MASTERS OF THE ENGLISH NOVEL:
A STUDY OF PRINCIPLES AND PERSONALITIES
BY RICHARD BURTON
The principle of inclusion in this book is the traditional one which assumes that criticism is only safe when it deals with authors who are dead. In proportion as we approach the living or, worse, speak of those still on earth, the proper perspective is lost and the dangers of contemporary judgment incurred. The light-minded might add, that the dead cannot strike back; to pass judgment upon them is not only more critical but safer.
Sometimes, however, the distinction between the living and the dead is an invidious one. Three authors hereinafter studied are examples: Meredith, Hardy and Stevenson. Hardy alone is now in the land of the living, Meredith having but just passed away. Yet to omit the former, while including the other two, is obviously arbitrary, since his work in fiction is as truly done as if he, like them, rested from his literary labors and the gravestone chronicled his day of death. For reasons best known to himself, Mr. Hardy seems to have chosen verse for the final expression of his personality. It is more than a decade since he published a novel. So far as age goes, he is the senior of Stevenson: "Desperate Remedies" appeared when the latter was a stripling at the University of Edinburgh. Hardy is therefore included in the survey. I am fully aware that to strive to measure the accomplishment of those practically contemporary, whether it be Meredith and Hardy or James and Howells, is but more or less intelligent guess-work. Nevertheless, it is pleasant employ, the more interesting, perhaps, to the critic and his readers because an element of uncertainty creeps into what is said. If the critic runs the risk of Je suis, J'y reste, he gets his reward in the thrill of prophecy; and should he turn out a false prophet, he is consoled by the reflection that it will place him in a large and enjoyable company.
Throughout the discussion it has been the intention to keep steadily before the reader the two main ways of looking at life in fiction, which have led to the so-called realistic and romantic movements. No fear of repetition in the study of the respective novelists has kept me from illustrating from many points of view and taking advantage of the opportunity offered by each author, the distinction thus set up. For back of all stale jugglery of terms, lies a very real and permanent difference. The words denote different types of mind as well as of art: and express also a changed interpretation of the world of men, resulting from the social and intellectual revolution since 1750.
No apology would appear to be necessary for Chapter Seven, which devotes sufficient space to the French influence to show how it affected the realistic tendency of all modern novel-making. The Scandinavian lands, Germany, Italy, England and Spain, all have felt the leadership of France in this regard and hence any attempt to sketch the history of the Novel on English soil, would ignore causes, that did not acknowledge the Gallic debt.
It may also be remarked that the method employed in the following pages necessarily excludes many figures of no slight importance in the evolution of English fiction. There are books a-plenty dealing with these secondary personalities, often significant as links in the chain and worthy of study were the purpose to present the complete history of the Novel. By centering upon indubitable masters, the principles illustrated both by the lesser and larger writers will, it is hoped, be brought home with equal if not greater force.
I. FICTION AND THE NOVEL II. EIGHTEENTH CENTURY BEGINNINGS: RICHARDSON III. EIGHTEENTH CENTURY BEGINNINGS: FIELDING IV. DEVELOPMENTS: SMOLLETT, STERNE AND OTHERS V. REALISM: JAKE AUSTEN VI. MODERN ROMANTICISM: SCOTT VII. FRENCH INFLUENCE VIII. DICKENS IX. THACKERAY X. GEORGE ELIOT XI. TROLLOPE AND OTHERS XII. HARDY AND MEREDITH XIII. STEVENSON XIV. THE AMERICAN CONTRIBUTION
FICTION AND THE NOVEL
All the world loves a story as it does a lover. It is small wonder then that stories have been told since man walked erect and long before transmitted records. Fiction, a conveniently broad term to cover all manner of story-telling, is a hoary thing and within historical limits we can but get a glimpse of its activity. Because it is so diverse a thing, it may be regarded in various ways: as a literary form, a social manifestation, a comment upon life. Main emphasis in this book is placed upon its recent development on English soil under the more restrictive name of Novel; and it is the intention, in tracing the work of representative novel writers, to show how the Novel has become in some sort a special modern mode of expression and of opinion, truly reflective of the Zeitgeist.
The social and human element in a literary phenomenon is what gives general interest and includes it as part of the culturgeschichte of a people. This interest is as far removed from that of the literary specialist taken up with questions of morphology and method, as it is from the unthinking rapture of the boarding-school Miss who finds a current book "perfectly lovely," and skips intrepidly to the last page to see how it is coming out. Thoughtful people are coming to feel that fiction is only frivolous when the reader brings a frivolous mind or makes a frivolous choice. While it will always be legitimate to turn to fiction for innocent amusement, since the peculiar property of all art is to give pleasure, the day has been reached when it is recognized as part of our culture to read good fiction, to realize the value and importance of the Novel in modern education; and conversely, to reprimand the older, narrow notion that the habit means self-indulgence and a waste of time. Nor can we close our eyes to the tyrannous domination of fiction to-day, for good or bad. It has worn seven-league boots of progress the past generation. So early as 1862, Sainte-Beuve declared in conversation: "Everything is being gradually merged into the novel. There is such a vast scope and the form lends itself to everything." Prophetic words, more than fulfilled since they were spoken.
Of the three main ways of story-telling, by the epic poem, the drama and prose fiction, the epic seems to be the oldest; poetry, indeed, being the natural form of expression among primitive peoples.
The comparative study of literature shows that so far as written records go, we may not surely ascribe precedence in time either to fiction or the drama. The testimony varies in different nations. But if the name fiction be allowed for a Biblical narrative like the Book of Ruth, which in the sense of imaginative and literary handling of historical material it certainly is, the great antiquity of the form may be conceded. Long before the written or printed word, we may safely say, stories were recited in Oriental deserts, yarns were spun as ships heaved over the seas, and sagas spoken beside hearth fires far in the frozen north. Prose narratives, epic in theme or of more local import, were handed down from father to son, transmitted from family to family, through the exercise of a faculty of memory that now, in a day when labor-saving devices have almost atrophied its use, seems well nigh miraculous. Prose story-telling, which allows of ample description, elbow room for digression, indefinite extension and variation from the original kernel of plot, lends itself admirably to the imaginative needs of humanity early or late.
With the English race, fiction began to take con-structural shape and definiteness of purpose in Elizabethan days. Up to the sixteenth century the tales were either told in verse, in the epic form of Beowulf or in the shrunken epic of a thirteenth century ballad like "King Horn"; in the verse narratives of Chaucer or the poetic musings of Spenser. Or else they were a portion of that prose romance of chivalry which was vastly cultivated in the middle ages, especially in France and Spain, and of which we have a doughty exemplar in the Morte D'Arthur, which dates nearly a century before Shakspere's day. Loose construction and no attempt to deal with the close eye of observation, characterize these earlier romances, which were in the main conglomerates of story using the double appeal of love and war.
But at a time when the drama was paramount in popularity, when the young Shakspere was writing his early comedies, fiction, which was in the fulness of time to conquer the play form as a popular vehicle of story-telling, began to rear its head. The loosely constructed, rambling prose romances of Lyly of euphuistic fame, the prose pastorals of Lodge from which model Shakspere made his forest drama, "As You Like It," the picaresque, harum-scarum story of adventure, "Jack Wilton," the prototype of later books like "Gil Blas" and "Robinson Crusoe,"—these were the early attempts to give prose narration a closer knitting, a more organic form.
But all such tentative striving was only preparation; fiction in the sense of more or less formless prose narration, was written for about two centuries without the production of what may be called the
Novel in the modern meaning of the word. The broader name fiction may properly be applied, since, as we shall see, all novels are fiction, but all fiction is by no means Novels. The whole development of the Novel, indeed, is embraced within little more than a century and a half; from the middle of the eighteenth century to the present time. The term Novel is more definite, more specific than the fiction out of which it evolved; therefore, we must ask ourselves wherein lies the essential difference. Light is thrown by the early use of the word in critical reference in English. In reading the following from Steele's "Tender Husband," we are made to realize that the stark meaning of the term implies something new: social interest, a sense of social solidarity: "Our amours can't furnish out a Romance; they'll make a very pretty Novel."
This clearly marks a distinction: it gives a hint as to the departure made by Richardson in 1742, when he published "Pamela." It is not strictly the earliest discrimination between the Novel and the older romance; for the dramatist Congreve at the close of the seventeenth century shows his knowledge of the distinction. And, indeed, there are hints of it in Elizabethan criticism of such early attempts as those of Lyly, Nast, Lodge and others. Moreover, the student of criticism as it deals with the Novel must also expect to meet with a later confusion of nomenclature; the word being loosely applied to any type of prose fiction in contrast with the short story or tale. But here, at an early date, the severance is plainly indicated between the study of contemporary society and the elder romance of heroism, supernaturalism, and improbability. It is a difference not so much of theme as of view-point, method and intention.
For underlying this attempt to come closer to humanity through the medium of a form of fiction, is to be detected an added interest in personality for its own sake. During the eighteenth century, commonly described as the Teacup Times, an age of powder and patches, of etiquette, epigram and surface polish, there developed a keener sense of the value of the individual, of the sanctity of the ego, a faint prelude to the note that was to become so resonant in the nineteenth century, sounding through all the activities of man. Various manifestations in the civilization of Queen Anne and the first Georges illustrate the new tendency.
One such is the coffee house, prototype of the bewildering club life of our own day. The eighteenth century coffee house, where the men of fashion and affairs foregathered to exchange social news over their glasses, was an organization naturally fostering altruism; at least, it tended to cultivate a feeling for social relations.
Again, the birth of the newspaper with the Spectator Papers in the early years of the century, is another such sign of the times: the newspaper being one of the great social bonds of humanity, for good or bad, linking man to man, race to race in the common, well-nigh instantaneous nexus of sympathy. The influence of the press at the time of a San Francisco or Messina horror is apparent to all; but its effect in furnishing the psychology of a business panic is perhaps no less potent though not so obvious. When Addison and Steele began their genial conversations thrice a week with their fellow citizens, they little dreamed of the power they set a-going in the world; for here was the genesis of modern journalism. And whatever its abuses and degradations, the fourth estate is certainly one of the very few widely operative educational forces to-day, and has played an important part in spreading the idea of the brotherhood of man.
That the essay and its branch form, the character sketch, both found in the Spectator Papers, were contributory to the Novel's development, is sure. The essay set a new model for easy, colloquial speech: just the manner for fiction which was to report the accent of contemporary society in its average of utterance. And the sketch, seen in its delightful efflorescence in the Sir Roger De Coverly papers series by Addison, is fiction in a sense: differing therefrom in its slighter framework, and the aim of the writer, which first of all is the delicate delineation of personality, not plot and the study of the social complex. There is the absence of plot which is the natural outcome of such lack of story interest. A wide survey of the English essay from its inception with Bacon in the early seventeenth century will impress the inquirer with its fluid nature and natural outflow into full-fledged fiction. The essay has a way, as Taine says, of turning "spontaneously to fiction and portraiture." And as it is difficult, in the light of evolution, to put the finger on the line separating man from the lower order of animal life, so is it difficult sometimes to say just where the essay stops and the Novel begins. There is perhaps no hard-and-fast line.
Consider Dr. Holmes' "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table," for example; is it essay or fiction? There is a definite though slender story interest and idea, yet since the framework of story is really for the purpose of hanging thereon the genial essayist's dissertations on life, we may decide that the book is primarily essay, the most charmingly personal, egoistic of literary forms. The essay "slightly dramatized," Mr. Howells happily characterizes it. This form then must be reckoned with in the eighteenth century and borne in mind as contributory all along in the subsequent development, as we try to get a clear idea of the qualities which demark and limit the Novel.
Again, the theater was an institution doing its share to knit social feeling; as indeed it had been in Elizabethan days: offering a place where many might be moved by the one thought, the one emotion, personal variations being merged in what is now called mob psychology, a function for centuries also exercised by the Church. Nor should the function of the playhouse as a visiting-place be overlooked.
So too the Novel came to express most inclusively among the literary forms this more vivid realization of meum and tuum; the worth of me and my intricate and inevitable relations to you, both of us caught in the coils of that organism dubbed society, and willingly, with no Rousseau-like desire to escape and set up for individualists. The Novel in its treatment of personality began to teach that the stone thrown into the water makes circles to the uttermost bounds of the lake; that the little rift within the lute makes the whole music mute; that we are all members of the one body. This germinal principle was at root a profoundly true and noble one; it serves to distinguish modern fiction philosophically from all that is earlier, and it led the late Sidney Lanier, in the well-known book on this subject, to base the entire development upon the working out of the idea of personality. The Novel seems to have been the special literary instrument in the eighteenth century for the propagation of altruism; here lies its deepest significance. It was a baptism which promised great things for the lusty young form.
We are now ready for a fair working definition of the modern Novel. It means a study of contemporary society with an implied sympathetic interest, and, it may be added, with special reference to love as a motor force, simply because love it is which binds together human beings in their social relations.
This aim sets off the Novel in contrast with past fiction which exhibits a free admixture of myth and marvel, of creatures human, demi-human and supernatural, with all time or no time for the enactment of its events. The modern story puts its note of emphasis upon character that is contemporary and average; and thus makes a democratic appeal against that older appeal which, dealing with exceptional personages—kings, leaders, allegorical abstractions—is naturally aristocratic.
There was something, it would appear, in the English genius which favored a form of literature—or modification of an existing form—allowing for a more truthful representation of society, a criticism (in the Arnoldian sense) of the passing show. The elder romance finds its romantic effect, as a rule, in the unusual, the strange and abnormal aspects of life, not so much seen of the eye as imagined of the mind or fancy. Hence, romance is historically contrasted with reality, with many unfortunate results when we come to its modern applications. The issue has been a Babel-like mixture of terms.
Or when the bizarre or supernatural was not the basis of appeal, it was found in the sickly and absurd treatment of the amatory passion, quite as far removed from the every-day experience of normal human nature. It was this kind of literature, with the French La Calprenede as its high priest, which my Lord Chesterfield had in mind when he wrote to his son under date of 1752, Old Style: "It is most astonishing that there ever could have been a people idle enough to write such endless heaps of the same stuff. It was, however, the occupation of thousands in the last century; and is still the private though disavowed amusement of young girls and sentimental ladies." The chief trait of these earlier fictions, besides their mawkishness, is their almost incredible long-windedness; they have the long breath, as the French say; and it may be confessed that the great, pioneer eighteenth century novels, foremost those of Richardson, possess a leisureliness of movement which is an inheritance of the romantic past when men, both fiction writers and readers, seem to have Time; they look back to Lyly, and forward (since history repeats itself here), to Henry James. The condensed, breathless fiction of a Kipling is the more logical evolution.
Certainly, the English were innovators in this field, exercising a direct and potent influence upon foreign fiction, especially that of France and Germany; it is not too much to say, that the novels of Richardson and Fielding, pioneers, founders of the English Novel, offered Europe a type. If one reads the French fictionists before Richardson—Madame de La Fayette, Le Sage, Prevost and Rousseau—one speedily discovers that they did not write novels in the modern sense; the last named took a cue from Richardson, to be sure, in his handling of sentiment, but remained an essayist, nevertheless. And the greater Goethe also felt and acknowledged the Englishman's example. Testimonies from the story-makers of other lands are frequent to the effect upon them of these English pioneers of fiction. It will be seen from this brief statement of the kind of fiction essayed by the founders of the Novel, that their tendency was towards what has come to be called "realism" in modern fiction literature. One uses this sadly overworked term with a certain sinking of the heart, yet it seems unavoidable. The very fact that the words "realism" and "romance" have become so hackneyed in critical parlance, makes it sure that they indicate a genuine distinction. As the Novel has developed, ramified and taken on a hundred guises of manifestation, and as criticism has striven to keep pace with such a growth, it is not strange that a confusion of nomenclature should have arisen. But underneath whatever misunderstandings, the original distinction is clear enough and useful to make: the modern Novel in its beginning did introduce a more truthful representation of human life than had obtained in the romantic fiction deriving from the medieval stories. The term "realism" as first applied was suitably descriptive; it is only with the subsequent evolution that so simple a word has taken on subtler shades and esoteric implications.
It may be roundly asserted that from the first the English Novel has stood for truth; that it has grown on the whole more truthful with each generation, as our conception of truth in literature has been widened and become a nobler one. The obligation of literature to report life has been felt with increasing sensitiveness. In the particulars of appearance, speech, setting and action the characters of English fiction to-day produce a semblance of life which adds tenfold to its power. To compare the dialogue of modern masters like Hardy, Stevenson, Kipling and Howells with the best of the earlier writers serves to bring the assertion home; the difference is immense; it is the difference between the idiom of life and the false-literary tone of imitations of life which, with all their merits, are still self-conscious and inapt And as the earlier idiom was imperfect, so was the psychology; the study of motives in relation to action has grown steadily broader, more penetrating; the rich complexity of human beings has been recognized more and more, where of old the simple assumption that all mankind falls into the two great contrasted groups of the good and the bad, was quite sufficient. And, as a natural outcome of such an easy-going philosophy, the study of life was rudimentary and partial; you could always tell how the villain would jump and were comfortable in the assurance that the curtain should ring down upon "and so they were married and lived happily ever afterwards."
In contrast, to-day human nature is depicted in the Novel as a curious compound of contradictory impulses and passions, and instead of the clear-cut separation of the sheep and the goats, we look forth upon a vast, indiscriminate horde of humanity whose color, broadly surveyed, seems a very neutral gray,—neither deep black nor shining white. The white-robed saint is banished along with the devil incarnate; those who respect their art would relegate such crudities to Bowery melodrama. And while we may allow an excess of zeal in this matter, even a confusion of values, there can be no question that an added dignity has come to the Novel in these latter days, because it has striven with so much seriousness of purpose to depict life in a more interpretative way. It has seized for a motto the Veritas nos liberavit of the ancient philosopher. The elementary psychology of the past has been transferred to the stage drama, justifying Mr. Shaw's description of it as "the last sanctuary of unreality." And even in the theater, the truth demanded in fiction for more than a century, is fast finding a place, and play-making, sensitive to the new desire, is changing in this respect before our eyes.
However, with the good has come evil too. In the modern seeking for so-called truth, the nuda veritas has in some hands become shameless as well,—a fact amply illustrated in the following treatment of principles and personalities.
The Novel in the hands of these eighteenth century writers also struck a note of the democratic,—a note that has sounded ever louder until the present day, when fiction is by far the most democratic of the literary forms (unless we now must include the drama in such a designation). The democratic ideal has become at once an instinct, a principle and a fashion. Richardson in his "Pamela" did a revolutionary thing in making a kitchen wench his heroine; English fiction had previously assumed that for its polite audience only the fortunes of Algernon and Angelina could be followed decorously and give fit pleasure. His innovation, symptomatic of the time, by no means pleased an aristocratic on-looker like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who wrote to a friend: "The confounding of all ranks and making a jest of order has long been growing in England; and I perceive by the books you sent me, has made a very considerable progress. The heroes and heroines of the age are cobblers and kitchen wenches. Perhaps you will say, I should not take my ideas of the manners of the times from such trifling authors; but it is more truly to be found among them, than from any historian; as they write merely to get money, they always fall into the notions that are most acceptable to the present taste. It has long been the endeavor of our English writers to represent people of quality as the vilest and silliest part of the nation, being (generally) very low-born themselves"—a quotation deliciously commingled of prejudice and worldly wisdom.
But Richardson, who began his career by writing amatory epistles for serving maids, realized (and showed his genius thereby), that if the hard fortunes and eventful triumph of the humble Pamela could but be sympathetically portrayed, the interest on the part of his aristocratic audience was certain to follow,—as the sequel proved.
He knew that because Pamela was a human being she might therefore be made interesting; he adopted, albeit unconsciously, the Terentian motto that nothing human should be alien from the interests of his readers. And as the Novel developed, this interest not only increased in intensity, but ever spread until it depicted with truth and sympathy all sorts and conditions of men. The typical novelist to-day prefers to leave the beaten highway and go into the by-ways for his characters; his interest is with the humble of the earth, the outcast and alien, the under dog in the social struggle. It has become well-nigh a fashion, a fad, to deal with these picturesque and once unexploited elements of the human passion-play.
This interest does not stop even at man; influenced by modern conceptions of life, it overleaps the line of old supposed to be impassable, and now includes the lower order of living things: animals have come into their own and a Kipling or a London gives us the psychology of brutekind as it has never been drawn before—from the view-point of the animal himself. Our little brothers of the air, the forest and the field are depicted in such wise that the world returns to a feeling which swelled the heart of St. Francis centuries ago, as he looked upon the birds he loved and thus addressed them:
"And he entered the field and began to preach to the birds which were on the ground; and suddenly those which were in the trees came to him and as many as there were they all stood quietly until Saint Francis had done preaching; and even then they did not depart until such time as he had given them his blessing; and St. Francis, moving among them, touched them with his cape, but not one moved."
It is because this modern form of fiction upon which we fix the name Novel to indicate its new features has seized the idea of personality, has stood for truth and grown ever more democratic, that it has attained to the immense power which marks it at the present time. It is justified by historical facts; it has become that literary form most closely revealing the contours of life, most expressive of its average experience, most sympathetic to its heart-throb. The thought should prevent us from regarding it as merely the syllabub of the literary feast, a kind of after-dinner condiment. It is not necessary to assume the total depravity of current taste, in order to account for the tyranny of this latest-born child of fiction. In the study of individual writers and developing schools and tendencies, it will be well to keep in mind these underlying principles of growth: personality, truth and democracy; a conception sure to provide the story-maker with a new function, a new ideal. The distinguished French critic Brunetiere has said: "The novelist in reality is nothing more than a witness whose evidence should rival that of the historian in precision and trustworthiness. We look to him to teach us literally to see. We read his novels merely with a view to finding out in them those aspects of existence which escape us, owing to the very hurry and stir of life, an attitude we express by saying that for a novel to be recognized as such, it must offer an historical or documentary value, a value precise and determined, particular and local, and as well, a general and lasting psychologic value or significance."
It may be added, that while in the middle eighteenth century the novel-writing was tentative and hardly more than an avocation, at the end of the nineteenth, it had become a fine art and a profession. It did not occur to Richardson, serious-minded man that he was, that he was formulating a new art canon for fiction. Indeed, the English author takes himself less and less seriously as we go back in time. It was bad form to be literary when Voltaire visited Congreve and found a fine gentleman where he sought a writer of genius: complaining therefore that fine gentlemen came cheap in Paris; what he wished to see was the creator of the great comedies. In the same fashion, we find Horace Walpole, who dabbled in letters all his days and made it really his chief interest, systematically underrating the professional writers of his day, to laud a brilliant amateur who like himself desired the plaudits of the game without obeying its exact rules. He looked askance at the fiction-makers Richardson and Fielding, because they did not move in the polite circles frequented by himself.
The same key is struck by lively Fanny Burney in reporting a meeting with a languishing lady of fashion who had perpetrated a piece of fiction with the alarming title of "The Mausoleum of Julia": "My sister intends, said Lady Say and Sele, to print her Mausoleum, just for her own friends and acquaintances."
"Yes? said Lady Hawke, I have never printed yet."
And a little later, the same spirit is exhibited by Jane Austen when Madame de Sevigne sought her: Miss Austen suppressed the story-maker, wishing to be taken first of all for what she was: a country gentlewoman of unexceptionable connections. Even Walter Scott and Byron plainly exhibit this dislike to be reckoned as paid writers, men whose support came by the pen. In short, literary professionalism reflected on gentility. We have changed all that with a vengeance and can hardly understand the earlier sentiment; but this change of attitude has carried with it inevitably the artistic advancement of modern fiction. For if anything is certain it is that only professional skill can be relied upon to perfect an art form. The amateur may possess gift, even genius; but we must look to the professional for technique.
One other influence, hardly less effective in molding the Novel than those already touched upon, is found in the increasing importance of woman as a central) factor in society; indeed, holding the key to the social situation. The drama of our time, in so frequently making woman the protagonist of the piece, testifies, as does fiction, to this significant fact: woman, in the social and economic readjustment that has come to her, or better, which she is still undergoing, has become so much more dominant in her social relations, that any form of literature truthfully mirroring the society of the modern world must regard her as of potent efficiency. And this is so quite apart from the consideration that women make up to-day the novelist's largest audience, and that, moreover, the woman writer of fiction is in numbers and popularity a rival of men.
It would scarcely be too much to see a unifying principle in the evolution of the modern Novel, in the fact that the first example in the literature was Pamela, the study of a woman, while in representative latter-day studies like "Tess of the D'Urbervilles," "The House of Mirth," "Trilby" and "The Testing of Diana Mallory" we again have studies of women; the purpose alike in time past or present being to fix the attention upon a human being whose fate is sensitively, subtly operative for good or ill upon a society at large. It is no accident then, that woman is so often the central figure of fiction: it means more than that, love being the solar passion of the race, she naturally is involved. Rather does it mean fiction's recognition of her as the creature of the social biologist, exercising her ancient function amidst all the changes and shifting ideas of successive generations. Whatever her superficial changes under the urge of the time-spirit, Woman, to a thoughtful eye, sits like the Sphinx above the drifting sands, silent, secret, powerful and obscure, bent only on her great purposive errand whose end is the bringing forth of that Overman who shall rule the world. With her immense biologic mission, seemingly at war with her individual career, and destructive apparently of that emancipation which is the present dream of her champions, what a type, what a motive this for fiction, and in what a manifold and stimulating way is the Novel awakening to its high privilege to deal with such material. In this view, having these wider implications in mind, the role of woman in fiction, so far from waning, is but just begun.
This survey of historical facts and marshaling of a few important principles has prepared us, it may be hoped, for a clearer comprehension of the developmental details that follow. It is a complex growth, but one vastly interesting and, after all, explained by a few, great substructural principles: the belief in personality, democratic feeling, a love for truth in art, and a realization of the power of modern Woman. The Novel is thus an expression and epitome of the society which gave it birth.
EIGHTEENTH CENTURY BEGINNINGS: RICHARDSON
There is some significance in the fact that Samuel Richardson, founder of the modern novel, was so squarely a middle-class citizen of London town. Since the form, he founded was, as we have seen, democratic in its original motive and subsequent development, it was fitting that the first shaper of the form should have sympathies not too exclusively aristocratic: should have been willing to draw upon the backstairs history of the servants' hall for his first heroine.
To be sure, Mr. Richardson had the not uncommon failing of the humble-born: he desired above all, and attempted too much, to depict the manners of the great; he had naive aristocratical leanings which account for his uncertain tread when he would move with ease among the boudoirs of Mayfair. Nevertheless, in the honest heart of him, as his earliest novel forever proves, he felt for the woes of those social underlings who, as we have long since learned, have their microcosm faithfully reflecting the greater world they serve, and he did his best work in that intimate portrayal of the feminine heart, which is not of a class but typically human; he knew Clarissa Harlowe quite as well as he did Pamela; both were of interest because they were women. That acute contemporary, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, severely reprimands Richardson for his vulgar lapses in painting polite society and the high life he so imperfectly knew; yet in the very breath that she condemns "Clarissa Harlowe" as "most miserable stuff," confesses that "she was such an old fool as to weep over" it "like any milkmaid of sixteen over the ballad of the Lady's Fall"—the handsomest kind of a compliment under the circumstances. And with the same charming inconsistency, she declares on the appearance of "Sir Charles Grandison" that she heartily despises Richardson, yet eagerly reads him—"nay, sobs over his works in the most scandalous manner."
Richardson was the son of a carpenter and himself a respected printer, who by cannily marrying the daughter of the man to whom he was apprenticed, and by diligence in his vocation, rose to prosperity, so that by 1754 he became Master of The Stationers' Company and King's Printer, doing besides an excellent printing business.
As a boy he had relieved the dumb anguish of serving maids by the penning of their love letters; he seemed to have a knack at this vicarious manner of love-making and when in the full maturity of fifty years, certain London publishers requested him to write for them a narrative which might stand as a model letter writer from which country readers should know the right tone, his early practice stood him in good stead. Using the epistolary form into which he was to throw all his fiction, he produced "Pamela," the first novel of analysis, in contrast with the tale of adventure, of the English tongue. It is worth remarking that Richardson wrote this story at an age when many novelists have well-nigh completed their work; even as Defoe published his masterpiece, "Robinson Crusoe," at fifty-eight. But such forms as drama and fiction are the very ones where ripe maturity, a long and varied experience with the world and a trained hand in the technique of the craft, go for their full value. A study of the chronology of novel-making will show that more acknowledged masterpieces were written after forty than before. Beside the eighteenth century examples one places George Eliot, who wrote no fiction until she had nearly reached the alleged dead-line of mental activity: Browning with his greatest poem, "The Ring and the Book," published in his forty-eighth year; Du Maurier turning to fiction at sixty, and De Morgan still later. Fame came to Richardson then late in life, and never man enjoyed it more. Ladies with literary leanings (and the kind is independent of periods) used to drop into his place beyond Temple Bar—for he was a bookseller as well as printer, and printed and sold his own wares—to finger his volumes and have a chat about poor Pamela or the naughty Lovelace or impeccable Grandison. For how, in sooth, could they keep away or avoid talking shop when they were bursting with the books just read?
And much, too, did Richardson enjoy the prosperity his stories, as well as other ventures, brought him, so that he might move out Hammersmith way where William Mortis and Cobden Sanderson have lived in our day, and have a fine house wherein to receive those same lady callers, who came in increasing flocks to his impromptu court where sat the prim, cherub-faced, elderly little printer. It is all very quaint, like a Watteau painting or a bit of Dresden china, as we look back upon it through the time-mists of a century and a half.
In spite of its slow movement, the monotony of the letter form and the terribly utilitarian nature of its morals, "Pamela" has the essentials of interesting fiction; its heroine is placed in a plausible situation, she is herself life-like and her struggles are narrated with a sympathetic insight into the human heart—or better, the female heart. The gist of a plot so simple can be stated in few words: Mr. B., the son of a lady who has benefited Pamela Andrews, a serving maid, tries to conquer her virtue while she resists all his attempts—including an abduction, Richardson's favorite device—and as a reward of her chastity, he condescends to marry her, to her very great gratitude and delight. The English Novel started out with a flourish of trumpets as to its moral purpose; latter-day criticism may take sides for or against the novel-with-a-purpose, but that Richardson justified his fiction writing upon moral grounds and upon those alone is shown in the descriptive title-page of the tale, too prolix to be often recalled and a good sample in its long-windedness of the past compared with the terse brevity of the present in this matter: "Published in order to cultivate the principles of virtue and religion in the mind of youth of both sexes"; the author of "Sanford and Merton" has here his literary progenitor. The sub-title, "or Virtue Rewarded," also indicates the homiletic nature of the book. And since the one valid criticism against all didactic aims in story-telling is that it is dull, Richardson, it will be appreciated, ran a mighty risk. But this he was able to escape because of the genuine human interest of his tales and the skill he displayed with psychologic analysis rather than the march of events. The close-knit, organic development of the best of our modern fiction is lacking; leisurely and lax seems the movement. Modern editions of "Pamela" and "Clarissa Harlowe" are in the way of vigorous cutting for purposes of condensation. Scott seems swift and brief when set beside Richardson Yet the slow convolutions and involutions serve to acquaint us intimately with the characters; dwelling with them longer, we come to know them better.
It is a fault in the construction of the story that instead of making Pamela's successful marriage the natural climax and close of the work, the author effects it long before the novel is finished and then tries to hold the interest by telling of the honeymoon trip in Italy, her cool reception by her husband's family, involving various subterfuges and difficulties, and the gradual moral reform she was able to bring about in her spouse. It must be conceded to him that some capital scenes are the result of this post-hymeneal treatment; that, to illustrate, where the haughty sister of Pamela's husband calls on the woman she believes to be her husband's mistress. Yet there is an effect of anti-climax; the main excitement—getting Pamela honestly wedded—is over. But we must not forget the moral purpose: Mr. B.'s spiritual regeneration has to be portrayed before our very eyes, he must be changed from a rake into a model husband; and with Richardson, that means plenty of elbow-room. There is, too, something prophetic in this giving of ample space to post-marital life; it paves the way for much latter-day probing of the marriage misery.
The picture of Mr. B. and Pamela's attitude towards him is full of irony for the modern reader; here is a man who does all in his power to ruin her and, finding her adamant, at last decides to do the next best thing—secure her by marriage. And instead of valuing him accordingly, Pamela, with a kind of spaniel-like fawning, accepts his august hand. It must be confessed that with Pamela (that is, with Richardson), virtue is a market commodity for sale to the highest bidder, and this scene of barter and sale is an all-unconscious revelation of the low standard of sex ethics which obtained at the time. The suggestion by Sidney Lanier that the sub-title should be: "or Vice Rewarded," "since the rascal Mr. B. it is who gets the prize rather than Pamela," has its pertinency from our later and more enlightened view. But such was the eighteenth century. The exposure of an earlier time is one of the benefits of literature, always a sort of ethical barometer of an age—all the more trustworthy in reporting spiritual ideals because it has no intention of doing so.
That Richardson succeeds in making Mr. B. tolerable, not to say likable, is a proof of his power; that the reader really grows fond of his heroine—especially perhaps in her daughterly devotion to her humble family—speaks volumes for his grasp of human nature and helps us to understand the effect of the story upon contemporaneous readers. That effect was indeed remarkable. Lady Mary, to quote her again, testifies that the book "met with very extraordinary (and I think undeserved) success. It has been translated into French and Italian; it was all the fashion at Paris and Versailles and is still the joy of the chambermaids of all nations." Again she writes, "it has been translated into more languages than any modern performances I ever heard of." A French dramatic version of it under the same title appeared three years after the publication of the novel and a little later Voltaire in his "Nanine" used the same motif. Lady Mary's reference to chambermaids is significant; it points to the new sympathy on the part of the novelist and the consequent new audience which the modern Novel was to command; literally, all classes and conditions of mankind were to become its patrons; and as one result, the author, gaining his hundreds of thousands of readers, was to free himself forever of the aristocratic Patron, at whose door once on a time, he very humbly and hungrily knelt for favor. To-day, the Patron is hydra-headed; demos rules in literature as in life.
The sentimentality of this pioneer novel which now seems old-fashioned and even absurd, expressed Queen Anne's day. "Sensibility," as it was called, was a favorite idea in letters, much affected, and later a kind of cult. A generation after Pamela, in Mackenzie's "Man of Feeling," weeping is unrestrained in English fiction; the hero of that lachrymose tale incurred all the dangers of influenza because of his inveterate tendency toward damp emotional effects; he was perpetually dissolving in "showers of tears." In fact, our novelists down to the memory of living man gave way to their feelings with far more abandon than is true of the present repressive period. One who reads Dickens' "Nicholas Nickleby" with this in mind, will perhaps be surprised to find how often the hero frankly indulges his grief; he cries with a freedom that suggests a trait inherited from his mother of moist memory. No doubt, there was abuse of this "sensibility" in earlier fiction: but Richardson was comparatively innocuous in his practice, and Coleridge, having the whole sentimental tendency in view, seems rather too severe when he declared that "all the evil achieved by Hobbes and the whole school of materialists will appear inconsiderable if it be compared with the mischief effected and occasioned by the sentimental philosophy of Sterne and his numerous imitators." The same tendency had its vogue on both the English and French stage—the Comedie larmoyante of the latter being vastly affected in London and receiving in the next generation the good-natured satiric shafts of Goldsmith. It may be possible that at the present time, when the stoicism of the Red Indian in inhibiting expression seems to be an Anglo-Saxon ideal, we have reacted too far from the gush and the fervor of our forefathers. In any case, to Richardson belongs whatever of merit there may be in first sounding the new sentimental note.
Pope declared that "Pamela," was as good as twenty sermons—an innocently malignant remark, to be sure, which cuts both ways! And plump, placid Mr. Richardson established warm epistolary relations with many excellent if too emotional ladies, who opened a correspondence with him concerning the conductment of this and the following novels and strove to deflect the course thereof to soothe their lacerated feelings. What novelist to-day would not appreciate an audience that would take him au grand serieux in this fashion! What higher compliment than for your correspondent—and a lady at that—to state that in the way of ministering to her personal comfort, Pamela must marry and Clarissa must not die! Richardson carried on a voluminous letter-writing in life even as in literature, and the curled darlings of latter-day letters may well look to their laurels in recalling him, A certain Mme. Belfair, for example, desires to look upon the author of those wonderful tales, yet modestly shrinks from being seen herself. She therefore implores that he will walk at an hour named in St. James Park—and this is the novelist's reply:
I go through the Park once or twice a week to my little retirement; but I will for a week together be in it, every day three or four hours, till you tell me you have seen a person who answers to this description, namely, short—rather plump—fair wig, lightish cloth coat, all black besides; one hand generally in his bosom, the other a cane in it, which he leans upon under the skirts of his coat; ... looking directly fore-right as passers-by would imagine, but observing all that stirs on either hand of him; hardly ever turning back; of a light brown complexion, smoothish faced and ruddy cheeked, looking about sixty-five; a regular, even pace, a gray eye, sometimes lively—very lively if he have hope of seeing a lady whom he loves and honors!
Such innocent philandering is delicious; there is a flavor to it that presages the "Personals" in a New York newspaper. "Was ever lady in such humor wooed?" or shall we say it is the novelist, not the lady, who is besieged!
"Pamela" ran through five editions within a year of its appearance, which was a conspicuous success in the days of an audience so limited when compared with the vast reading public of later times. The smug little bookseller must have been greatly pleased by the good fortune attending his first venture into a new field, especially since he essayed it so late in life and almost by accident. His motive had been in a sense practical; for his publishers had requested him to write a book "on the useful concerns of life"—and that he had done so, he might have learned any Sunday in church, for divines did not hesitate to say a kind word from the pulpit about so unexceptionable a work.
One of the things Richardson had triumphantly demonstrated by his first story was that a very slight texture of plot can suffice for a long, not to say too long, piece of fiction, if only a free hand be given the story-teller in the way of depicting the intuitions and emotions of human beings; dealing with their mind states rather than, or quite as much as, their actions. This was the modern note, and very speedily was the lesson learned; the time was apt for it. From 1742, the date of "Pamela," to 1765 is but a quarter century; yet within those narrow time-limits the English Novel, through the labors of Richardson and Fielding, Smollett, Sterne and Goldsmith, can be said to have had its birth and growth to a lusty manhood and to have defined once and for all the mold of this new and potent form of prose art. By 1773 a critic speaks of the "novel-writing age"; and a dozen years later, in 1785, novels are so common that we hear of the press "groaning beneath their weight,"—which sounds like the twentieth century. And it was all started by the little printer; to him the praise. He received it in full measure; here and there, of course, a dissident voice was heard, one, that of Fielding, to be very vocal later; but mostly they were drowned in the chorus of adulation. Richardson had done a new thing and reaped an immediate reward; and—as seldom happens, with quick recognition—it was to be a permanent reward as well, for he changed the history of English literature.
One would have expected him to produce another novel post-haste, following up his maiden victory before it could be forgotten, after the modern manner. But those were leisured days and it was half a dozen years before "Clarissa Harlowe" was given to the public. Richardson had begun by taking a heroine out of low life; he now drew one from genteel middle class life; as he was in "Sir Charles Grandison," the third and last of his fictions, to depict a hero in the upper class life of England. In Clarissa again, plot was secondary, analysis, sentiment, the exhibition of the female heart under stress of sorrow, this was everything. Clarissa's hand is sought by an unattractive suitor; she rebels—a social crime in the eighteenth century; whereat, her whole family turn against her—father, mother, sister, brothers, uncles and aunts—and, wooed by Lovelace, a dashing rake who is in love with her according to his lights, but by no means intends honorable matrimony, she flies with him in a chariot and four, to find herself in a most anomalous position, and so dies broken-hearted; to be followed in her fate by Lovelace, who is represented as a man whose loose principles are in conflict with a nature which is far from being utterly bad. The narrative is mainly developed through letters exchanged between Clarissa and her friend, Miss Howe. There can hardly be a more striking testimony to the leisure enjoyed by the eighteenth-century than that society was not bored by a story the length of which seems almost interminable to the reader to-day. The slow movement is sufficient to preclude its present prosperity. It is safe to say that Richardson is but little read now; read much less than his great contemporary, Fielding. And apparently it is his bulk rather than his want of human interest or his antiquated manner that explains the fact. The instinct to-day is against fiction that is slow and tortuous in its onward course; at least so it seemed until Mr. De Morgan returned in his delightful volumes to the method of the past. Those are pertinent words of the distinguished Spanish novelist, Valdes: "An author who wishes to be read not only in his life, but after his death (and the author who does not wish this should lay aside his pen), cannot shut his eyes, when unblinded by vanity, to the fact that not only is it necessary to be interesting to save himself from oblivion, but the story must not be a very long one. The world contains so many great and beautiful works that it requires a long life to read them all. To ask the public, always anxious for novelty, to read a production of inordinate length, when so many others are demanding attention, seems to me useless and ridiculous, ... The most noteworthy instance of what I say is seen in the celebrated English novelist, Richardson, who, in spite of his admirable genius and exquisite sensibility and perspicuity, added to the fact of his being the father of the modern Novel, is scarcely read nowadays, at least in Latin countries. Given the indisputable beauties of his works, this can only be due to their extreme length. And the proof of this, that in France and Spain, to encourage the taste for them, the most interesting parts have been extracted and published in editions and compendiums."
This is suggestive, coming from one who speaks by the book. Who, in truth, reads epics now—save in the enforced study of school and college? Will not Browning's larger works—like "The Ring and the Book"—suffer disastrously with the passing of time because of a lack of continence, of a failure to realize that since life is short, art should not be too long? It may be, too, that Richardson, newly handling the sentiment which during the following generation was to become such a marked trait of imaginative letters, revelled in it to an extent unpalatable to our taste; "rubbing our noses," as Leslie Stephen puts it, "in all her (Clarissa's) agony,"—the tendency to overdo a new thing, not to be resisted in his case. But with all concessions to length and sentimentality, criticism from that day to this has been at one in agreeing that here is not only Richardson's best book but a truly great Novel. Certainly one who patiently submits to a ruminant reading of the story, will find that when at last the long-deferred climax is reached and the awed and penitent Lovelace describes the death-bed moments of the girl he has ruined, the scene has a great moving power. Allowing for differences of taste and time, the vogue of the Novel in Richardson's day can easily be understood, and through all the stiffness, the stilted effect of manner and speech, and the stifling conventions of the entourage, a sweet and charming young woman in very piteous distress emerges to live in affectionate memory. After all, no poor ideal of womanhood is pictured in Clarissa. She is one of the heroines who are unforgettable, dear. Mr. Howells, with his stern insistence on truth in characterization, declares that she is "as freshly modern as any girl of yesterday or to-morrow. 'Clarissa Harlowe,' in spite of her eighteenth century costume and keeping, remains a masterpiece in the portraiture of that ever-womanly which is of all times and places."
Lovelace, too, whose name has become a synonym for the fine gentleman betrayer, is drawn in a way to make him sympathetic and creditable; he is far from being a stock figure of villainy. And the minor figures are often enjoyable; the friendship of Clarissa with Miss Howe, a young woman of excellent good sense and seemingly quite devoid of the ultra-sentiment of her time, preludes that between Diana and her "Tony" in Meredith's great novel. As a general picture of the society of the period, the book is full of illuminations and sidelights; of course, the whole action is set on a stage that bespeaks Richardson's narrow, middle class morality, his worship of rank, his belief that worldly goods are the reward of well-doing.
As for the contemporaneous public, it wept and praised and went with fevered blood because of this fiction. We have heard how women of sentiment in London town welcomed the book and the opportunity it offered for unrestrained tears. But it was the same abroad; as Ike Marvel has it, Rousseau and Diderot over in France, philosophers as they professed to be, "blubbered their admiring thanks for 'Clarissa Harlowe."' Similarly, at a later day we find caustic critics like Jeffrey and Macaulay writing to Dickens to tell how they had cried over the death of Little Nell—a scene the critical to-day are likely to stigmatize as one of the few examples of pathos overdone to be found in the works of that master. It is scarcely too much to say that the outcome of no novel in the English tongue was watched with such bated breath as was that of "Clarissa Harlowe" while the eight successive books were being issued.
Richardson chose to bask for another half dozen years in the fame of his second novel, before turning in 1754 to his final attempt, "Sir Charles Grandison," wherein it was his purpose to depict the perfect pattern of a gentleman, "armed at all points" of social and moral behavior. We must bear in mind that when "Clarissa" was published he was sixty years of age and to be pardoned if he did not emulate so many novel-makers of these brisker mercantile times and turn off a story or so a year.
By common confession, this is the poorest of his three fictions. In the first place, we are asked to move more steadily in the aristocratic atmosphere where the novelist did not breathe to best advantage. Again, Richardson was an adept in drawing women rather than men and hence was self-doomed in electing a masculine protagonist. He is also off his proper ground in laying part of the action in Italy.
His beau ideal, Grandison, turns out the most impossible prig in English literature. He is as insufferable as that later prig, Meredith's Sir Willoughby in "The Egotist," with the difference that the author does not know it, and that you do not believe in him for a moment; whereas Meredith's creation is appallingly true, a sort of simulacrum of us all. The best of the story is in its portrayal of womankind; in particular, Sir Charles' two loves, the English Harriet Byron and the Italian Clementina, the last of whom is enamored of him, but separated by religious differences. Both are alive and though suffering in the reader's estimation because of their devotion to such a stick as Grandison, nevertheless touch our interest to the quick. The scene in which Grandison returns to Italy to see Clementina, whose reason, it is feared, is threatened because of her grief over his loss, is genuinely effective and affecting.
The mellifluous sentimentality, too, of the novelist seems to come to a climax in this book; justifying Taine's satiric remark that "these phrases should be accompanied by a mandolin." The moral tag is infallibly supplied, as in all Richardson's tales—though perhaps here with an effect of crescendo. We are still long years from that conception of art which holds that a beautiful thing may be allowed to speak for itself and need not be moraled down our throats like a physician's prescription. Yet Fielding had already, as we shall see, struck a wholesome note of satiric fun. The plot is slight and centers in an abduction which, by the time it is used in the third novel, begins to pall as a device and to suggest paucity of invention. The novel has the prime merit of brevity; it is much shorter than "Clarissa Harlowe," but long enough, in all conscience, Harriet being blessed with the gift of gab, like all Richardson's heroines. "She follows the maxim of Clarissa," says Lady Mary with telling humor, "of declaring all she thinks to all the people she sees without reflecting that in this mortal state of imperfection, fig-leaves are as necessary for our minds as our bodies." It is significant that this brilliant contemporary is very hard on Richardson's characterization of women in this volume (which she says "sinks horribly"), whereas never a word has she to say in condemnation of the hero, who to the present critical eye seems the biggest blot on the performance. How can we join the chorus of praise led by Harriet, now her ladyship and his loving spouse, when it chants: "But could he be otherwise than the best of husbands who was the most dutiful of sons, who is the most affectionate of brothers, the most faithful of friends, who is good upon principle in every relation in life?" Lady Mary is also extremely severe on the novelist's attempt to paint Italy; when he talks of it, says she, "it is plain he is no better acquainted with it than he is with the Kingdom of Mancomingo." It is probable tat Richardson could not say more for his Italian knowledge than did old Roger Ascham of Archery fame, when he declared: "I was once in Italy, but I thank God my stay there was only nine days." "Sir Charles Grandison" has also the substantial advantage of ending well: that is, if to marry Sir Charles can be so regarded, and certainly Harriet deemed it desirable.
It is pleasant to think of Richardson, now well into the sixties, amiable, plump and prosperous, surrounded for the remainder of his days—he was to die seven years later at the ripe age of seventy-five—by a bevy of admiring women, who, whether literary or merely human, gave this particular author that warm and convincing proof of popularity which, to most, is worth a good deal of chilly posthumous fame which a man is not there to enjoy. Looking at his work retrospectively, one sees that it must always have authority, even if it fall deadly dull upon our ears to-day; for nothing can take away from him the distinction of originating that kind of fiction which, now well along towards its second century of existence, is still popular and powerful. Richardson had no model; he shaped a form for himself. Fielding, a greater genius, threw his fiction into a mold cast by earlier writers; moreover, he received his direct impulse away from the drama and towards the novel from Richardson himself.
The author of "Pamela" demonstrated once and for all the interest that lies in a sympathetic and truthful representation of character in contrast with that interest in incident for its own sake which means the subordination of character, so that the persons become mere subsidiary counters in the game. And he exhibited such a knowledge of the subtler phases of the nooks and crannies of woman's heart, as to be hailed as past-master down to the present day by a whole school of analysts and psychologues; for may it not be said that it is the popular distinction of the nineteenth century fiction to place woman in the pivotal position in that social complex which it is the business of the Novel to represent? Do not our fiction and drama to-day—the drama a belated ally of the Novel in this and other regards—find in the delineation of the eternal feminine under new conditions of our time, its chief, its most significant motif? If so, a special gratitude is due the placid little Mr. Richardson with his Pamelas, Clarissas and Harriets. He found fiction unwritten so far as the chronicles of contemporary society were concerned, and left it in such shape that it was recognized as the natural quarry of all who would paint manners; a field to be worked by Jane Austen, Dickens and Thackeray, Trollope and George Eliot, and a modern army of latter and lesser students of life. His faults were in part merely a reflection of his time; its low-pitched morality, its etiquette which often seems so absurd. Partly it was his own, too; for he utterly lacked humor (save where unconscious) and never grasped the great truth, that in literary art the half is often more than the whole; The Terentian ne quid nimis had evidently not been taken to heart by Samuel Richardson, Esquire, of Hammersmith, author of "Clarissa Harlowe" in eight volumes, and Printer to the Queen. Again and again one of Clarissa's bursts of emotion under the tantalizing treatment of her seducer loses its effect because another burst succeeds before we (and she) have recovered from the first one. He strives to give us the broken rhythm of life (therein showing his affinity with the latter day realists) instead of that higher and harder thing—the more perfect rhythm of art; not so much the truth (which cannot be literally given) as that seeming-true which is the aim and object of the artistic representation. Hence the necessity of what Brunetiere calls in an admirable phrase, the true function of the novel—"to be an abridged representation of life." Construction in the modern sense Richardson had not studied, naturally enough, and was innocent of the fineness of method and the sure-handed touches of later technique. And there is a kind of drawing-room atmosphere in his books, a lack of ozone which makes Fielding with all his open-air coarseness a relief. But judged in the setting of his time, this writer did a wonderful thing not only as the Father of the Modern Novel but one of the few authors in the whole range of fiction who holds his conspicuous place amid shifting literary modes and fashions, because he built upon the surest of all foundations—the social instinct, and the human heart.
If the use of the realistic method alone denoted the Novel, Defoe, not Richardson, might be called its begetter. "Robinson Crusoe," more than twenty years before "Pamela," would occupy the primate position, to say nothing of Swift's "Gulliver's Travels," antedating Richardson's first story by some fifteen years. Certainly the observational method, the love of detail, the grave narrative of imagined fact (if the bull be permitted) are in this earlier book in full force. But "Robinson Crusoe" is not a rival because it does not study man-in-society; never was a story that depended less upon this kind of interest. The position of Crusoe on his desert isle is so eminently unsocial that he welcomes the black man Friday and quivers at the human quality in the famed footprints in the sand. As for Swift's chef d'oeuvre, it is a fairy-tale with a grimly realistic manner and a savage satiric intention. To speak of either of these fictions as novels is an example of the prevalent careless nomenclature. Between them and "Pamela" there yawns a chasm. Moreover, "Crusoe" is a frankly picaresque tale belonging to the elder line of romantic fiction, where incident and action and all the thrilling haps of Adventure-land furnish the basis of appeal rather than character analysis or a study of social relations. The personality of Crusoe is not advanced a whit by his wonderful experiences; he is done entirely from the outside.
Richardson, therefore, marks the beginning of the modern form. But that the objection to Defoe as the true and only begetter of the Novel lies in his failure, in his greatest story, to center the interest in man as part of the social order and as human soul, is shown by the fact that his less known, but remarkable, story "Moll Flanders," picaresque as it is and depicting the life of a female criminal, has yet considerable character study and gets no small part of its appeal for a present-day reader from the minute description of the fall and final reform of the degenerate woman. It is comparatively crude in characterization, but psychological value is not entirely lacking. However, with Richardson it is almost all. It was of the nature of his genius to make psychology paramount: just there is found his modernity. Defoe and Swift may be said to have added some slight interest in analysis pointing towards the psychologic method, which was to find full expression in Samuel Richardson.
EIGHTEENTH CENTURY BEGINNINGS: FIELDING
It is interesting to ask if Henry Fielding, barrister, journalist, tinker of plays and man-about-town, would ever have turned novelist, had it not been for Richardson, his predecessor. So slight, so seemingly accidental, are the incidents which make or mar careers and change the course of literary history. Certain it is that the immediate cause of Fielding's first story was the effect upon him of the fortunes of the virtuous Pamela. A satirist and humorist where Richardson was a somewhat solemn sentimentalist, Fielding was quick to see the weakness, and—more important,—the opportunity for caricature, in such a tale, whose folk harangued about morality and whose avowed motive was a kind of hard-surfaced, carefully calculated honor, for sale to the highest bidder. It was easy to recognize that Pamela was not only good but goody-goody. So Fielding, being thirty-five years of age and of uncertain income—he had before he was thirty squandered his mother's estate,—turned himself, two years after "Pamela" had appeared, to a new field and concocted the story known to the world of letters as: "The Adventures of Joseph Andrews and His Friend Abraham Adams."
This Joseph purports to be the brother of Pamela (though the denouement reveals him as more gently born) and is as virtuous in his character of serving-man as the sister herself; indeed, he outvirtues her. Fielding waggishly exhibits him in the full exercise of a highly-starched decorum rebuffing the amatory attempts of sundry ladies whose assault upon the citadel of his honor is analogous to that of Mr. B.,—who naturally becomes Squire Booby in Fielding's hands—upon the long suffering Pamela. Thus, Lady Booby, in whose employ Joseph is footman, after an invitation to him to kiss her which has been gently but firmly refused, bursts out with: "Can a boy, a stripling, have the confidence to talk of his virtue?"
"Madam," says Joseph, "that boy is the brother of Pamela and would be ashamed that the chastity of his family, which is preserved in her, should be stained in him."
The chance for fun is palpable here. But something unexpected happened: what was begun as burlesque, almost horse-play, began to pass from the key of shallow, lively satire, broadening and deepening into a finer tone of truth. In a few chapters, by the time the writer had got such an inimitable personage as Parson Adams before the reader, it was seen that the book was to be more than a jeu d'esprit: rather, the work of a master of characterization. In short, Joseph Andrews started out ostensibly to poke good-natured ridicule at sentimental Mr. Richardson: it ended by furnishing contemporary London and all subsequent readers with a notable example of the novel of mingled character and incident, entertaining alike for its lively episodes and its broadly genial delineation of types of the time. And so he soon had the town laughing with him at his broad comedy.
In every respect Fielding made a sharp contrast with Richardson. He was gentle-born, distinguished and fashionable in his connections: the son of younger sons, impecunious, generous, of strong often unregulated passions,—what the world calls a good fellow, a man's man—albeit his affairs with the fair sex were numerous. He knew high society when he choose to depict it: his education compared with Richardson's was liberal and he based his style of fiction upon models which the past supplied, whereas Richardson had no models, blazed his own trail. Fielding's literary ancestry looks back to "Gil Blas" and "Don Quixote," and in English to "Robinson Crusoe." In other words, his type, however much he departs from it, is the picturesque story of adventure. He announced, in fact, on his title-page that he wrote "in imitation of the manner of Cervantes."
Again, his was a genius for comedy, where Richardson, as we have seen, was a psychologist. The cleansing effect of wholesome laughter and an outdoor gust of hale west wind is offered by him, and with it go the rude, coarse things to be found in Nature who is nevertheless in her influence so salutary, so necessary, in truth, to our intellectual and moral health. Here then was a sort of fiction at many removes from the slow, analytic studies of Richardson: buoyant, objective, giving far more play to action and incident, uniting in most agreeable proportions the twin interests of character and event. The very title of this first book is significant. We are invited to be present at a delineation of two men,—but these men are displayed in a series of adventures. Unquestionably, the psychology is simpler, cruder, more elementary than that of Richardson. Dr. Johnson, who much preferred the author of "Pamela" to the author of "Tom Jones" and said so in the hammer-and-tongs style for which he is famous, declared to Bozzy that "there is all the difference in the world between characters of nature and characters of manners: and there is the difference between the characters of Fielding and those of Richardson. Characters of manners are very entertaining; but they are to be understood by a more superficial observer than characters of nature, where a man must dive into the recesses of the human heart."
And although we may share Boswell's feeling that Johnson estimated the compositions of Richardson too highly and that he had an unreasonable prejudice against Fielding—since he was a man of magnificent biases—yet we may grant that the critic-god made a sound distinction here, that Fielding's method is inevitably more external and shallow than that of an analyst proper like Richardson; no doubt to the great joy of many weary folk who go to novels for the rest and refreshment they give, rather than for their thought-evoking value.
The contrast between these novelists is maintained, too, in the matter of style: Fielding walks with the easy undress of a gentleman: Richardson sits somewhat stiff and pragmatical, carefully arrayed in full-bottomed wig, and knee breeches, delivering a lecture from his garden chair. Fielding is a master of that colloquial manner afterwards handled with such success by Thackeray: a manner "good alike for grave or gay," and making this early fiction-maker enjoyable. Quite apart from our relish of his vivid portrayals of life, we like his wayside chatting. For another difference: there is no moral motto or announcement: the lesson takes care of itself. What unity there is of construction, is found in the fact that certain characters, more or less related, are seen to walk centrally through the narrative: there is little or no plot development in the modern sense and the method (the method of the type) is frankly episodic.
In view of what the Novel was to become in the nineteenth century, Richardson's way was more modern, and did more to set a seal upon fiction than Fielding's: the Novel to-day is first of all psychologic and serious. And the assertion is safe that all the later development derives from these two kinds written by the two greatest of the eighteenth century pioneers, Richardson and Fielding: on the one hand, character study as a motive, on the other the portrayal of personality surrounded by the external factors of life. The wise combination of the two, gives us that tangle of motive, act and circumstance which makes up human existence.
With regard to the morals of the story, a word may here be said, having all Fielding's fiction in mind. Of the suggestive prurience of much modern novelism, whether French or French-derived, he, Fielding, is quite free: he deals with the sensual relations with a frank acknowledgment of their physical basis. The truth is, the eighteenth century, whether in England or elsewhere, was on a lower plane in this respect than our own time. Fielding, therefore, while he does no affront to essential decency, does offend our taste, our refinement, in dealing with this aspect of life. We have in a true sense become more civilized since 1750: the ape and tiger of Tennyson's poem have receded somewhat in human nature during the last century and a half. The plea that since Fielding was a realist depicting society as it was in his day, his license is legitimate, whereas Richardson was giving a sort of sentimentalized stained-glass picture of it not as it was but, in his opinion, should be,—is a specious one; it is well that in literature, faithful reflector of the ideals of the race, the beast should be allowed to die (as Mr. Howells, himself a staunch realist, has said), simply because it is slowly dying in life itself. Fielding's novels in unexpurgated form are not for household reading to-day: the fact may not be a reflection upon him, but it is surely one to congratulate ourselves upon, since it testifies to social evolution. However, for those whose experience of life is sufficiently broad and tolerant, these novels hold no harm: there is a tonic quality to them.—Even bowdlerization is not to be despised with such an author, when it makes him suitable for the hands of those who otherwise might receive injury from the contact. The critic-sneer at such an idea forgets that good art comes out of sound morality as well as out of sound esthetics. It is pleasant to hear a critic of such standing as Brunetiere in his "L'Art et Morale" speak with spiritual clarity upon this subject, so often turned aside with the shrug of impatient scorn.
The episodic character of the story was to be the manner of Fielding in all his fiction. There are detached bits of narrative, stories within stories—witness that dealing with the high comedy figures of Leonora and Bellamine—and the novelist does not bother his head if only he can get his main characters in motion,—on the road, in a tavern or kitchen brawl, astride a horse for a cross-country dash after the hounds. Charles Dickens, whose models were of the eighteenth century, made similar use of the episode in his early work, as readers of "Pickwick" may see for themselves.
The first novel was received with acclaim and stirred up a pretty literary quarrel, for Richardson and his admiring clique would have been more than human had they not taken umbrage at so obvious a satire. Recriminations were hot and many.
Mr. Andrew Lang should give us in a dialogue between dead authors, a meeting in Hades between the two; it would be worth any climatic risk to be present and hear what was said; Lady Mary, who may once more be put on the witness-stand, tells how, being in residence in Italy, and a box of light literature from England having arrived at ten o'clock of the night, she could not but open it and "falling upon Fielding's works, was fool enough to sit up all night reading. I think "Joseph Andrews" better than his Foundling"—the reference being, of course, to "Tom Jones"; a judgment not jumping with that of posterity, which has declared the other to be his masterpiece; yet not an opinion to be despised, coming from one of the keenest intellects of the time. Lady Mary, whose cousin Fielding was, had a clear eye alike for his literary merits and personal foibles and faults, but heartily liked him and acted as his literary mentor in his earlier days; his maiden play was dedicated to her and her interest in him was more than passing.
The Bohemian barrister and literary hack who had made a love-match half a dozen years before and now had a wife and several children to care for, must have been vastly encouraged by the favorable reception of his first essay into fiction; at last, he had found the kind of literature congenial to his talents and likely to secure suitable renown: his metier as an artist of letters was discovered, as we might now choose to express it; he would hardly have taken himself so seriously. It was natural that he should publish the next year a three volume collection of his miscellany, which contained his second novel, "Mr. Jonathan Wild The Great," distinctly the least liked of his four stories, because of its bitter irony, its almost savage tone, the gloom which surrounds the theme, a powerful, full-length portrayal of a famous thief-taker of the period, from his birth to his bad end on a Newgate gallows. Mr. Wild is a sort of foreglimpse of the Sherlock Holmes-Raffles of our own day.
Fielding's wife died this year and it may be that sorrow for her fatal illness was the subjective cause of the tone of this gruesomely attractive piece of fiction; but there is some reason for believing it to be an earlier work than "Joseph Andrews"; it belongs to a more primitive type of story-making, because of its sensational features: its dependence for interest upon the seamy side of aspects of life exhibited like magic lantern slides with little connection, but spectacular effects. The satire of the book is directed at that immoral confusion between greatness and goodness, the rascally Jonathan being pictured in grave mock-heroics as in every way worthy—and the sardonic force at times almost suggests the pen of Dean Swift.
But such work was but a prelude to what was to follow. When the world thinks of Henry Fielding it thinks of "Tom Jones," it is almost as if he had written naught else. "The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling" appeared six years after "Jonathan Wild," the intermediate time (aside from the novel itself) being consumed in editing journals and officiating as a Justice of the Peace: the last a role it is a little difficult, in the theater phrase, to see him in. He was two and forty when the book was published: but as he had been at work upon it for a long while (he speaks of the thousands of hours he had been toiling over it), it may be ascribed to that period of a man's growth when he is passing intellectually from youth to early maturity; everything considered, perhaps the best productive period. His health had already begun to break: and he was by no means free of the harassments of debt. Although successful in his former attempt at fiction, novel writing was but an aside with him, after all; he had not during the previous six years given regular time and attention to literary composition, as a modern story-maker would have done under the stimulus of like encouragement. The eighteenth century audience, it must be borne in mind, was not large enough nor sufficiently eager for an attractive new form of literature, to justify a man of many trades like Fielding in devoting his days steadily to the writing of fiction. There is to the last an effect of the gifted amateur about him; Taine tells the anecdote of his refusal to trouble himself to change a scene in one of his plays, which Garrick begged him to do: "Let them find it out," he said, referring to the audience. And when the scene was hissed, he said to the disconsolate player: "I did not: give them credit for it: they have found it out, have they?" In other words, he was knowing to his own poor art, content if only it escaped the public eye. This is some removes from the agonizing over a phrase of a Flaubert.
Like the preceding story, "Tom Jones" has its center of plot in a life history of the foundling who grows into a young manhood that is full of high spirits and escapades: likable always, even if, judged by the straight-laced standards of Richardson, one may not approve. Jones loves Sophia Western, daughter of a typical three-bottle, hunting squire: of course he prefers the little cad Blifil, with his money and position, where poor Tom has neither: equally of course Sophia (whom the reader heartily likes, in spite of her name) prefers the handsome Jones with his blooming complexion and many amatory adventures. And, since we are in the simple-minded days of fiction when it was the business of the sensible novelist to make us happy at the close, the low-born lover, assisted by Squire Allworthy, who is a deus ex machina a trifle too good for human nature's daily food, gets his girl (in imitation of Joseph Andrews) and is shown to be close kin to Allworthy—tra-la-la, tra-la-lee, it is all charmingly simple and easy! The beginners of the English novel had only a few little tricks in their box in the way of incident and are for the most part innocent of plot in the Wilkie Collins sense of the word. The opinion of Coleridge that the "Oedipus Tyrannus," "The Alchemist" and "Tom Jones" are "the three most perfect plots ever planned" is a curious comment upon his conception of fiction, since few stories have been more plotless than Fielding's best book. The fact is, biographical fiction like this is to be judged by itself, it has its own laws of technique.
The glory of "Tom Jones" is in its episodes, its crowded canvas, the unfailing verve and variety of its action: in the fine open-air atmosphere of the scenes, the sense of the stir of life they convey: most of all, in an indescribable manliness or humanness which bespeaks the true comic force—something of that same comic view that one detects in Shakspere and Moliere and Cervantes. It means an open-eyed acceptance of life, a realization of its seriousness yet with the will to take it with a smile: a large tolerancy which forbids the view conventional or parochial or aristocratic—in brief, the view limited. There is this in the book, along with much psychology so superficial as to seem childish, and much interpretation that makes us feel that the higher possibilities of men and women are not as yet even dreamed of. In this novel, Fielding makes fuller use than he had before of the essay link: the chapters introductory to the successive books,—and in them, a born essayist, as your master of style is pretty sure to be, he discourses in the wisest and wittiest way on topics literary, philosophical or social, having naught to do with the story in hand, it may be, but highly welcome for its own sake. This manner of pausing by the way for general talk about the world in terms of Me has been used since by Thackeray, with delightful results: but has now become old-fashioned, because we conceive it to be the novelist's business to stick close to his story and not obtrude his personality at all. Thackeray displeases a critic like Mr. James by his postscript harangues about himself as Showman, putting his puppets into the box and shutting up his booth: fiction is too serious a matter to be treated so lightly by its makers—to say nothing of the audience: it is more, much more than mere fooling and show-business. But to go back to the eighteenth century is to realize that the novel is being newly shaped, that neither novelist nor novel-reader is yet awake to the higher conception of the genre. So we wax lenient and are glad enough to get these resting-places of chat and charm from Fielding: it may not be war, but it is nevertheless magnificent.
Fielding in this fiction is remarkable for his keen observation of every-day life and character, the average existence in town and country of mankind high and low: he is a truthful reporter, the verisimilitude of the picture is part of its attraction. It is not too much to say that, pictorially, he is the first great English realist of the Novel. For broad comedy presentation he is unsurpassed: as well as for satiric gravity of comment and illustration. It may be questioned, however, whether when he strives to depict the deeper phases of human relations he is so much at home or anything like so happy. There is no more critical test of a novelist than his handling of the love passion. Fielding essays in "Tom Jones" to show the love between two very likable flesh-and-blood young folk: the many mishaps of the twain being but an embroidery upon the accepted fact that the course of true love never did run smooth. There is a certain scene which gives us an interview between Jones and Sophia, following on a stormy one between father and daughter, during which the Squire has struck his child to the ground and left her there with blood and tears streaming down her face. Her disobedience in not accepting the addresses of the unspeakable Blifil is the cause of the somewhat drastic parental treatment. Jones has assured the Squire that he can make Sophia see the error of her ways and has thus secured a moment with her. He finds her just risen from the ground, in the sorry plight already described. Then follows this dialogue:
'O, my Sophia, what means this dreadful sight?'
She looked softly at him for a moment before she spoke, and then said:
'Mr. Jones, for Heaven's sake, how came you here? Leave me, I beseech you, this moment.'
'Do not,' says he, 'impose so harsh a command upon me. My heart bleeds faster than those lips. O Sophia, how easily could I drain my veins to preserve one drop of that dear blood.'
'I have too many obligations to you already,' answered she, 'for sure you meant them such.'
Here she looked at him tenderly almost a minute, and then bursting into an agony, cried:
'Oh, Mr. Jones, why did you save my life? My death would have been happier for us both.'
'Happy for us both!' cried he. 'Could racks or wheels kill me so painfully as Sophia's—I cannot bear the dreadful sound. Do I live but for her?'
Both his voice and look were full of irrepressible tenderness when he spoke these words; and at the same time he laid gently hold on her hand, which she did not withdraw from him; to say the truth, she hardly knew what she did or suffered. A few moments now passed in silence between these lovers, while his eyes were eagerly fixed on Sophia, and hers declining toward the ground; at last she recovered strength enough to desire him again to leave her, for that her certain ruin would be the consequence of their being found together; adding:
'Oh, Mr. Jones, you know not, you know not what hath passed this cruel afternoon.'
'I know all, my Sophia,' answered he; 'your cruel father hath told me all, and he himself hath sent me hither to you.'
'My father sent you to me!' replied she: 'sure you dream!'
'Would to Heaven,' cried he, 'it was but a dream. Oh! Sophia, your father hath sent me to you, to be an advocate for my odious rival, to solicit you in his favor. I took any means to get access to you. O, speak to me, Sophia! Comfort my bleeding heart. Sure no one ever loved, ever doted, like me. Do not unkindly withhold this dear, this soft, this gentle hand—one moment perhaps tears you forever from me. Nothing less than this cruel occasion could, I believe, have ever conquered the respect and love with which you have inspired me.'
She stood a moment silent, and covered with confusion; then, lifting up her eyes gently towards him, she cried:
'What would Mr. Jones have me say?'
We would seem to have here a writer not quite in his native element. He intends to interest us in a serious situation. Sophia is on the whole natural and winning, although one may stop to imagine what kind of an agony is that which allows of so mathematical a division of time as is implied in the statement that she looked at her lover—tenderly, too, forsooth!—"almost a minute." The mood of mathematics and the mood of emotion, each excellent in itself, do not go together in life as they do in eighteenth century fiction. But in the general impression she makes, Sophia, let us concede, is sweet and realizable. But Jones, whom we have long before this scene come to know and be fond of—Jones is here a prig, a bore, a dummy. Sir Charles Grandison in all his woodenness is not arrayed like one of these. Consider the situation further: Sophia is in grief; she has blood and tears on her face—what would any lover,—nay, any respectable young man do in the premises? Surely, stanch her wounds, dry her eyes, comfort her with a homely necessary handkerchief. But not so Jones: he is not a real man but a melodramatic lay-figure, playing to the gallery as he spouts speeches about the purely metaphoric bleeding of his heart, oblivious of the disfigurement of his sweetheart's visage from real blood. He insults her by addressing her in the third person, mouths sentiments about his "odious rival" (a phrase with a superb Bowery smack to it!) and in general so disports himself as to make an effect upon the reader of complete unreality. This was no real scene to Fielding himself: why then should it be true: it has neither the accent nor the motion of life. The novelist is being "literary," is not warm to his work at all. When we turn from this attempt to the best love scenes in modern hands, the difference is world-wide. And this unreality—which violates the splendid credibility of the hero in dozens of other scenes in the book,—is all the worse coming from a writer who expressly announces his intention to destroy the prevalent conventional hero of fiction and set up something better in his place. Whereas Tom in the quoted scene is nothing if not conventional and drawn in the stock tradition of mawkish heroics. The plain truth is that with Fielding love is an appetite rather than a sentiment and he is only completely at ease when painting its rollicking, coarse and passional aspects.
In its unanalytic method and loose construction this Novel, compared with Richardson, is a throw-back to a more primitive pattern, as we saw was the case with Fielding's first fiction. But in another important characteristic of the modern Novel it surpasses anything that had earlier appeared: I refer to the way it puts before the reader a great variety of human beings, so that a sense of teeming existence is given, a genuine imitation of the spatial complexity of life, if not of its depths. It is this effect, afterwards conveyed in fuller measure by Balzac, by Dickens, by Victor Hugo and by Tolstoy, that gives us the feeling that we are in the presence of a master of men, whatever his limitations of period or personality.