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landic snows : wit, like the winter sun, might glint upon the icebergs, but they would not be plastic in its glance -calm, lofty, and cold they must remain. But humour is the summer heat that generates while it smiles—the power which touches dead things and revivifies them with its generous warrnth and geniality. Wit engages and amuses the individual intellect ; humour knits hearts together ; is, in truth, in a broad sense, that 'touch of nature which makes the whole world kin. Now the world may be regarded as being composed of three classes, viz., those of us who laugh, those with whom we laugh, and those at whom we laugh ; and the tenderest solicitude is experienced by each unit of humanity lest, through some fortuitous circumstances, he should irretrievably find himself a denizen of the last-named class. To some of the first class is given the power of directing the laugh of others, and this power is current as wit; when to the faculty of originating ridicule is added the power of concentrating pity or pathos upon the subject, this may be styled humour. But the irony must be subjugated to the feeling. The heart must love while the countenance may smile. It will, then, be perceived, in view of these distinctions, how the humourist may assert a claim in all great and essential things superior to that which can be advanced by the wit. Humourists
are the salt of the national intellectual life. England, who occasionally claims a questionable superiority in some respects over other nations, may, in the growth of genuine humour, be allowed the pre-eminence, Germany approaching her perhaps in the nearest degree. What other literature, since the days of Elizabeth, can show such a roll of humourists as that which is inscribed with the names (amongst others) of Richardson, Addison, Steele, Prior, Gay, Smollett, Fielding, Sterne, and Goldsmith ? Yet after the closing names of this galaxy a dearth was witnessed like that which immediately preceded their advent. It appears as though the soil of literature, having grown to its utmost capacity the product of humour, demanded time for recuperating its powers. During the past thirty or forty years another growth sprang up, and Hood, Lamb, and other inheritors of the marvellous gift have enriched the world with the perfume of their lives and works. Amongst the latest band of humourists, however, there is no name more remarkable or more justly distinguished than that which is now under consideration.
From the operation of various causes, the works of Thackeray have not hitherto enjoyed a circulation commensurate with their intrinsic merits. The sale of the best of his writings in his lifetime fell far short of the popular demand for the works of Scott or Dickens. But their hold on society, and the recognition of their permanent value and excellence, have gone on steadily increasing with each succeeding year, and very recently new and complete editions of them have been issued, which are within the reach of all readers. At this period, then, it may be fitting to consider the life's work of this deepest and purest of modern English satirists.
It was in these pages that the first substantial recognition of the genius of the author of 'Vanity Fair' appeared : a quarter of a century has elapsed since then; but in the short period between that epoch in his career and his death, a series of brilliant works issued rapidly from his pen-a pen facile to charm, to instruct, and to reprove. These works have fully justified the terms of praise in which we referred to his first great fiction. Yet it would be difficult to name a writer of fiction of equal excellence who had so little of the inventive or imaginative faculty. Keenness of observation and a nice appreciation of character supplied him with all the materials of his creations. He wrote from the experience of life, and the foibles of mankind which he satirised were those that had fallen under his notice in the vicissitudes of his own career, or might sometimes be traced in the recesses of his own disposition. The key, therefore,
to Thackeray's works is to be found in his life ; and few literary biographies would be more interesting, if it were written with a just and discriminating pen. We would venture to suggest to his accomplished daughter, who has shown by her own writings that some at least of his gifts have descended to her by inheritance, that she should undertake a task which no one else can fulfil with so natural and delicate a feeling of her father's genius. Probably it might already have been attempted, but for the extreme repugnance of Thackeray himself to allow his own person to be brought before the world, or to suffer the sanctity of private correspondence to be invaded. Nobody wrote more amusing letters; but he wrote them not for the public. As it is, even his birth and descent have not been correctly stated in the current works of the day. His great-grandfather was in the Church, once Master of Harrow, and afterwards an Archdeacon. He had seven sons, one of whom, also named William Makepeace Thackeray, entered the Civil Service of India, became a Member of Council, and sat at the Board with Warren Hastings, some of whose minutes he signed. The son of this gentleman, and the father of our novelist, was Richmond Thackeray, also a Civil servant, who died, in 1816, at the early age of thirty. Thackeray himself was born at Calcutta, in 1811, and
was sent to England when he was seven years old. On the voyage home the vessel touched at St. Helena, where the child saw Napoleon Bonaparte. The black servant who attended him attributed to the ex-Emperor the most ravenous propensities. 'He eats,' said the sable exaggerator, ' three sheep every day, and all the children he can lay hands on. The joke figured years afterwards in one of Thackeray's sketches. This early connection with India left its mark in his memory, and the pleasant allusions to the great Ramchunder and the Bundelcund Bank were suggested by the traditions of his own infancy. He inherited from his father (who died when he was five years old) a considerable fortune, part of which had fortunately been settled on his mother, who was remarried to Major Carmichael Smyth. The remainder was left at his own disposal, and rendered him an object of envy and admiration to his less fortunate contemporaries. The boy was sent to the Charter House, where he remained for some years ; and here again the reader familiar with his works may trace a multitude of allusions to his school-days under Dr. Russell, then the master of that school. About the year 1828 he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was the friend and contemporary of Tennyson, Venables, John Mitchell Kemble, Charles and Arthur Buller, John Sterling, R. Monck