray in the force with which he sets forth the beauty of pure hearts, and the contempt which he casts upon everything evil, however gilded by success. It is the very loftiness of his sense of the power goodness which has sometimes laid him open to misconstruction. An able critic who admires 'good Dobbin with his faithful heart,' asks, 'Why should the Major have splay feet, Mr. Thackeray? Why should he not? They have the low notions of the rightful supremacy of worth who can only appreciate it when it comes recommended by well-turned feet and a handsome face and figure. He is the true moralist who asserts its superiority over corporeal attributes, and refuses to believe that a virtuous man is less deserving of admiration because his limbs are clumsy, as certain Athenians considered Socrates an object of ridicule because he had prominent eyes, thick lips, and a protuberant belly. But there is another answer to the question. Although there is not an invariable connexion between men's persons and their virtues, it frequently happens that those whose appearance is the least advantageous are remarkable for amiability, from the simple cause that they escape many of the temptations and vanities which beset the well-favoured. If Dobbin had had nothing to keep him humble, if he had been an Apollo or an Adonis, he would probably have ceased to be 'good Dobbin with his faithful heart.' The notion is not peculiar to Mr. Thackeray. No one has had a clearer perception of this truth than the fellowgenius who drew Tom Pinch and Traddles and a score of other examples of uncouth worth. If ever anybody was free from the reproach of attempting to lower the respect for moral excellence through bodily defects, Mr. Thackeray is that man. In his present tale, J. J. Ridley, the most contemptible in appearance, is the one genius of the book. With all his tendency, in fact, to satire, Mr. Thackeray has nowhere employed it in his novels upon improper objects. Surely,' says Fielding, he has a very ill-framed mind who can look on ugliness, infirmity, or poverty as ridiculous in themselves; but when ugliness aims at the applause of beauty, or lameness endeavours to display its agility, it is then that these unfortunate circumstances, which at first moved our compassion, tend only to raise our mirth.' The author of the 'Newcomes' has never forgotten this canon of good taste and good feeling. Calamity, physical and mental, is safe from his