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Corrected Impressions





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HTHESE Critical Notes differ a little in
scheme and aim from anything that
their writer has hitherto attempted. The shape
r^ tvhich they take was partly suggested, as is
r- observed in one of them, by some remarks of
Mr. A. J. Balfour's at the Literary Fund Dinner
of 1893, in London. It occurred to me then
*? that a kind of foreshortened review of the im-
t pressions, and the corrections of them, which
the great Victorian writers had produced or
undergone in my own case during the last thirty
years might not be an absolutely uninteresting
sample of " how it has struck a contemporary."
It was not practically possible to execute this

iv Preface.

without some reference to the progress of gen-
eral as well as of individual opinion. But care
has been taken to maintain as far as possible
the genuineness of the individual impression,
past as well as present. To do this it was neces-
sary rather to give heads of a study of the
authors than the completed study itself, and
rather to say too little than to say too much ;
but at the same time not to refrain from a
certain amount of personal detail. Some of
the earlier papers have appeared in the Indian
Daily News, and the four last in the New
York Critic; but none have been printed in


G. S.



" I. Thackeray . i

'- II. Thackeray {concluded) ii

''III. Tennyson 21

/ IV. Tennyson {concluded) 31

''V. Carlyle 41

^VI. Carlyle {concluded) , 50

VII. Mr. Swinburne 60

VIII. Mr. Swinburne (6W«t/«rtfe^/) . .• . . 70

IX. Macaulay 79

X. Macaulay (concluded) 88

XI. Browning 98

^ XII. Browning {concluded) .107

^XIII. Dickens . 117

" XIV. Dickens {concluded) 127

XV. Matthew Arnold ...... 138

XVI. Matthew Arnold {concluded) . . . 148





« i'

' XVII. Three Mid-Century Novelists - . 157

y XVIII. Three Mid-Century Novelists icon-
eluded) 168

XIX. Mr. William Morris 178

XX. Mr. William Morris {concluded) . . i88

XXI. Mr. Ruskin 198

XXII. Mr. Ruskin (concluded) 209




TN a certain now rather antiquated school of
theology, the word "use" was employed
with a special application, denoting the adjust-
ment of a given text, fact, or other thing to
beneficent moral purposes. I like to make a
use of critical humility out of the fact that there
was a time when I did not like Thackeray. It
was a very short time in itself, and it was a very
long time ago ; but from about, so far as I can
remember, my fifteenth year to my seventeenth,
it existed. The circumstances were extenuat-
ing. It so happened that, almost ever since I
could read, I had been brought up on Dickens,
and had known little or nothing of his great
rival in the English fiction of the middle of the
century, except that he was his rival I believe

Corrected Impressions.

the first thing that I ever read of Mr. Thackeray's
was " Philip," as it came out in the Cornhill ;
the next, " Vanity Fair." Neither, it will proba-
bly be admitted, was the best possible introduc-
tion to the subject for a green taste. I now
think considerably better of "Philip" than
some professed Thackerayans do ; but I should
hardly quarrel very fiercely with anybody who
failed to relish it. And I do not think that
any boy — at least any boy who is genuine,
and has not prematurely learnt to feign liking
for what he thinks he ought to like — can
really enjoy " Vanity Fair." The full beauty
of Becky (I can honestly say that I always
saw some of it) is necessarily hidden from
him ; he cannot taste the majesty of the
crowning scene with Lord Steyne, or the even
finer, though less dramatic, negotiations which
avert the duel ; his knowledge of life is insuffi-
cient to allow him to detect the magnificent
thoroughness and the more magnificent irony
of the general treatment. On the other hand,
he is sure, if he is good for anything, to be
disgusted with the namby-pambyness of Amelia,

Thackeray. 3

with the chuckle-headed goodness of Dobbin,
with the vicious nincompoopery and the selfish-
ness of George Osborne. For these are things
which, though experience may lead to the re-
tractation of an opinion that any of the three is
unnatural, leave on some tolerably mature judg-
ments the impression that they are one-sided
and out of composition, if not of drawing.

But this could not last long: after a few
months, " Pendennis " came in my way. I took
it, I remember very well after thirty years, out
of a certain school library, and I read it, or
began to read it (an exceedingly reprehensible
practice) on my way home, which lay through
Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. If any
of the persons into whose arms I walked are
still alive, I humbly ask their pardon. Even if
they had not now mostly been changed long
ago for others, it would be superfluous to
extend forgiveness to the Park seats which
avenged these innocents on my own knees. It
may to some people seem odd, and to others
shocking, that "The Newcomes" threw me at
first rather back. It had its revenge later,

Corrected Impressions.

though. To this day I confess that I think
Ethel rather shadowy, and not wholly attractive ;
Clive something of what his own day would
have called a young tiger; and the Colonel him-
self, despite his angelic quaUties and immortal
end, now and then (it is dreadful, but it must
be said) a very little silly. But " Esmond "
and "The Virginians" together, with their in-
comparable picture of Beatrix, — the only true
picture of a woman conceived in nature and
sublimed to the seventh heaven by art, in
youth and age alike, that prose fiction con-
tains, — made me live Mr. Thackeray's Pro-
testant to be. All my old prejudices vanished.
" The wreck was total," as a celebrated epitaph
of the last century has it. ** There was no mis-
take about this fellow," to alter slightly a great
phrase in one of the novelist's own very best

But when you have thus " got salvation " in
matters literary, you do not, if the gods have
made you at all critical, proceed to mere indis-
criminate adoring. What you do proceed to
is reading, at first indiscriminate, then tolerably

Thackeray. 5

discriminating, and to the enjoyment of analys-
ing excellence, never without the possibility of
admitting defect, but with a sure consciousness
that the man you study is right in the main,
and that it will be only in a way for his greater
glory if you find out where and wherefore he
is sometimes wrong. I shall endeavour to set
out the chief results of thirty years' reading
and rereading of the books of Thackeray in this
spirit, only mentioning further, in the same
personal key, that, if there is one scene which
finally made me his, it is that — slightly done in
appearance, and left to produce its own effect,
with the carelessness of supremacy — in which
Harry Warrington fails to recognise the portrait
of Beatrix. If it is not necessary to have read
most of the good novels, I would fain persuade
myself that it is not unhelpful to have read vast
numbers of the bad, in order to see the gran-
deur of this. America, Russia, France (putting
Flaubert out of the question), for thirty years
and more, have been trying to beat Thackeray's
record in this particular field, and they have
never come anywhere near him.

Corrected Impressions.

To the corrupted modern man, what other
people say of his subject always has a good
deal to do with his impressions of it, though, ii
he be critically given, he can generally get rid
of any bad effect thereof. He takes account
of the sayings, is rather grateful for them, owes
to them sometimes certain initial points of view
and lines of approach, but is not, strictly speak-
ing, much biassed by them. What other people
have said about Thackeray has gone through
some three or four stages. There was the first,
in which they gradually had him forced on their
notice, as a man who wrote a good deal for the
papers. Some, as we learn from the " Life of
Lever," thought he wrote for too many papers,
and was not careful enough in his selection of
those organs. Others, as we learn from a note
to Lockhart's article on " Hook," and those the
acutest judges of the day, thought him a very
remarkable person indeed. He had almost
reached the last decade of his too short life
before this opinion, or conflict of opinion,
changed, — though it must always be remem-
bered that these stages of critical opinion do not

Thackeray. 7

end each as the other begins, but overlap and
interpenetrate one another. He was now recog-
nised as one of the greatest writers and one
of the greatest novelists of England; he had
an ever wider and stronger influence on the
coming generation of novelists and of writers ;
but it was said that he was dreadfully cynical.
This stage too passed, at least as a prevailing
and recognised stage, and he entered (as most
men do who die comparatively young) by the
gates of death into something like a full enjoy-
ment of the fame which was his due. Of late
years, I am told, and I can partly perceive evi-
dences of it, he has entered yet another phase.
His manner, his language, his atmosphere of so-
ciety, are getting a little antiquated for younger
readers. Some critics have persuaded them-
selves that they see more points in the human
soul than he did ; his analysis is not quite
thorough-going enough, and so forth. Augustus
Z. from New York, and M. Jules from Paris
(or Quimper), and Count Caviarovitch from
Ostrolenko, have outstripped Mr. William Make-
peace. He is a little rococo.

8 Corrected Impressions.

Let us register these things, and all things.
Perhaps, though it may seem an undue mag-
nification of the critical office, it is never im*
possible for a competent critic to disentangle
himself almost wholly from prejudices of all
kinds, and to see his subjects, whether they be
subjects two thousand years old, or subjects
of yesterday, or subjects of to-day, in a fairly
white light. The worst of it is that it is so very
difficult to decide what other persons will agree
to regard as a white light. If their own eye-
pieces are not quite achromatic, the whitest light
will seem to them coloured, and they will com-
plain to that effect. But this difficulty has to
be faced.

Of few writers can it be said with so much
confidence as of Thackeray, that he is all of a
piece. He wrote, as has been observed, at one
time of his life rather miscellaneously, and a
great deal of his miscellaneous writing has been
preserved. He was a reviewer of all sorts of
books, a satiric essayist, a literary critic on the
great scale, a social historian, a lecturer, and
a novelist. When he was a novelist, he was

Thackeray. o

very generally all the other things which have
been enumerated at the same time ; and it not
unfrequently happened that, in the discharge of
his miscellaneous functions, he forgot the par-
ticular jacket he had on, and wrote in a charac-
ter suitable to quite other garments. In "The
English Humourists," for instance, and the
" Roundabout Papers," he is everything by turns ;
and there is hardly one of his novels, from the
immaturity of " Catherine " to the uncompleted
promise of "Denis Duval," in which the reader
who reads with his eyes open does not perceive
that he has something much more than a mere
novelist to deal with. Not that Thackeray was
not a novelist first of all, for if there is one of
the pretty numerous gifts which go to make up
the novelist which is more indispensable to him
than any other, it is the gift of conceiving and
projecting character. And this was the essence,
the centre, the mainspring, of Thackeray's genius.
Whether it was, as a gift, separable from his other
peculiar gift of style, is a very intricate question
of criticism. But I think the style might have
existed without it, and therefore is less distinc-

lO Corrected Impressions.

tive. Alone among our novelists, if not among"
the novelists of the world, Thackeray simply
could not introduce a personage, no matter how
subordinate, without making him a living crea-
ture. He (or she) may be the central figure of
a long and complicated novel, or may be intro-
duced to say a couple of lines, and never appear
again, but Thackeray has no sooner touched
him than there is a human being, — an entity.
Everybody knows the penalty which is said, in
strict Mohammedan theology, to wait upon the
rash men of art, that they will have somehow or
other to find souls for their creations at the Day
of Judgment, or it will go uncommonly ill with
them. The prospect must be rather an alarming
one for most " makers " of any kind. It need
never have troubled Thackeray. He had done
it beforehand. He could not introduce a foot-
man, saying some half dozen words, "My Lady
is gone to Brightzwf," or something of that sort,
without presenting the fellow for his trouble with
life and immortahty.


THACKERAY (concluded).

TT is perhaps worth while to expand a little
-*- that general view of Thackeray's literary
gifts which has been put above. It must be
remembered that his literary history is decid-
edly peculiar. He died (as men go) young;
and he began regular — not merely casual or
amateur — literary composition very young in-
deed. He had dabbled in journalism at Cam-
bridge, and there was not I think any time after
his undergraduate period at which he did not
more or less practise it. Yet he was getting
on for his fortieth year when *• Vanity Fair " in
its complete form for the first time forced him
upon the notice of the public as a person who
could not be any longer neglected. Of course,
looking backwards, we think nowadays that
we can detect the excellence which the world
then first recognised in much earlier pieces.

12 Corrected Impressions.

The maddening practice of republishing works
in collected editions without giving their original
dates (a practice for which, if I were dictator, I
would saw any editor or publisher through
between two boards) makes it not always easy
without elaborate researches to " place " his ear-
lier works exactly. But he certainly had a good
ten years' practice in regular harness to all sorts
of vehicles, before in 1846 the first instalments
of "Vanity Fair" proclaimed him as beyond all
doubt or question a master.

There are few more interesting things than
to survey all this early work, — the Tales, the
Burlesques, the Christmas Stories, the Re-
views, the Sketch Books, the what not. It is
excessively difficult to decide whether it is real
critical acumen or ex post facto wiseacre-ishness
which makes one fancy that it is possible to
detect the true Thackeray even in the very earli-
est period of the novitiate. But I do not think
that I myself ever read a single volume with
greater interest than that which I felt in the
supplement to his collected works published
more than twenty years after his death under

Thackeray. ij

the title of " Miscellaneous Essays, etc." It was
not that there was anything exactly new in it,
for probably all the faults and certainly all the
merits could have been paralleled from the work
previously issued with the author's own reimpri-
mattir. But these were scattered in different
volumes. Here they were all in juxtaposition ;
and as these papers are " impressions," it is not
impertinent to add that the time of their appear-
ance was particularly interesting as correcting
and strengthening my own notions of Thackeray.
It so happened that for other purposes I had
just been refreshing and extending my know-
ledge of the journalism and magazine work which
immediately preceded or accompanied this simi-
lar work of his. I had been reading with some
care the principal B/ackwood and Fraser men, the
latter Thackeray's own colleagues, the former
beyond all doubt his and their models. It is
only such a comparison and contrast as this
which can ever bring out the real and indepen-
dent value of a new writer. In the course of a
good many years' critical reading of literature, I
have constantly been struck by this or that trait

14 Corrected Impressions.

in a man only to discover by fuller reading not
so much that he borrowed or plagiarised it from
somebody else (for instances of actual plagiarism
are very rare and as a rule of very little impor-
tance) as that it was "in the air" at the time.
But if you compare this miscellaneous work —
originally undistinguished and at all times not
much considered — of Thackeray with the work
of Wilson, of De Quincey, of his own editor
Maginn, and of others, you will very soon begin
to make distinctions and mark advances. There
are of course many likenesses, many copyings
of tricks and mannerisms, many condescendences
of this kind and that. When Thackeray, in a
very sound and agreeable article on " Greenwich
and Whitebait" in Colbiirn for July, 1844, enter-
tained his readers with a procession nominatim
of landlords and waiters carrying certain dishes,
he was consciously or unconsciously repeating
an old trick of the " Noctes Ambrosianae "
which had attained almost to years of discre-
tion as he wrote. But in that very article (one
by no means of his very best) the most careless
reader who can take notice at all will remark

Thackeray. 1 5

evidences of an " eye on the object," of a
satiric comprehension of Hfe, which is nowhere
in Wilson, nowhere in Maginn, nowhere in De
Quincey, nowhere in their contemporaries, —
which, omitting touches in Scott, had not been
presented in English literature since Fielding.
Such a reader will find too a style which is
strange and new, — not indeed in Thackeray
himself, for touches of it may be found seven
years earlier in his very earliest work, but as
compared with others, — a quiet faculty of say-
ing remarkable things and leaving them to
make their own effect, a sort of urbane ease,
an unforced combination of the points of view
of the man of letters and the man of the world.
And perhaps it may be remembered that Field-
ing also wandered about in alien paths of litera-
ture long before he found his true way, and that
in his Miscellanies also are the strangest antici-
pations and revealings of his future powers.

Although, therefore, these early works, includ-
ing even the famous " Sketch Books " and such
things as the "Hoggarty Diamond," are amaz-
ingly unequal and contain some things almost

i6 Corrected Impressions.

bad, they also contain intrinsic attraction enough
to content, I should say, the most uncritical
reader who knows good things when he sees
them, while for critical attraction I think they
positively grow on one.

But there are two ends, according to the
proverb, to some if not all subjects ; and it is not
seldom asked whether there was not a decline
as well as a growth of Thackeray's powers, and
whether anything but "Vanity Fair," " Pen-
dennis," " The Newcomes," and " Esmond " can
be considered to present that power at its height.
It is impossible not to observe, in passing, what
a genius that must be as to which it is matter of
dispute whether anything has to be added to
such a literary baggage as that of the four books
just enumerated. The least of them would be
a passport to and a provision for eternity ; and
we are inquiring whether the gentleman has
any more titles and any more luggage than all
four. Let me only say that I am more and
more convinced that he has : that he has others
even besides "The Four Georges," "The English
Humourists," and the " Roundabout Papers,"

Thackeray. 17

which even his most grudging critics would in
the same good-natured manner allow. I have
never quite understood the common deprecia-
tion of " The Virginians," which contains things
equal, if not superior, to the very finest of its
author's other work, and includes the very
ripest expression of his philosophy of life.
For though indeed I do not approve a novel
more because it contains the expression of a
philosophy of life, others do. So, too, the
irregularity and formlessness of plot which char-
acterised most of Thackeray's work undoubtedly
appear in it; but then, according to the views
of our briskest and most modern critics, plot is
a very subordinate requisite in a novel, and may
be very well dispensed with. Here again I do
not agree, and I should say that Thackeray's
greatest fault was his extreme inattention to
construction, which is all the more remarkable
inasmuch as he was by no means a very rapid
or an extremely prolific writer. But if both
these faults were infinitely greater than they are,
I should say that the perfect command of char-
acter and the extraordinary criticisms of life

1 8 Corrected Impressions.

which " The Virginians " contains save it, and
not merely save it, but place it far above al-
most everything outside its writer's own work.
" Lovel the Widower," amusing as it is, falls
admittedly on a lower plane, and I do not know
that its earlier dramatic form, " The Wolves and
the Lamb," is not its superior. But " Philip "
is, I believe, the great stumbling-block. I have
owned that it was so to me in my green, un-
knowing youth. Nor in a rather gray and at
least partially knowing age could I attempt to
put it on a level with the others, despite a crowd
of admirable scenes and incidents. Sometimes
I have thought that Thackeray's infallible eye
for life played him a trick from which less alert
and more blear-eyed talents were free. His
own generation was passing, but he could not
help catching something of the way of the gen-
eration that was growing up. The consequence
is that the manners and speech of Philip here
are as bewildering as the actual chronology, —
which refers to Mr. Anthony Trollope as an ob-
ject of the hero's admiration at a time when,
comparing other things, it is certain that Mr.

Thackeray. 19

Trollope had not even made his first literary
ventures. Philip is neither a young man of
1830 nor a young man of i860, nor, as Arthur
Pendennis and Henry Esmond are in their dif-
ferent ways, a young man of all time adjusted to
a particular date. He is neither one thing nor
the other. And when he talks about " the kids
and Char," I could almost call him — but what
I could almost call him is too terrible to put to

Yet even of this book, the most dubious of
the later, as of " Catherine," the most dubious
of the earlier, we may say. Who but Thackeray
could have written it? and, even after thirty
years' reading, How shall we be grateful enough
to Thackeray for having written it? For here,
as nowhere else except in Fielding himself, is a
world of fictitious personages who are all alive,
who cannot, for the very life of them, say or do
anything unnatural. Why that should be per-
manently charming in art which is frequently
tedious in nature is hard, is perhaps impossible
to tell, and certainly there is no need to discuss
the question here. But the fact is a fact beyond

20 Corrected Impressions.

question, and it is in this fact mainly that the
certainty of Thackeray's appeal consists. A
favourable impression of him, once reached,
whether by happy chance or sufficient study, is
a 7ie varietur^ never more to be corrected or



AT the Literary Fund dinner of 1893 Mr.
Arthur Balfour, in an unusually interesting
speech for that occasion, hinted that he was not
himself able to take quite so ni,uch pleasure in
what is called Victorian Literature — the litera-
ture of which the late Lord Tennyson in verse,
and Mr. Carlyle in prose, were the unquestioned
chiefs — as some other persons appeared to do.
He suggested that this might have been due to
his being born a little too late. If the cause
assigned is a vera causa, it is one of some inter-
est to me. For I happen to have been born not
quite three years before Mr. Balfour, and there-
fore I ought to have been exposed to very much
the same " skiey influences " in point of time.

Yet I do not think that any one can ever
have had and maintained a greater admiration
for the author of "The Lotos-Eaters" than I

22 Corrected Impressions.

have. This admiration was born early, but it
was not born full grown. I am so old a Ten-

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