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potentates. The Prussian nation has too much yet to avenge before it can become a firm ally of the French; and we do not believe that, in any complication, they would remain allies.
The policy of England, on the other hand, appears now to tend to a more intimate alliance with Austria than any which has existed since the great Continental wars. We sincerely rejoice in it, for we can but be gainers, since we may expect in Austria a firm and faithful ally. Of all the German nations, none is so well adapted to remain on amicable terms with England as Austria, and we trust that this alliance may become a fait accompli. The Anglo-French alliance has been of the most vital importance, in proving to the Continent what firm friends the English can be, no matter what provocation may be employed, from interested motives, to rend the bonds. We have shown that we are still disposed to keep to our plighted word, and Austria will, no doubt, profit by the lesson. That Austria is playing true to us is seen by every despatch received, and the attitude she has assumed on the question of the Bessarabian frontier is deserving of all praise, for it proves that she is not terrified by the Russian bugbear.
As for the rest of Germany, but slight hope can be entertained of their ever emerging from their respectable mediocrity, unless some great scourge is again sent to purge the world of its impurities. The policy of the First Napoleon, the principle of the divide et impera, has borne its fruit, and the result, as seen in Central Germany, would be deplorable, were it not so intensely absurd. That poor old lady, the Germanic Diet, is still prolonging a decrepit existence, and fulminating portentous documents which nobody cares for, and nobody reads; and the division of the Holy Roman Empire into Austria, Prussia, and Germany, remains a fait accompli, which no revolution can ever subvert, let as many professors be sent to a possible Frankfort parliament as there are days in the year.
And so the world wags on: new alliances are formed, old alliances are broken through: empires are subverted, and new kingdoms are formed out of the fragments as they are rent asunder; on all sides we hear of rumours of war, and yet, for all that, England remains the same; the calm policy which has brought us safely through a dangerous crisis is presiding at the helm, and we may sit tranquilly by our fireside-for our streets are becoming, owing to the garotters, anything but a place for quiet meditation-and speculate on the decline and fall of empires.
The only thing we can wish the Germans, is that happy talent for carrying a revolution to a successful issue which their Anglo-Saxon brethren possess in so eminent a degree; and in return for Venedey's "History of Germany," with which they have favoured us, we cannot do better than recommend to them a careful perusal of Macaulay's History, in which they can learn what to do, and at the same time what to avoid.
MR. THACKERAY'S NOVELS.
JUST as every man in his relation to philosophy is born (according to Frederick Schlegel, and Coleridge after him) an Aristotelian or a Platonist, so it may be said of every contemporary novel-reader, in his relation to the novel, that, virtually, he has a congenital predilection for either Thackeray or Dickens. Hardly any reviewer of Dickens now misses drawing a parallel between him and Thackeray. The reviewer of Thackeray as a matter of course sets up a series of antitheses between him and Dickens. If comparisons are really odious, both Dickens and Thackeray may exclaim, "Odi profanum vulgus" of my critics. "We are inclined to believe," says one of them, "that while Mr. Thackeray has observed keenly enough the peculiarities of the world which he depicts, he has not gauged universal humanity so skilfully as Mr. Dickens." Again: as Mr. Dickens goes lower in the scale of intellect and manners, so also he rises higher than Mr. Thackeray. Again: what cannot be allowed to Mr. Dickens is the invariable fidelity which accompanies Mr. Thackeray's characters. While the latter are less marked, both in language and in exterior and manners, Mr. Dickens has a perfect passion for being particular, as if the portrait might be wanted in the "Hue and Cry:" the effect of all which is that you trace something genuine in Mr. Thackeray's figures more easily than you do in Mr. Dickens's not having such a series of peculiarities to separate before you can regard the nature by itself. Or again: Rising from the perusal of Mr. Dickens's works, you forget that there is evil in the world, and remember only the good-while the distinction drawn between the bad and good is a broad one: rising from Mr. Thackeray's, you are doubtful of yourself and of humanity at large, for nobody is very bad or very good, and everybody seems pretty well contented-so that the morale might almost be summed up into the American's creed, "There's nothing new, there's nothing true, and it don't signify." This was said by the late S. Phillips in a comparison by contrast of "David Copperfield" with "Pendennis;" and he also pointed out how it is the habit of Mr. Dickens to contemplate human nature in its strength, and on its unsophisticated side-Mr. Thackeray in its weakness and on its most artificial basis; the consequence being, that the former verges on the sentimental, the latter on the cynical (for one is the reaction of the other); only while the first is no unmanly weapon in Mr. Dickens's hand, the last is a sufficiently temperate one in the hand of Mr. Thackeray. If we turn from the Times to the Quarterlies, Edinburgh, British, North British, North American, Prospective, Westminster, et si quæ alia, we find this comparative degree of criticism maintained, with positive persistency in the general practice, and superlative variety in the details. They bid us note how Dickens appears to have much the wider range of conception in the creation and presentment of character,-Thackeray to execute more naturally, simply, and perfectly that which is within his more limited sphere; how Dickens marks his men and women by direct eccentricities of speech and person, and too seldom gives us the quiet, easy, level flow
of talk and action with which a true representation of life must to a great degree be filled,-while Thackeray astonishes us by the manner in which he contrives to give individuality to his persons without having recourse to much diversity of type; how Thackeray's is the mind of closer and more compact, Dickens's the mind of looser, richer, and freer texture; how Dickens may be the more pensive and meditative, but Thackeray is the more penetrating and reflective writer; how Dickens is by far the more opinionative and aggressive, Thackeray by far the more acquiescent and unpolemical tale-teller; how the artistic range of Dickens is wider, and his style of art more elevated-for he works more in the ideal, it being nonsense to say of his characters generally, in a laudatory sense, that they are life-like-whereas Thackeray is essentially an artist of the realistic school, and, like Wilkie, would probably fail, if, hankering after a reputation in high art, he were to prove untrue to his special faculty as a delineator of actual life; or again, how Thackeray's mind, not less loving than Dickens's, though less expansive in its love, is constitutionally unhopeful, while the other's is cheery even to optimism; how Dickens's sentiment, which, when good, is good in the first class, is frequently farfetched, and pitched in an unnatural key, and his pathos elaborated by the artifices of the practised writer-while Thackeray's sentiment, rarely indulged, is never otherwise than genuine, and his pathos unforced and going to the roots of the heart; how Dickens's excellence springs from his heart, to whose promptings he trusts himself with an unshrinking faith that kindles a reciprocal enthusiasm in his readers-while in Thackeray, though there is no want of heart, its utterances are timorous and few, and held in check by the predominance of intellectual energy and the habit of reflection; and, once more, how the style of Dickens, originally lucid, and departing from directness and simplicity only to be amusingly quaint, soon became vicious, affected, and obscure-while that of Thackeray has always been manly and transparent, presenting his idea in the very fittest garb: "Thackeray is the more terse and idiomatic, Dickens the more diffuse and luxuriant writer.—In Dickens's sentences there is a leafiness, a tendency to words and images for their own sake; whereas in Thackeray's one sees the stem and outline of the thought better."*
It is only of late, though, that this habit of wholesale and retail comparison has sprung up. Time was when Boz was hailed as top of the tree, and Titmarsh was nowhere. True, Michael Angelo had not yet shown up the booths and stalls of Vanity Fair; but he had, to observing eyes, foreshown his capacity for the feat. His magazine aliases had each and all vindicated their right to be heard, their might to make themselves heard. Here and there a judge keener of eye, and finer of taste, than the unjudicial or injudicious mob, recognised mark and likelihood, and something more, in the satirist whose magnum opus was soon to be refused by the publishers. Bon Gualtier did so, and predicted better things to come for and from such a penman. John Sterling did so, in
*North British Review, May, 1851; Westminster Rev., April, 1853; Prospective Rev., May, 1851; Edinburgh Rev., January, 1854; Essays from the Times, Second Series, &c.
Jan.-VOL. CIX. NO. CCCCXXXIII.
1841, saying in a partly published letter, "I got hold of the two first numbers of the Hoggarty Diamond,' and read them with extreme delight. What is there better in Fielding or Goldsmith? The man is a true genius; and, with quiet and comfort, might produce masterpieces that would last as long as any we have, and delight millions of unborn readers. There is more truth and nature in one of these papers than in all's novels together." Not till John Sterling had been for years in his grave was the world brought round to some agreement with his opinion, by the successive appearance of full-grown and finished novels, which introduced to it a Becky Sharp, then a Major Pendennis, then a Henry Esmond, and at last a Thomas Newcome.
Against his earliest stories the objection is too patent not to be allowed by the novelist's kindliest critics-that the shadows of life are too little relieved for them to be either altogether true to nature, or tolerable as works of art. 66 'Bring them," he is admonished, "to the touchstone whose test all delineations of life must bear, to be worthy of lasting repute,— the approval of a woman's mind and taste,—and they are at once found to fail.-A woman lays down the book, feeling that it deals with situations and characters, real perhaps, but which she can gain nothing by contemplating. No word, image, or suggestion, indeed, is there to offend her modesty-for, in this respect, Mr. Thackeray in all his writings has shown that reverence for womanhood and youth, which satirists have not often maintained ;-but just as there are many things in life which it is best not to know, so in these pictures of tainted humanity there is much to startle the faith and to disquiet the fancy, without being atoned for by any commensurate advantage." Call him not cynical, however, on the strength of even these least genial and most frostbitten of his writings, the crabbed first-fruits, tart in quality and stunted in shape, of his productive power. A deep-rooted melancholy he has, sui generis (or rather it has him.) Time is smoothing its wrinkles and relaxing its frown; it is becoming less and less liable to the suspicion of cynicism; but it is chronic, constitutional, congenital, and will make itself felt to the end of the chapter. Mr. Thackeray's melancholy (though he is no Jaques) is not the scholar's melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician's, which is fantastical; nor the courtier's, which is proud; nor the soldier's, which is ambitious; nor the lawyer's, which is politic; nor the lady's, which is nice; nor the lover's, which is all these: but it is a melancholy of his own ;-yes, he has gained his experience. He could look up, one may surmise, with Carlyle to a heaven silvered with stars, and say, It's a sad sight. He can suck melancholy out of a song-the lighter and merrier the better-as a weasel sucks eggs. His eye has the fatal gift of seeing, not only a skeleton in every house, but a skull beneath every fair face; in my lady's chamber his voice is heard telling her that, let her bloom with the roses of youth, or let her paint an inch thick, to this favour must she come at last. One is reminded of Tennyson's grey and gap-toothed man as lean as death, who slowly rode across a withered heath, and lighted at a ruined inn, and harangued the wrinkled ostler, grim and thin, and the bitter barmaid, waning fast, and the slip-shod waiter, lank and sour,-"Death is king, and vivat rex!" the burden of his strain:
You are bones, and what of that?
Or of the "dismal gallery" of skeletons in "Gondibert," which Charles Lamb somewhere calls the finest picture of mortification which has been read from bones:
This dismal gallery, lofty, long, and wide,
Was hung with skeletons of every kind;
Thinks made to obey man's high immortal mind.
Or, again, of Vindici, in "The Revenger's Tragedy," contemplating and addressing the skull of his dead wife, that sallow picture of his poisoned love, once the bright face of his betrothed lady
When life and beauty naturally fill'd out
These ragged imperfections;
When two heav'n-pointed diamonds were set
It is not cynicism, a Westminster Reviewer justly maintains, but a constitutional proneness to a melancholy view of life, that gives to many of Thackeray's books that unpleasing colour which most readers resent. "He will not let his eye rest upon a fair face, without thinking of the ugly skull beneath, and reminding himself and us that beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes.' In his heartiest mirth he seems to have in view the headache, or the labours of to-morrow," insisting on dashing his brightest fancies with "needless shadows." So that he "will not let us be comfortable, after he has done his best to make us so." Ever the amari aliquid surges up medio de fonte leporum. Ever the festal L'Allegro merges into Il Penseroso. One might easily "multiplier," as a French critic says, "des passages où se combinent à doses au moins égales la douceur et l'amertume" (barring the "au moins égales;" for did the novelist put into his doses as large a proportion of sweets as of bitters, of honey and the honeycomb as of the wormwood and the gall, there would be no such outcry from those who swallow them, and make such wry faces the while).
From the period of "Men's Wives," in the Fitz-boodle papers, to the present time, what a boundless continuity of shade there lies in his pictures of married life. He takes and keeps to the shady, but not the sweet shady side of it. A most eligible anti-matrimonial manual might be made up from his opera omnia, as a wherewithal for Parents and Guardians to disillusionise too fervid youth. There is a passage in Sam Slick's "Wise Saws and Modern Instances" so germane to the matter, that quotation becomes quite a pleasure and almost a duty.
Hope! what is hope? expectin' some unsertin thing or another to happen. Well, sposen it don't happen, why then there is a nice little crop of disappointment to digest, that's all. What's the use of hopen at all, then? I never could see any use under the sun in it. That word ought to be struck out of every dictionary. I'll tell Webster so, when he gets out a new edition of his'n.