C. Fred Kenyon.

Hall Caine online

. (page 1 of 11)
Online LibraryC. Fred KenyonHall Caine → online text (page 1 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by The Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
http://www.pgdp.net (This file was produced from images
generously made available by The Internet Archive/American

_English Writers of To-day, No. 4_


[Illustration: _Elliott & Fry, Photographers, London._

With kindest greetings

Hall Caine]


The Man and the Novelist


_All rights reserved_


_November 1901_


E⸺ L⸺

S⸺ M⸺


H⸺ H⸺





III. 1879-1884 59










In preparing this monograph on Mr Hall Caine, I have devoted much
more attention to his earlier life than to those years during which
he has been before the public as a novelist. The reasons for this are
obvious, the chief one being that the early life of a famous man, with
its struggles against circumstance, and its slow, oft-impeded progress
towards success, is of much more interest to the general reader than
that part of his life which is passed immediately under the gaze of all
interested in him.

I have to express my thanks to Miss Esther Luffman for considerable
assistance in Chapters VII., VIII. and IX.; to Miss Brown, daughter of
the Rev. T. E. Brown, for permission to use the letters printed on pages
115-17, 145-6, 182-3; to Miss Pinto Leite, the literary executrix of R.
D. Blackmore, for permission to use the letters printed on pages 90-2,
94-7, 118-19; to Miss Harriett Jay, the literary executrix of Robert
Buchanan, for permission to use the letter printed on pages 79-80; and
to Mr A. P. Watt, the literary executor of Wilkie Collins, for permission
to use the letters printed on pages 108-10.

These letters, all of them addressed to Mr Hall Caine, are used with his

I owe my thanks to two early friends of Mr Hall Caine, the Rev. Wm.
Pierce and Mr George Rose, for the recollections of the boyhood of my
subject which give so much freshness and vitality to my narrative.

In preparing this volume I have sometimes spoken out of my personal
knowledge of my subject, and it may be that without intending it I have
appeared to commit him to my own opinions. If this be so, let me hasten
to say that whatever the value of what I have said, it is everywhere and
entirely my own, and the last thing I desire is to charge my own views to
my subject, especially where in any degree they concern himself.

After I had finished my work I wished to submit the manuscript to Mr
Hall Caine for the verification of facts, and I hoped that perhaps he
would give me the benefit of a short prefatory note saying that these
were correctly stated. But Mr Hall Caine could not be induced to meet the
latter part of my request, and to the former part he would only respond
so far as the facts concerned others than himself. I now feel that this
decision was the only proper and possible one, but as paragraphs in
literary papers have said that Mr Hall Caine has “revised” my biography
of himself, I find myself reluctantly compelled to publish the following

“DEAR MR KENYON,—I have looked over the portion of your
manuscript which you sent me, and have made a few comparatively
unimportant changes. They concern what you say about my friends,
living and dead, and therefore I have felt it to be my duty to
set you right where I thought you were wrong. With what you say
of myself, whether in the way of criticism or biography, I do not
feel that I have any right to interfere, and I fear I must deny
myself the pleasure of writing the Preface which you are good
enough to request. If your view of my life and my books is to
have any value for the public, it must stand as your own, without
any criticism or endorsement from me.

“Perhaps I feel that much of a book of this intimate nature might
be better deferred until the subject of it is gone, but I can
only thank you for the goodwill with which you have done what you
set out to do.—Yours very truly,


Therefore, in publishing this monograph on a living man who is much in
the light of public opinion and still a subject for controversy, I wish
to take every responsibility for whatever errors of judgment or taste
may appear in my work. My sources of information, with the important
exceptions indicated above, have been public ones, and the subject of my
sketch has had nothing to do either with the origin of my book or the way
in which it has been carried out.


ELLESMERE PARK, ECCLES, _September 24, 1901_.




The keynote of Hall Caine’s character, both as a man and as a novelist,
is sincerity, and the deepest thing in him is love of humanity. He is
dominated by the ambition to get out of the realm of thought all that
is best and wisest, and from his heart a stream of love for suffering,
tortured humanity is constantly flowing. Heart and brain alike are ever
at work for the good of mankind. “I have a real sense of joy in the
thought that I am at least in the midst of the full stream of life, not
in an eddy or backwater,” he said to me one summer day, as we lay among
the ferns of Greeba. He loves to feel that he is striving with the
complex forces of these impetuous days of a new century; loves to feel
that he is being carried along by the River of Life, for ever battling
with the torrent, and always stretching out eager hands to help those who
are weaker than himself. This, I repeat, is the deepest thing in Hall
Caine, both as a man and as a writer, and the critics who find other
interpretations of either know both imperfectly.

Thus it comes about that the great body of his written work is full of
a wonderful sympathy for his fellow-creatures. Every man’s sorrow is
_his_ sorrow, and every man’s joy _his_ joy. At no time of his life has
he been immersed in the study of dead-and-gone languages; he has always
been occupied with the study of humanity—humanity in its multifarious
activities, hopes, struggles and fears. He has gone to the root of all
things—the souls and hearts of men and women. He is no psychological
analyst of man’s wickedness; rather does he overlook the weakness of
man’s nature in his admiration for all the good he finds there. “No
man is as black as he is painted,” he has told me, not once, but often;
and he does not say this because of any inability to perceive sin where
it exists, but rather because his clear-sighted intellect detects all
the hereditary influences, the hideous power of circumstance, and the
temptation to which men are exposed. I can think of no English writer,
past or present, who evinces so broad and generous a sympathy with all
mankind, as does Hall Caine. His power of sympathy has enabled him to
understand the characters of men with whom he has come in contact,
no matter of what nationality they have been. Englishman, Icelander,
Moor, Italian, German—all are read by him with sympathy and with ease,
because he accepts the fact that the passions of love, hate, sorrow and
joy are the same all the world over. In his works I do not find any
subtle analyses of character; he treats all his men and women on broad
human principles, concerning himself with the structural basis of their
natures, and leaving the details to take care of themselves. He has
neither the analytical sense of George Moore, nor the extraordinary
subtlety of George Meredith; neither the passionate pessimism of Thomas
Hardy, nor the epigrammatic cynicism of John Oliver Hobbes. He is simple,
earnest, human. He takes no heed of the tricks by means of which an
unwholesome interest is aroused; but his strong dramatic sense takes the
place of these, and enchains the reader’s attention.

I am very far from saying that Hall Caine is without fault as an
imaginative writer: he himself would be the first to deprecate such a
statement. He has the defect of his qualities. He sees everything on a
large scale, no matter how intrinsically insignificant it may be. So
great is his absorption in and love for humanity that he has dulled his
sense of perspective, and what seems to the average man an ordinary,
everyday affair, is to him charged with tragic significance. The
consequence is that he is always writing at white heat: it is a real
mental and emotional strain for anyone to read a novel of his. He expects
almost as much from the reader as he gives him. Again, his view of life
is often very one-sided; he sees all its tragedy, and little or nothing
of its comedy. This is particularly noticeable in his earlier books. He
takes himself seriously, as every artist should, but he sometimes forgets
that in order to take oneself seriously it is not necessary to shut one’s
eyes to the light and laughter that are in the world. That Hall Caine has
humour no one who has read _The Deemster_, _The Christian_, or _Cap’n
Davy’s Honeymoon_ can doubt; but his humorous instincts are constantly
kept in check, and subordinated to the tragic interest of the plot.
There is nothing approaching “comic relief” in any of his works, and for
this reason we may be grateful, for, structurally, his novels are almost
perfect, and to have gone out of his way in order to introduce eccentric
and humorous characters would have been to destroy the symmetry of his
plots. No! it is his general outlook on life which seems at fault: all
is tragedy, as black and awe-inspiring as a thundercloud. The white
brilliant day is to him never free from distant thunders; the sun is
always shadowed by a cloud. To quarrel with this view of humanity would
be useless, for it is the man himself, and his work is but an honest,
sincere interpretation of his personality.

One of the chief qualities of his work is his dramatic sense. He uses it
powerfully and, at times, with astounding effect. In his earlier novels
(_The Shadow of a Crime_ and _A Son of Hagar_) he does not employ it so
skilfully as in, say, _The Deemster_ and _The Bondman_; he is so mastered
by it, and so much the slave of his own personality, that the written
result is often melodrama pure and simple. Indeed, it is the opinion of
many critics that Mr Caine was born a dramatist, and not a novelist, and
the late Mr Blackmore used to insist that the success of the author of
_The Manxman_ would be as nothing compared with what awaited him as a
dramatist. This opinion has been endorsed by the American public, who
were as enthusiastic over the dramatised version of _The Christian_ as
they were over the novel. But probably the dramatist in Hall Caine has
never yet expressed itself. A dramatised version of a novel begins with
obvious limitations.

Let me say something of Mr Caine’s method of working. In many respects
it resembles that of M. Zola. They are, above everything, conscientious.
Mr Caine works slowly: three years elapsed between the publication of
_The Manxman_ and the publication of _The Christian_; and four between
_The Christian_ and _The Eternal City_. “For the writing of _The Eternal
City_, I have read or looked into as many books as there are over there,”
said the novelist to me in his library, pointing to a bookcase containing
several hundred volumes. He takes notes freely. His writing is a process
of condensation. He verifies each statement of importance by personal
reference to the original authorities. Nothing escapes his attention.
He tries to weld his various facts into one consistent whole, and the
result is a closely-written logical piece of work. He seeks documentary
evidence, not from one source only, but from all sources. It will be
readily seen that such a method of work as this involves enormous care
and patience: a single slip, and the critics are on him, shouting that a
mere schoolboy could teach him better than that! For Hall Caine is a born
fighter—a fighter against all the injustice and sham of modern society;
and whatever he may attack, the critic is sure to imagine that it is his
duty to take up the cudgels on behalf of him who is assailed. In such
closely-written, fully-packed books as Hall Caine’s, it would be an utter
impossibility that there should be no technical mistake of any kind; and
because a few of these crept into _The Christian_, some of the critics
thought they were justified in declaring the whole book a mistake. On
what they knew they based their judgment of what they did not know. It is
the way of the world.

If one estimated the amount of work done by a writer by the number of
words he wrote each day, then Mr Hall Caine could not be called a hard
worker; for his daily output is small. Sometimes it is represented by
a blank page. But ten hours spent in concentrated thought can be a far
harder day’s work than four or five foolscap sheets of writing. At the
time of my last visit to Mr Caine, he was rising at 5 a.m., and working
steadily till 10.30 a.m. That is to say, that when most men are beginning
their day’s labour, Mr Caine has finished his. He gives up the best of
his life to his art. He finds that when the digestive organs are at work
he does not work so well; so the early morning hours, both in summer and
winter, find him with pen or book in hand. He prepares for each work just
as a student prepares for a difficult examination. In _The Bondman_ he
was writing about Iceland; so he went to Iceland and studied at first
hand what he was to describe. In _The Scapegoat_, Morocco; so he went to
Morocco. In _The Eternal City_, Rome; so he went to Rome. And so on,
throughout all his books, and not in their broad features merely but in
their every detail. I have seen the MS. copy of _The Bondman_: it is
written in small, exquisitely neat handwriting, with many alterations
and erasures. On my expressing amazement at the patience and care with
which he worked, the novelist replied: “Oh! that is only the final copy.
For each page you see there, perhaps three or four were written—the
second better than the first, the third better than the second, and so
on.” No one but a writer can appreciate the amount of toil required for
such a method of working as this; but Hall Caine sacrifices everything
for the sake of his art. He feels the power of the written word, and the
responsibility of giving to the world that which is not of one’s best.

Apparently, before beginning work on a new novel, Mr Caine does not
deliberately seek a plot. First of all, he becomes absorbed in some
abstract idea—an idea that is the outcome of the times in which we live,
and the conditions under which we work. The idea lives in his brain
for hours, days, weeks, months, and it may be years. From this idea
his characters grow without any effort on his part. They spring into
being out of the nebulous atmosphere in which they exist, and from his
characters comes his plot. It is generally a matter of slow germination:
the abstract idea—the seed of the novel—lies in his brain, gathering
unto itself all the experience and thought of the novelist’s life, and
gradually it grows and expands until it has reached a state of cohesion
and unity. This method of working is the method of nearly all creative
minds; there are few who deliberately seize a plot, and create their
characters to fit in with the exigencies of time, place and circumstance.
A man’s character it is that makes the plot, not _vice versa_. It must
not be supposed from this that Hall Caine regards the plot as quite a
secondary matter; but he works from within outwards, making the plot
develop according to the manner in which the creatures of his brain act,
feel and think. A cut-and-dried plot is very often the mere mechanism
of an agile mind; but there is a kind of plot which is inspired, which
has for its centre of radiation a spiritual idea of truth and beauty.
And this is the kind of plot with which Hall Caine has sympathy. Take
_The Deemster_, for instance. What is it but a modern version of the
Prodigal Son? The abstract idea of repentance and self-purification after
a life of dissolute conduct. Again, _The Bondman_ is the story of Esau
and Jacob, with the sympathy of the reader being drawn to Esau. _The
Scapegoat_ is the story of Eli and his sons, a girl taking the place of
Samuel; and _The Manxman_ is a modern version of David and Uriah.

The root idea of each of these stories is not one that depends for its
interest on any particular time or place; it is for all times and all
places. The _mise-en-scène_, the atmosphere, the characters are but
accidents—the necessary accidents for the presentment of the moral and
spiritual drama. _The Christian_ and _The Eternal City_, it is true,
depend on their presentment for a great deal of their interest: they are
the outcome of the strenuous and conflicting times in which we live. But
still, in these books also, the eternal spiritual questions are clearly
indicated and clearly discernible. It seems to me Mr Caine believes that
if a novelist or poet does not seek to elevate his fellow-creatures by
his work, there can be no reason for his continuing to write. It cheers
and strengthens the reader to have a noble character put before him,
for he thinks to himself, “I could be like that if I tried;” and in
many cases he does try, and the result achieved is the greatest reward
a writer can receive. The hero must not be too good; he must be human,
faulty maybe; but still pure and noble. Otherwise, the reader says, “Such
a character never existed. He is utterly beyond me. Try how I might I
could never be like that” No! a noble nature is rarely without sin, and
it is the small faults of disposition, temperament and character which
make him real and human. In this connection I think of the noble-hearted
Dan of _The Deemster_, that tortured soul who, though a forger and a
murderer, yet remains one of the purest and most lovable characters in
modern fiction.

Before closing this introductory chapter, I should like to say something
of Mr Caine as he impresses one in conversation. It has been my privilege
to have met him several times, and I have spent many unforgettable
hours in his company alone. First of all, he is one of the very few
men I have met who impressed me, almost at the first glance, with the
conviction that he had genius. As soon as he speaks his face lights
up, his eyes shine, and his soul is laid bare. That is no manner of
speaking: it is the simple truth. One knows that whatever he may say it
is exactly what he feels. There is no “smartness” in his conversation,
no epigrammatic fireworks, no talking for mere cleverness’ sake. He
speaks convincingly because what he says he believes to be the truth.
His delivery is dramatic and realistic. He rarely gesticulates, but when
he does it is with the discrimination of the born actor; one feels,
indeed, that the stage has lost a man who would surely have become
one of its most notable figures. His knowledge of men and things is
both deep and wide. Nothing escapes his observation. He has travelled
in many countries—America, Russia, Poland, Iceland, Italy and Morocco,
and wherever he has been he has studied, first of all, humanity, and
secondly, humanity, and yet again humanity. And so, throughout the
busy years of his life, when he was engaged in journalism, study,
novel-writing, travelling, lecturing, he was all the time adding to
his knowledge of his fellow-creatures, quietly observing not only the
great men of the earth with whom he came in contact, but also the boy
who brought the newspaper in the morning, the fishermen at their nets,
and the hundred-and-one seemingly commonplace people whom one meets in
the street day by day. Still, with all this knowledge of humanity he is
never eager to express opinions on notable men and women. He is silent
concerning those he dislikes for fear lest he has misjudged them; he
will not speak of his friends because he sets so high a value on their
friendship. But on all the problems that have come under his immediate
notice, he is willing—nay, anxious—to hear the opinion of other people,
no matter if their knowledge be merely superficial.

Mr Caine is of average height, well-made and erect. His brow is fine
and broad, his eyes large and luminous. His head is the head of a poet,
a thinker, a prophet. It is suggestive of most of the portraits—ideal
and otherwise—of Shakespeare; there is the same noble forehead, and the
same large, passionate eyes. In manner he is quiet and, except among
friends, somewhat reserved; but when his interest is aroused he asserts
himself at once, speaking passionately and with consummate fluency. He
is, perhaps, one of the best _raconteurs_ living, and has a vast store
of personal anecdote with which to illustrate any point which may crop
up in conversation. He has a particularly keen sense of the humorous,
and his manner of relating a funny story is equal to that of his
fellow-countryman, the late Thomas Edward Brown.

His home life is simple and unaffected; it is a life of plain living and
high thinking. He is the friend of every cottager round about Greeba,
and the fishermen of Peel are his comrades. I remember an old woman from
Crosby talking of him to me three or four years ago. “Terrible kind he
is,” she said, “and simple. Aw, but you should have seen him makin’ hay
on the curragh—laughin’ and jokin’ and all that.” And whatever sentence
she began, it always ended with the same words, “terrible kind he is.”



Thomas Henry Hall Caine was born in Runcorn, Lancashire, on May 14,
1853. Runcorn is by no means a romantic town, and, fortunately for the
future novelist, he only spent ten days of his life within its precincts.
His father was a Manxman, and his mother a native of Cumberland. They
were both of the people—hard-working, poor and thrifty; but they must
have possessed some remarkable qualities of mind and heart if we are
to give any credence to the theory of heredity, for not only has Hall
Caine made his mark upon his generation, but his sister, Miss Lily Hall
Caine, has won a by no means unimportant place in the theatrical world,
and his brother, Mr Ralph Hall Caine, is, within limits, a charming
writer of talent and ability. Caine is a Celtic name; Hall, his mother’s
maiden name, is Norse, and is very commonly met with still in Iceland.
The novelist himself has inherited the physical characteristics of his
maternal ancestors, for, like the Norsemen, his beard and hair are red,
and although he is the reverse of a strong man, his clearly-defined and
well-developed features indicate to some extent the physical robustness
of the Norsemen. His forefathers were farmers and fishermen, an old hardy
family of great strength and physical endurance.

Though born in Runcorn, and resident whilst a very young child in
Liverpool, Hall Caine’s earliest recollections are of the Isle of Man,
of his grandmother’s cottage “Ballavolley,” Ballaugh, in the north of

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryC. Fred KenyonHall Caine → online text (page 1 of 11)