Edmond Henri Adolphe Scherer.

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artistic paradoxes of Ruskin, in the intolerable
jargon of Carlyle ; but there is most of all in the
English novel.

Consequently English novelists, despite their
great talent, make me constantly think of Cali-
fornian miners in quest of some productive vein.
They are not obedient to a vocation. They are
prospecting for mannerism and for success. All
roads which lead to that end are good. We have
the fashionable novel and the theological novel, the
didactic novel and the " fast " novel, the imitation
of Sterne and the imitation of Smollett, Dickens's
reforming mania and Kingsley's heroic clergyman.
There is indeed no lack of verve in this literature,
nor could we wish for less fertility and variety of
resource. What we could wish for is merely a little
less study of effect, a little more simplicity and

I suspect that the weariness produced by so
many attempts at refining counted for much in the
success of the "Scenes of Clerical Life," George
Eliot's first work, and in that of ''Adam Bede,"
which is still her masterpiece. Readers passed


from the heated atmosphere of an opera-house to
the freshness of a country morning, and experi-
enced in the presence of this inspiration, at once
deep and simple, an unaccustomed kind of pleasure.
It was felt that the author had told her tale after
the manner of the old bards, without listening to
her own voice, without self -consciousness, and as it
were yielding to the Muse who presides over im-
mortal creations. What a joy for those who pos-
sessed taste and soul to find, at last, an artist who
was thoroughly sincere ! What a beneficent impres-
sion was experienced at the sight of this virgin
genius, in the presence of this masterly execution,
which knew nothing of the tricks of the studio,
nothing of the devices of behind the scenes !

It must be owned, too, that mere curiosity helped
the success of these works ; for it was soon seen
that the name they bore was a pseudonym. It was
asked what was the writer's sex. Not a few of the
authors in vogue had the honor of having attributed
to them a book which certainly none of them was
capable of writing. There were guesses and coun-
ter-guesses in the columns of the newspapers. One
critic — a French critic, it is true — had just with
elaborate induction proved that the author of
"Adam Bede " must be a man, and what is more
an English clergyman, when the veil was rent.
The enchanter was an enchantress — Miss Evans
by name. But there was something that doubled
the mystery at the very moment when it seemed


to vanisli. Miss Evans was by no means utterly
unknown in the literary world. She had worked
on a very serious periodical^ the ''Westminster
Eeview." She had written theological articles in
it. A translation of Strauss's celebrated work on
the Life of Jesus was hers. What a mixture of
contradictions and surprises ! It was not enough
to have to acknowledge a woman as the first novel-
ist of England ; more than that, this woman com-
bined faculties which had never been associated in
the memory of man. She was at once a savant and
a poet. There was in her the critic who analyzes
and the artist who creates. Nay, the pen which
had interpreted Strauss — the most pitiless adver-
sary of Christian tradition that the world has pro-
duced — this very pen had just drawn the charming
portrait of Dinah, and had put on the lips of this
young Methodist girl the inspired discourse at
Hayslope and the touching prayer in the prison.
It is impossible to read " Adam Bede " without
thinking of ''Jane Eyre," and yet there are no
points of likeness between these two works save
the mystery in which they were at first wrapped,
and the sex of the authors to whom we owe them.
Miss Bronte's novel has more dash, more vigor,
more eloquence ; and I am not sure whether there
is anything to be found in Miss Evans's work equal
to Jane Eyre's flight when, after leaving Roches-
ter's house, she wanders at random, the victim of a
conflict of feelings dominated by the inexorable


authority of duty. But here Miss Bronte's superi-
ority ceases. She soon betrays her want of experi-
ence. She flies to melodramatic devices ; her crea-
tions have more strength than truth ; and, in short,
what remains of her book after a second reading is
no great thing. It is quite otherwise with Miss
Evans ; in her novels everything is simple, mature,
finished, and it is scarcely possible to re-read them
without discovering fresh beauties.

Besides, after ^'Jane Eyre" Charlotte Bronte
merely repeated herself ; while her rival has as yet
given no sign of exhaustion. I have mentioned
the surprises which George Eliot sprang on the
public, but the public had not yet come to the end
of them. After recovering from the excitement
caused by so great a merit and so great a success,
readers (who are soon tired of admiration) said to
themselves that it was their turn. "Let us wait
and see," said they, " what her next work will be
like." The next work was not long delayed.
"The Mill on the Floss" appeared a year after
"Adam Bede," and the most fastidious criticism
was obliged to acknowledge that, if there was a
little less finish in the new-comer, the power and
talent which it showed were not less. Yet another
year — less than a year — has passed away, and
" Silas Marner " comes to show in its turn that the
author, among the other secrets of genius, possesses
that of fecundity.

"Silas Marner" is a story of village life. The


hero is a poor weaver, pious of heart and ingenious
of mind. But in his inner being an unjust sen-
tence has destroyed faith in the order of Provi-
dence. He gives himself up thenceforth to the ma-
terial cares of life, becomes a miser, heaps up his
gains, and sets his affections on the contemplation
of his hoard. The hoard is stolen, and Silas falls
into a kind of brute despair, from which he is res-
cued by the interest with which a little girl inspires
him. Her mother has died of want at his door,
and he has been the first to be called to assist her.
He takes charge of the child, nurses her, brings
her up, and is himself born again to happiness in
thus once more finding some good to do and some
one to love. As great as the gloom of the solitary
days, when the weaver drudged for the sake of
hoarding, is the brightness of the old man's last
years in the company of his adopted daughter. It
is a second youth, a new life, the solution of all
the painful problems which had formerly weighed
this human soul down into the dust.

Every novel is a mixture of three elements —
character, dialogue, and action. The action in a
work of fiction is a factor which is at once capital
and subordinate. On the one hand, there is no in-
terest in a story where the plot is weak ; on the
other, we have seen memorable examples in which,
though the action may have been conducted with
consummate skill, the story has yet not taken rank
as literature. It may amuse, it may be popular.


and yet at the end of a year or two it will be noth-
ing but a memory.

The real stuff of the novel lies in the charac-
ters ; but at the same time the character-drawing
is effected by the dialogue. A great change in this
respect has passed over the literary kind of which
we speak. Formerly the novelist contented him-
self with analysis ; he was privileged to read the
souls of his personages, and it was his business to
tell us what he found there. Nowadays (Walter
Scott was the chief author of this innovation), it is
the business of each personage to express his own
feelings, and the dialogue by means of which the
personages make themselves known has become
the capital part, and in some sort the whole, of the
novel. The modern novel is a drama ; description
holds the place of scenery, narrative gives a clue to
the mise-en-sc^ne ; but it is the talk which consti-
tutes the main substance and texture of the work.

Now George Eliot's talent excellently suits the
requirements of the style which we have just de-
scribed. In her books the action is always ingen-
iously simple, equidistant from the commonplaces
of fiction and from the affectation of romantic
invention. Still it is in character-drawing that
our author's superiority is especially manifest.
Here we find the precision of outline, the truth
of color, the infinite variety, the sustained indi-
viduality, the moral unity which mark alike the
works of Nature and those of genius. What


wonderful creations are Dinah and Hetty, Maggie
and Silas, old Lisbeth and the Dodson family!
Every one of George Eliot's personages, however sub-
ordinate the part, however passing the appearance,
has a special physiognomy and characteristic style of
speaking. But this brings us back to the dialogue.
I have said that in the novels of our day it is the
business of the dialogue to set forth the characters,
so that two different gifts — the talent for creating a
character, and that of making it speak — are now
indispensable the one to the other. And yet these
two talents are quite distinct. It is possible to out-
line a character which is both original and true
without succeeding in putting in its mouth interest-
ing and natural language. On the other hand, dia-
logue in itself either pointed and ingenious, or lofty
and profound, may lack that secret unity which,
properly speaking, constitutes character. The writ-
ings of Dickens exemplify what I mean. That
clever novelist excels at modelling a laughable or a
repulsive physiognomy, at fixing the mask on a lay
figure costumed with equal oddity, and then at
lending to the hero who is thus built up some gro-
tesque catchword, some humorous repartee which,
thrown in among scenes of great variety, produces
a sort of debased comedy. The beings thus created
are striking; you know them when you see them;
but they are not alive ; they have not the consist-
ency of an individuality which remains faithful to
itself, while ceaselessly revealed under new aspects.


It is quite otherwise with George Eliot's books.
Here the personages are not only infinitely various,
they are not only each provided with a language
proper to itself, but this language is always at once
alike and different, suitable to the character it ex-
presses, and animated by the unexpectedness which
springs from the particular situation. More than
this, the writer has sown broadcast all over her
work the salt of the best kind of pleasantry. Not
one of her rustics, of her artisans, of her lower
middle-class folk — not an old maid or a child in
her pages — but has a special naive originality, a
special humor, jovial or sly, and a special and de-
lightful cast of drollery. I do not think that any
novelist has strewed over his work wit so abundant
or so varied, so fruitful in surprises, so full of sallies.
Mrs. Poyser in " Adam Bede," is in this respect one
of the most extraordinary creations of prose fiction.
The reader must imagine a good-tempered farmer's
wife, speaking much at every occasion and to every
comer, who says nothing without seasoning the
speech with some piquant phrase, who is ready
with a repartee for every one, whose inexhaustible
verve is independent of catchwords, whose good
sayings have all the raciness and the strongly
marked character of popular proverbs. Mrs. Poy-
ser is of the right lineage of Sancho Panza.

For the rest, is it a paradox to say that dialogue
and character, invention and description, the wit
that amuses and the imagination that charms, all


these elements of the novel, all these gifts of
genius, are but secondary ? and that, if work which
is to last cannot do without them, it is still not
they that make the work immortal ? I leave out
of count the circulating library subscriber, for he is
incapable of tasting George Eliot ; I speak of the
reader who reads a second time, who reflects upon
and who relishes what he reads. What he con-
sciously or unconsciously seeks in a novel, what
attracts or repels him in it, is, if we follow it home,
the philosophy which is expressed there. It is
philosophy with which a novel can least dispense.
If there is no philosophy, there is no meaning ;
and if there is no meaning, what have we to do
with it ? Man is so made that he seeks for himself
everywhere. In nature he hunts a mystery which
is merely his own, in history he questions his own
destiny. Art, in order to interest him, must talk
of himself. Novels themselves are nothing to us
if they are not an interpretation of the world and
of life. Now George Eliot's work is full of the les-
sons which the work of the great artist always con-
tains. The author, it is true, has drawn hardly
anything but ordinary life ; her favorite heroes
are children, artisans, laborers — her favorite sub-
jects the absurdities of middle-class life, the preju-
dices of small towns, or the superstitions of the
country. But underneath these externally pro-
saic existences the writer makes us behold the
eternal tragedy of the human heart. We meet


once more the failures of will, the calculations of
egotism, pride, coquetry, hatred, love — all our pas-
sions and all our foibles, all our littlenesses and all
our errors. Nor is this all : something rises from
these creations ; there emanates from them, as it
were, a perfume of wisdom ; there drops from them,
as it were, a lesson of experience. George Eliot
looks at men's faults with so much sympathy,
mixed with so much elevation ; the condemnation
she passes on evil is tempered with so much tolera-
tion and intelligence ; the smile on her face is so
near tears ; she is so clear-eyed and so resigned ;
she has our weaknesses so well by heart ; she has
suffered so much and lived so much — that it is im-
possible to read her pages without feeling ourselves
won by this lofty charity. "We are at once moved
and calmed ; it seems that she has enlarged our
ideas of the world and of God. We feel as we shut
the book that we are more at peace with ourselves,
calmer in face of the problems of destiny.



M. DuPONT White is among the small number
of writers who still treat politics as a science, and
we owe to him both original and translated work
on this science. He has courageously grappled in
his books with the questions which touched the
destinies of France nearest — that is to say, the
relations between the individual and the State,
between liberty and centralization. He has brought
to the settlement of these questions views which
are his own, and which are supported by the study
of facts and by ingenious reasoning. His whole
work is instructive, paradoxical, stimulative of con-
tradiction. Nor has M. Dupont White deserved
less well of the French public in making knoAvn to
it the political writings of one of the most eminent
thinkers of contemporary England, Mr. John Stuart
Mill. Mr. Mill's book on " Eepresentative Gov-
ernment " is an important work on a great subject :
the principles, namely, and the conditions of gov-
ernment in democratic States. It is on this book
that I wish to discourse to my readers to-day ; but

1 Representative Government. By J. Stuart Mill. Translated
and preceded by an introduction by Dupont White. 1862.



it will not be useless to begin by pointing out what
the author's other works are, what are their dis-
tinguishing tendencies, and what place they hold in
the intellectual movement of our time.

Mr. Mill's mind and his views have been devel-
oped under the action of several successive influ-
ences. Our author began with Bentham ; he passed
later under the sway of Auguste Comte, nor did he
finally escape the fascinations of the French Socialist
systems. His father (well known by his ''History
of British India " and by divers philosophical and
political works) was one of Bentham's most de-
voted disciples. Our author was brought up in the
lap of the Utilitarian school, and he began his career
as a publicist under the eyes of its founder. But
the utilitarian doctrines have both their sources
and their issues in a definite group of ideas ; and
these ideas are exactly those which found their ex-
pression in Positive philosophy. When he passed
from the school of Bentham to that of Comte, Mr.
Mill did not change his direction. He merely fol-
lowed the course of utilitarian ideas to the point
where they debouch and lose themselves in a
vaster system. The Positive philosophy, if I am
not mistaken, has done little more than mark the
tendency of all modern science to become " positive "
— that is to say, to exclude everything which lies
outside of experience. Comte gave formal expres-
sion to the eagerness of our time to free itself from
metaphysical ideas. He assigned to this movement


its place in the evolution of the human mind. This
is all he did, but this is itself a service rendered to
thought. To connect facts, to unite ideas, to lay-
down a law is to make science advance 5 and this
is why the name of Comte has henceforward its
place in the history of philosophy.

It is worth noticing that the Positive doctrine
has been more successful among our neighbors than
among ourselves. In France it hardly numbers,
among strictly orthodox disciples, more than one
name^ which has other titles to distinction. It
is not so in England. Comte's formless volumes
have been there abridged by the elegant pen of
Miss Martineau. More than one periodical — the
'•'Leader," the "Westminster Eeview " — has served
as an organ of the party ideas. Several men of
ability or of learning have constituted themselves
its interpreters. Mr. Mill has written the Positiv-
ist "Logic." The work of Mr. Lewes on the His-
tory of Philosophy, that of Mr. Buckle on the Phil-
osophy of History, are connected with the same
school. Even political Positivism has found in Mr.
Congreve a disciple enthusiastic enough and naif
enough to request his countrymen to give up India
and Gibraltar. The teachings of Comte have every-
where taken root in the country of Locke, as though
in their native soil : and if the English have some-
times done us the honor of regarding Mr. Mill as
possessed of specially French qualities, we might
1 [That of M. Littre, no doubt. — Trans.}


almost make them a present of the founder of the
school as one of themselves.^ It is customary to
set the two nations against each other as totally
opposite: ought we not to modify such a judgment
when we see France adopting Locke and Eeid, and
England returning the compliment by borrowing
the books of M. Cousin^ and the ideas of M. Comte ?
Mr, Mill's first great work was his "Logic," which
appeared in 1843. This is an exposition of the
essential principles of the Positive philosophy, and
it is easily to be understood how this philosophy
reduces itself to logic. Positivism is philosophy
minus metaphysics — that is to say, philosophy
minus philosophy, purely formal, wholly method-
ical. Nor do I know in the history of ideas a
closer connection than that which binds Mill's
teaching to the teaching of his predecessors of the
English school. From the moment when sensation
becomes the sole source of our knowledge, it is
clear that phenomena are the only objects of it,
and that the phenomenon itself is only an indi-
vidual or, as they say, subjective impression.
From this to Hume and to Berkeley there is JDut
a step. If we know nothing of things but the
impression produced on us, we can neither know
nor affirm anything of things considered in them-

1 [For this kind present I fear Englishmen will not be duly
thankful; at least I am not. — Trans.]

2 [If this is an iunuendo against Sir W. Hamilton and his
school, it is not quite worthy of M. Scherer. But he was at this
time in the ardor of Hegelian " conversion." — Trans.]


selves — not even their real existence. Such is the
ground on which our author takes his stand. The
aim of his book is to eliminate from science the
transcendent element — that is to say, everything
which lies beyond experience. If we take his
word, a thing is but a bundle of attributes, and
essence is but a word. " Cause " in the same way
is but the constant succession of two phenomena :
" law " itself has no necessity, and is only a prob-
ability founded on the frequent repetition of facts.
Thus the Infinite, the Absolute, everything that is
universal and necessary, vanishes from nature and
from science. There remains nothing but man and
his perceptions, but facts and their relations. I
make not the least pretence of refuting Mr. Mill's
system : I prefer simply to seek in it for indica-
tions of the tendency of his mind. Besides, to
tell the truth, I do not think it possible to refute
phenomenalism : the task would be self -contradic-
tory. If a man confines himself to the regions of
personal impression, you never can persuade him
that there is anything further, for the very condi-
tions of his knowledge oppose themselves thereto,
and the man cannot go out of himself to penetrate
the nature of things. It is impossible for him to see
them otherwise than as they appear, or to assure
himself that this appearance is not their whole con-
tents. At the most one can but remind him that
the partisans of Positivism do not take into ac-
count all the elements of the problem as it states


itself in human consciousness. It is true tiiat our
senses do not attain to anything in the object save
attributes : but it is equally certain that we have a
notion of some substance distinct from these attri-
butes — that we cannot get rid of this notion, and
that the very word " attribute " implies it. So is
it, too, with Cause. We cannot actually take hold
of anything but the sequence of two phenomena.
Yet in using the word "cause" we mean some-
thing much more than that — we mean that one of
the facts is contained in the other, and that they
are inseparable by thought. And, lastly, it is true
that when we see phenomena accomplishing them-
selves in a constantly uniform manner, we know
really but one thing — that the sequence has not
as yet failed. But it is equally true that we have
an invincible belief in the eternal constancy, the
absolute validity of the rule. Thus our judgments
carry into things a datum which is not furnished
by experience — one of which we cannot conse-
quently say that it is supplied by reality, but
which is none the less inherent in our minds, and
of which we are absolutely unable to get rid. This
is what Kant comprehended so admirably and what
he tried to explain: and this is why Positivism,
which does not see it or does not take account of it,
falls short of philosophy proper.

Five years after his " Logic," Mr. Mill published
a not less monumental work on Political Economy,
iii which he attacked every question, and showed


on all points at once a profound knowledge of all
theories, and that independence of mind which
enslaves itself to none. Yet this work, which in
England has ranked the author by the side of Adam
Smith and of Ricardo, had less originality than
thoroughness. The author showed more sense and
information than freshness : and gave us an ency-
clopsedia of the science rather than a system of his
own. It differed in this respect from the " Logic " :
and if it could not but increase the repute of the
author by showing all the extent of his study and
his qualifications, it was certain also to arouse less
surprise and start fewer discussions.

The newest part of the book was that in which
Mr. Mill enlarged his subject by including in it
some political problems. After treating matters
purely economical under the three heads of Produc-
tion, Distribution, and Exchange, the author sets
forth certain considerations on the progress of
society and the influence of government. In this
last part he examines the possible and desirable
limits of the action of the State. And it is here
that we find, amid the most jealous fears on the
subject of centralization and the encroachments of
power, and in company with the expression of the
most enlightened love for liberty, certain assertions
which seem contrary to these principles, and which
have not failed to cause some astonishment. Our
author, while handling State iutervention, comes

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Online LibraryEdmond Henri Adolphe SchererEssays on English literature; → online text (page 3 of 21)