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heir - and who is rebuked by her lord because the boy dies. Her sorrow
is, I think, pathetic. From beginning to end the story is well told.
But I doubt now whether any one reads _The Claverings_. When I
remember how many novels I have written, I have no right to expect
that above a few of them shall endure even to the second year
beyond publication. This story closed my connection with the
_Cornhill Magazine_; - but not with its owner, Mr. George Smith, who
subsequently brought out a further novel of mine in a separate form,
and who about this time established the _Pall Mall Gazette_, to which
paper I was for some years a contributor.

It was in 1865 that the _Pall Mall Gazette_ was commenced, the
name having been taken from a fictitious periodical, which was the
offspring of Thackeray's brain. It was set on foot by the unassisted
energy and resources of George Smith, who had succeeded by means of
his magazine and his publishing connection in getting around him a
society of literary men who sufficed, as far as literary ability
went, to float the paper at once under favourable auspices. His two
strongest staffs probably were "Jacob Omnium," whom I regard as the
most forcible newspaper writer of my days, and Fitz-James Stephen,
the most conscientious and industrious. To them the _Pall Mall
Gazette_ owed very much of its early success, - and to the untiring
energy and general ability of its proprietor. Among its other
contributors were George Lewes, Hannay, - who, I think, came up
from Edinburgh for employment on its columns, - Lord Houghton, Lord
Strangford, Charles Merivale, Greenwood the present editor, Greg,
myself, and very many others; - so many others, that I have met at a
Pall Mall dinner a crowd of guests who would have filled the House of
Commons more respectably than I have seen it filled even on important
occasions. There are many who now remember - and no doubt when this is
published there will be left some to remember - the great stroke of
business which was done by the revelations of a visitor to one of the
casual wards in London. A person had to be selected who would undergo
the misery of a night among the usual occupants of a casual ward in a
London poor-house, and who should at the same time be able to record
what he felt and saw. The choice fell upon Mr. Greenwood's brother,
who certainly possessed the courage and the powers of endurance. The
description, which was very well given, was, I think, chiefly written
by the brother of the Casual himself. It had a great effect, which
was increased by secrecy as to the person who encountered all the
horrors of that night. I was more than once assured that Lord
Houghton was the man. I heard it asserted also that I myself had been
the hero. At last the unknown one could no longer endure that his
honours should be hidden, and revealed the truth, - in opposition,
I fear, to promises to the contrary, and instigated by a conviction
that if known he could turn his honours to account. In the meantime,
however, that record of a night passed in a workhouse had done more
to establish the sale of the journal than all the legal lore of
Stephen, or the polemical power of Higgins, or the critical acumen of
Lewes.

My work was very various. I wrote much on the subject of the American
War, on which my feelings were at the time very keen, - subscribing,
if I remember right, my name to all that I wrote. I contributed also
some sets of sketches, of which those concerning hunting found
favour with the public. They were republished afterwards, and had a
considerable sale, and may, I think, still be recommended to those
who are fond of hunting, as being accurate in their description
of the different classes of people who are to be met in the
hunting-field. There was also a set of clerical sketches, which was
considered to be of sufficient importance to bring down upon my
head the critical wrath of a great dean of that period. The most
ill-natured review that was ever written upon any work of mine
appeared in the _Contemporary Review_ with reference to these
Clerical Sketches. The critic told me that I did not understand
Greek. That charge has been made not unfrequently by those who have
felt themselves strong in that pride-producing language. It is much
to read Greek with ease, but it is not disgraceful to be unable to do
so. To pretend to read it without being able, - that is disgraceful.
The critic, however, had been driven to wrath by my saying that
Deans of the Church of England loved to revisit the glimpses of the
metropolitan moon.

I also did some critical work for the _Pall Mall_, - as I did also for
_The Fortnightly_. It was not to my taste, but was done in conformity
with strict conscientious scruples. I read what I took in hand,
and said what I believed to be true, - always giving to the matter
time altogether incommensurate with the pecuniary result to myself.
In doing this for the _Pall Mall_, I fell into great sorrow. A
gentleman, whose wife was dear to me as if she were my own sister,
was in some trouble as to his conduct in the public service. He had
been blamed, as he thought unjustly, and vindicated himself in a
pamphlet. This he handed to me one day, asking me to read it, and
express my opinion about it if I found that I had an opinion. I
thought the request injudicious, and I did not read the pamphlet.
He met me again, and, handing me a second pamphlet, pressed me very
hard. I promised him that I would read it, and that if I found myself
able I would express myself; - but that I must say not what I wished
to think, but what I did think. To this of course he assented. I then
went very much out of my way to study the subject, - which was one
requiring study. I found, or thought that I found, that the conduct
of the gentleman in his office had been indiscreet; but that charges
made against himself affecting his honour were baseless. This I said,
emphasising much more strongly than was necessary the opinion which I
had formed of his indiscretion, - as will so often be the case when a
man has a pen in his hand. It is like a club or a sledge-hammer, - in
using which, either for defence or attack, a man can hardly measure
the strength of the blows he gives. Of course there was offence, - and
a breaking off of intercourse between loving friends, - and a sense of
wrong received, and I must own, too, of wrong done. It certainly was
not open to me to whitewash with honesty him whom I did not find to
be white; but there was no duty incumbent on me to declare what was
his colour in my eyes, - no duty even to ascertain. But I had been
ruffled by the persistency of the gentleman's request, - which should
not have been made, - and I punished him for his wrong-doing by doing
a wrong myself. I must add, that before he died his wife succeeded in
bringing us together.

In the early days of the paper, the proprietor, who at that time
acted also as chief editor, asked me to undertake a duty, - of which
the agony would indeed at no one moment have been so sharp as that
endured in the casual ward, but might have been prolonged until human
nature sank under it. He suggested to me that I should during an
entire season attend the May meetings in Exeter Hall, and give a
graphic and, if possible, amusing description of the proceedings. I
did attend one, - which lasted three hours, - and wrote a paper which
I think was called _A Zulu in Search of a Religion_. But when the
meeting was over I went to that spirited proprietor, and begged him
to impose upon me some task more equal to my strength. Not even on
behalf of the _Pall Mall Gazette_, which was very dear to me, could
I go through a second May meeting, - much less endure a season of such
martyrdom.

I have to acknowledge that I found myself unfit for work on a
newspaper. I had not taken to it early enough in life to learn its
ways and bear its trammels. I was fidgety when any word was altered
in accordance with the judgment of the editor, who, of course,
was responsible for what appeared. I wanted to select my own
subjects, - not to have them selected for me; to write when I
pleased, - and not when it suited others. As a permanent member of a
staff I was no use, and after two or three years I dropped out of the
work.

From the commencement of my success as a writer, which I date from
the beginning of the _Cornhill Magazine_, I had always felt an
injustice in literary affairs which had never afflicted me or even
suggested itself to me while I was unsuccessful. It seemed to me that
a name once earned carried with it too much favour. I indeed had
never reached a height to which praise was awarded as a matter of
course; but there were others who sat on higher seats to whom the
critics brought unmeasured incense and adulation, even when they
wrote, as they sometimes did write, trash which from a beginner would
not have been thought worthy of the slightest notice. I hope no one
will think that in saying this I am actuated by jealousy of others.
Though I never reached that height, still I had so far progressed
that that which I wrote was received with too much favour. The
injustice which struck me did not consist in that which was withheld
from me, but in that which was given to me. I felt that aspirants
coming up below me might do work as good as mine, and probably much
better work, and yet fail to have it appreciated. In order to test
this, I determined to be such an aspirant myself, and to begin a
course of novels anonymously, in order that I might see whether I
could obtain a second identity, - whether as I had made one mark by
such literary ability as I possessed, I might succeed in doing so
again. In 1865 I began a short tale called _Nina Balatka_, which
in 1866 was published anonymously in _Blackwood's Magazine_. In
1867 this was followed by another of the same length, called _Linda
Tressel_. I will speak of them together, as they are of the same
nature and of nearly equal merit. Mr. Blackwood, who himself read the
MS. of _Nina Balatka_, expressed an opinion that it would not from
its style be discovered to have been written by me; - but it was
discovered by Mr. Hutton of the _Spectator_, who found the repeated
use of some special phrase which had rested upon his ear too
frequently when reading for the purpose of criticism other works of
mine. He declared in his paper that _Nina Balatka_ was by me, showing
I think more sagacity than good nature. I ought not, however, to
complain of him, as of all the critics of my work he has been the
most observant, and generally the most eulogistic. _Nina Balatka_
never rose sufficiently high in reputation to make its detection a
matter of any importance. Once or twice I heard the story mentioned
by readers who did not know me to be the author, and always with
praise; but it had no real success. The same may be said of _Linda
Tressel_. Blackwood, who of course knew the author, was willing to
publish them, trusting that works by an experienced writer would make
their way, even without the writer's name, and he was willing to pay
me for them, perhaps half what they would have fetched with my name.
But he did not find the speculation answer, and declined a third
attempt, though a third such tale was written for him.

Nevertheless I am sure that the two stories are good. Perhaps the
first is somewhat the better, as being the less lachrymose. They were
both written very quickly, but with a considerable amount of labour;
and both were written immediately after visits to the towns in which
the scenes are laid, - Prague, mainly, and Nuremberg. Of course I had
endeavoured to change not only my manner of language, but my manner
of story-telling also; and in this, _pace_ Mr. Hutton, I think that
I was successful. English life in them there was none. There was more
of romance proper than had been usual with me. And I made an attempt
at local colouring, at descriptions of scenes and places, which has
not been usual with me. In all this I am confident that I was in a
measure successful. In the loves, and fears, and hatreds, both of
Nina and of Linda, there is much that is pathetic. Prague is Prague,
and Nuremberg is Nuremberg. I know that the stories are good, but
they missed the object with which they had been written. Of course
there is not in this any evidence that I might not have succeeded a
second time as I succeeded before, had I gone on with the same dogged
perseverance. Mr. Blackwood, had I still further reduced my price,
would probably have continued the experiment. Another ten years of
unpaid unflagging labour might have built up a second reputation. But
this at any rate did seem clear to me, that with all the increased
advantages which practice in my art must have given me, I could not
at once induce English readers to read what I gave to them, unless I
gave it with my name.

I do not wish to have it supposed from this that I quarrel with
public judgment in affairs of literature. It is a matter of course
that in all things the public should trust to established reputation.
It is as natural that a novel reader wanting novels should send to
a library for those by George Eliot or Wilkie Collins, as that a
lady when she wants a pie for a picnic should go to Fortnum & Mason.
Fortnum & Mason can only make themselves Fortnum & Mason by dint of
time and good pies combined. If Titian were to send us a portrait
from the other world, as certain dead poets send their poetry, by
means of a medium, it would be some time before the art critic of
the _Times_ would discover its value. We may sneer at the want of
judgment thus displayed, but such slowness of judgment is human
and has always existed. I say all this here because my thoughts
on the matter have forced upon me the conviction that very much
consideration is due to the bitter feelings of disappointed authors.

We who have succeeded are so apt to tell new aspirants not to aspire,
because the thing to be done may probably be beyond their reach.
"My dear young lady, had you not better stay at home and darn your
stockings?" "As, sir, you have asked for my candid opinion, I can
only counsel you to try some other work of life which may be better
suited to your abilities." What old-established successful author has
not said such words as these to humble aspirants for critical advice,
till they have become almost formulas? No doubt there is cruelty in
such answers; but the man who makes them has considered the matter
within himself, and has resolved that such cruelty is the best mercy.
No doubt the chances against literary aspirants are very great.
It is so easy to aspire, - and to begin! A man cannot make a watch
or a shoe without a variety of tools and many materials. He must
also have learned much. But any young lady can write a book who
has a sufficiency of pens and paper. It can be done anywhere; in
any clothes - which is a great thing; at any hours - to which happy
accident in literature I owe my success. And the success, when
achieved, is so pleasant! The aspirants, of course, are very many;
and the experienced councillor, when asked for his candid judgment as
to this or that effort, knows that among every hundred efforts there
will be ninety-nine failures. Then the answer is so ready: "My dear
young lady, do darn your stockings; it will be for the best." Or
perhaps, less tenderly, to the male aspirant: "You must earn some
money, you say. Don't you think that a stool in a counting-house
might be better?" The advice will probably be good advice, - probably,
no doubt, as may be proved by the terrible majority of failures. But
who is to be sure that he is not expelling an angel from the heaven
to which, if less roughly treated, he would soar, - that he is not
dooming some Milton to be mute and inglorious, who, but for such
cruel ill-judgment, would become vocal to all ages?

The answer to all this seems to be ready enough. The judgment,
whether cruel or tender, should not be ill-judgment. He who consents
to sit as judge should have capacity for judging. But in this matter
no accuracy of judgment is possible. It may be that the matter
subjected to the critic is so bad or so good as to make an assured
answer possible. "You, at any rate, cannot make this your vocation;"
or "You, at any rate, can succeed, if you will try." But cases as to
which such certainty can be expressed are rare. The critic who wrote
the article on the early verses of Lord Byron, which produced the
_English Bards and Scotch Reviewers_, was justified in his criticism
by the merits of the _Hours of Idleness_. The lines had nevertheless
been written by that Lord Byron who became our Byron. In a little
satire called _The Biliad_, which, I think, nobody knows, are the
following well-expressed lines: -

"When Payne Knight's _Taste_ was issued to the town,
A few Greek verses in the text set down
Were torn to pieces, mangled into hash,
Doomed to the flames as execrable trash, -
In short, were butchered rather than dissected,
And several false quantities detected, -
Till, when the smoke had vanished from the cinders,
'Twas just discovered that - _the lines were Pindar's!_"

There can be no assurance against cases such as these; and yet we are
so free with our advice, always bidding the young aspirant to desist.

There is perhaps no career of life so charming as that of a
successful man of letters. Those little unthought of advantages which
I just now named are in themselves attractive. If you like the town,
live in the town, and do your work there; if you like the country,
choose the country. It may be done on the top of a mountain or in the
bottom of a pit. It is compatible with the rolling of the sea and
the motion of a railway. The clergyman, the lawyer, the doctor, the
member of Parliament, the clerk in a public office, the tradesman,
and even his assistant in the shop, must dress in accordance with
certain fixed laws; but the author need sacrifice to no grace, hardly
even to Propriety. He is subject to no bonds such as those which bind
other men. Who else is free from all shackle as to hours? The judge
must sit at ten, and the attorney-general, who is making his £20,000
a year, must be there with his bag. The Prime Minister must be in his
place on that weary front bench shortly after prayers, and must sit
there, either asleep or awake, even though - - or - - should be
addressing the House. During all that Sunday which he maintains
should be a day of rest, the active clergyman toils like a
galley-slave. The actor, when eight o'clock comes, is bound to his
footlights. The Civil Service clerk must sit there from ten till
four, - unless his office be fashionable, when twelve to six is just
as heavy on him. The author may do his work at five in the morning
when he is fresh from his bed, or at three in the morning before he
goes there. And the author wants no capital, and encounters no risks.
When once he is afloat, the publisher finds all that; - and indeed,
unless he be rash, finds it whether he be afloat or not. But it is
in the consideration which he enjoys that the successful author
finds his richest reward. He is, if not of equal rank, yet of equal
standing with the highest; and if he be open to the amenities of
society, may choose his own circles. He without money can enter doors
which are closed against almost all but him and the wealthy. I have
often heard it said that in this country the man of letters is not
recognised. I believe the meaning of this to be that men of letters
are not often invited to be knights and baronets. I do not think that
they wish it; - and if they had it they would, as a body, lose much
more than they would gain. I do not at all desire to have letters put
after my name, or to be called Sir Anthony, but if my friends Tom
Hughes and Charles Reade became Sir Thomas and Sir Charles, I do not
know how I might feel, - or how my wife might feel, if we were left
unbedecked. As it is, the man of letters who would be selected for
titular honour, if such bestowal of honours were customary, receives
from the general respect of those around him a much more pleasant
recognition of his worth.

If this be so, - if it be true that the career of the successful
literary man be thus pleasant, - it is not wonderful that many should
attempt to win the prize. But how is a man to know whether or not he
has within him the qualities necessary for such a career? He makes
an attempt, and fails; repeats his attempt, and fails again! So many
have succeeded at last who have failed more than once or twice! Who
will tell him the truth as to himself? Who has power to find out
that truth? The hard man sends him off without a scruple to that
office-stool; the soft man assures him that there is much merit in
his MS.

Oh, my young aspirant, - if ever such a one should read these
pages, - be sure that no one can tell you! To do so it would be
necessary not only to know what there is now within you, but also to
foresee what time will produce there. This, however, I think may be
said to you, without any doubt as to the wisdom of the counsel given,
that if it be necessary for you to live by your work, do not begin by
trusting to literature. Take the stool in the office as recommended
to you by the hard man; and then, in such leisure hours as may belong
to you, let the praise which has come from the lips of that soft man
induce you to persevere in your literary attempts. Should you fail,
then your failure will not be fatal, - and what better could you have
done with the leisure hours had you not so failed? Such double toil,
you will say, is severe. Yes; but if you want this thing, you must
submit to severe toil.

Sometime before this I had become one of the Committee appointed for
the distribution of the moneys of the Royal Literary Fund, and in
that capacity I heard and saw much of the sufferings of authors. I
may in a future chapter speak further of this Institution, which I
regard with great affection, and in reference to which I should be
glad to record certain convictions of my own; but I allude to it now,
because the experience I have acquired in being active in its cause
forbids me to advise any young man or woman to enter boldly on a
literary career in search of bread. I know how utterly I should have
failed myself had my bread not been earned elsewhere while I was
making my efforts. During ten years of work, which I commenced with
some aid from the fact that others of my family were in the same
profession, I did not earn enough to buy me the pens, ink, and paper
which I was using; and then when, with all my experience in my art, I
began again as from a new springing point, I should have failed again
unless again I could have given years to the task. Of course there
have been many who have done better than I, - many whose powers have
been infinitely greater. But then, too, I have seen the failure of
many who were greater.

The career, when success has been achieved, is certainly very
pleasant; but the agonies which are endured in the search for that
success are often terrible. And the author's poverty is, I think,
harder to be borne than any other poverty. The man, whether rightly
or wrongly, feels that the world is using him with extreme injustice.
The more absolutely he fails, the higher, it is probable, he will
reckon his own merits; and the keener will be the sense of injury
in that he whose work is of so high a nature cannot get bread,
while they whose tasks are mean are lapped in luxury. "I, with my
well-filled mind, with my clear intellect, with all my gifts, cannot
earn a poor crown a day, while that fool, who simpers in a little
room behind a shop, makes his thousands every year." The very
charity, to which he too often is driven, is bitterer to him than to
others. While he takes it he almost spurns the hand that gives it to
him, and every fibre of his heart within him is bleeding with a sense
of injury.

The career, when successful, is pleasant enough certainly; but when
unsuccessful, it is of all careers the most agonising.




CHAPTER XII.

ON NOVELS AND THE ART OF WRITING THEM.


It is nearly twenty years since I proposed to myself to write a
history of English prose fiction. I shall never do it now, but
the subject is so good a one that I recommend it heartily to some
man of letters, who shall at the same time be indefatigable and
light-handed. I acknowledge that I broke down in the task, because
I could not endure the labour in addition to the other labours of
my life. Though the book might be charming, the work was very much
the reverse. It came to have a terrible aspect to me, as did that
proposition that I should sit out all the May meetings of a season.


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