Copyright
Henry H Lancaster.

Essays and reviews online

. (page 37 of 38)
Online LibraryHenry H LancasterEssays and reviews → online text (page 37 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Lived nine hundred years apiece, and mayn't the king as well as they]'

' Fervently,' exclaim'd the keeper, ' fervently, I trust he may.'

' He to die,' resumed the bishop. ' He a mortal like to us ?
Death was not for him intended, though communis omnibus ;
Keeper, you are irreligious, for to talk and cavil thus.

' With his wondrous skill in healing ne'er a doctor can compete,
Loathsome lepers, if he touch them, start up clean upon their feet ;
Surely he could raise the dead up, did his Highness think it meet.



THACKERAY. 461

' Did not once the Jewish captain stay the sun upon the hill,
And, the while he slew the foemen, bid the silver inoon stand still ?
So, no doubt, could gracious Canute, if it were his sacred will.'

' Might I stay the sun above us, good Sir Bishop ? ' Canute cried;
' Could I bid the silver moon to pause upon her heavenly ride ?
If the moon obeys my orders, sure I can command the tide.

' Will the advancing waves obey me, bishop, if I make the sign ? '
Said the bishop, bowing lowly, l Land and sea, my lord, are thine.'
Canute turn'd towards the ocean ' Back ! ' he said, ' thou foaming
brine.

1 From the sacred shore I stand on, I command thee to retreat ;
Venture not, thou stormy rebel, to approach thy master's seat ;
Ocean, be thou still ! I bid thee come not nearer to my feet ! '

But the sullen ocean answer'd with a louder, deeper roar,

And the rapid waves drew nearer, falling sounding on the shore ;

Back the keeper and the bishop, back the king and courtiers bore.

And he sternly bade them never more to kneel to human clay,
But alone to praise and worship that which earth and seas obey,
And his golden crown of empire never wore he from that day.
King Canute is dead and gone : Parasites exist alway."

We must say a few words on his merits as an artist
and a critic of art. We can hardly agree with those
who hold that he failed as an artist, and then took to
his pen. There is no proof of failure ; his art accom-
plishes all he sets it to. Had he, instead of being a
gentleman's son, brought up at the Charter-house and
Cambridge, been born in the parish of St. Bartholomew
the Great, and apprenticed, let us say, when thirteen
years old, to Eaimbach the engraver, we might have
had another, and in some ways a subtler Hogarth.
He draws well ; his mouths and noses, his feet, his
children's heads, all his ugly and queer " mugs," are
wonderful for expression and good drawing. With
beauty of man or woman he is not so happy ; but his-
fun is, we think, even more abounding and funnier in
his cuts than in his words. The love of fun in him
was something quite peculiar. Some writers have
been more witty ; a few have had a more delicate
humour ; but none, we think, have had more of that

2 H



462 THACKERAY.

genial quality which is described by the homely word
fun. It lay partly in imitation, as in the " Novels by
Eminent Hands." Indeed there were few things more
singular in his intellectual organisation than the
coincidence of absolute originality of thought and
style with exquisite mimetic power. But it oftener
showed itself in a pure love of nonsense only nonsense
of the highest order. He was very fond of abandoning
himself to this temper ; witness the "Story a la Mode"
in the " Cornhill," some of the reality-giving touches
in which would have* done credit to Gulliver. Major
Gahagan is far funnier than Baron Munchausen ; and
where is there more exquisite nonsense than " The
Rose and the Ring," with the " little beggar baby that
laughed and sang as droll as may be V 9 There is also
much of this spirit in his ballads, 1 especially, as we
have already said, the series by Pleaceman X. ; but
we are inclined to think that it finds most scope in
his drawings. We well remember our surprise on
coming upon some of his earlier works for "Punch."

1 We subjoin an astonishing piece of nonsense a species of song or
ditty which he chanted, we believe, extempore ; [in singing, each line to

be repeated twice] :

"LITTLE BILLEB.

There were 3 sailors in Bristol city, When Bill received this infumation

Who took a boat and went to sea. He used his pocket-handkerchie.

But first with beef and captain's biscuit, ' let me sa y m y catechism,

And pickled pork they loaded she. As ? P or mamm y tau S ht to me -'

_ . , . T- 'Make haste, make haste,' says guzzling

There was guzzling Jack and gorging Jimmy, Jacky

And the youngest he was little Billee, ^^ Jjm ' pulled ^ ^ snickersnee

Now very soon, they were so greedy, So Bill went up the main-top-gallant mast,

They didn't leave not one split pea. Where down he fell on his bended knee.

Says guzzling Jack to gorging Jimmy, He scarce had come to the Twelfth Com-

' I am extremely hungaree.' mandment,

When up he jumps, ' There 's land, I see.
Says gorging Jim to guzzling Jacky,
We have no provisions, so we must eat we.' There 's Jerusalem and Madagascar,

And North and South Amerikee.
Says guzzling Jack to gorging Jimmy, ^^

O gorging Jim, what a fool you be ! .



There 's little Bill is young and tender, So when they came to the admiral's vessel,

We 're old and tough, so let 's eat he.' He hanged fat Jack and flogged Jimmee.

' O Bill, we 're going to kill and eat you, But as for little Bill, he made him

So undo the collar of your chemie.' The captain of a seventy-three."



THACKERAY. 463

Best of all was an impressive series illustrative of the
following passage in the "Times'" of December 7,
1843 : "The agents of the tract societies have lately
had recourse to a new method of introducing their
tracts into Cadiz. The tracts were put into glass
bottles securely corked ; and, taking advantage of the
tide flowing into the harbour, they were committed to
the waves, on whose surface they floated towards the
town, where the inhabitants eagerly took them up on
their arriving at the shore. The bottles were then
uncorked, and the tracts they contain are supposed to
have been read with much interest." The purpose of
the series is to hold up to public odium the Dissenting
tract-smuggler Tractistero dissentero contrabandis-
tero. The first cut represents a sailor, " thirsty as the
seaman naturally is," rushing through the surf to seize
the bottle which has been bobbing towards him.
" Sherry, perhaps," he exclaims to himself and his
friend. Second cut : the thirsty expectant has the
bottle in position, and is drawing the cork, another
mariner, and a little wondering boy, capitally drawn,
looking on. " Kum, I hope," is the thought of each.
Lastly we have the awful result : our friend holds up
on the cork-screw to his companion and the universe
" a Spanish translation of the Cow-boy of Kensington
Common," with an indignant " Tracts, by jingo!"
Then there is John Balliol, in "Miss Tickletoby's
Lectures/' " cutting" into England on a ragged sheltie,
which is trotting like a maniac over a series of boulders,
sorely discomposing the rider, whose kilt is of the
shortest. Even better is the cut illustrative of the
ballad of " King Canute," the king and his courtiers
on the shore, with bathing-machines and the Union-
jack in the distance ; and a most preposterous
representation of the non Angli scd Angeli story.
We wish Mr. Thackeray's excellent friends, the pro-



464 THACKERAY.

prietors of "Punch," would reprint all his odds and
ends, with their woodcuts. They will get the laughter
and gratitude of mankind if they do.

He is, as far as we recollect, the only great author
who illustrated his own works. This gives a singular
completeness to the result. When his pen has said its
say, then comes his pencil and adds its own felicity.
Take the original edition of the Book of Snobs, all
those delicious Christmas little quartos, especially
" Mrs. Perkins' Ball " and the " Kose and the Eing "
(one of the most perfectly realised ideas we know of),
and see how complete is the duet between the eye and
the mind, between word and figure. There is an
etching in the " Paris Sketch-Book " which better de-
serves to be called " high art " than most of the class
so called. It is Majesty in the person of " Le Grand
Monarque " in and stripped of its externals, which are
there also by themselves. The lean and slippered old
pantaloon is tottering peevishly on his staff, his other
hand in his waistcoat-pocket ; his head absolutely bald ;
his whole aspect pitiable* and forlorn, querulous and
absurd. To his left is his royal self, in all his glory of
high-heeled boots, three-storied flowing wig, his orders,
and sword, and all his " dread magnificence," as we
know him in his pictures ; on his right we behold, and
somehow feel as if the old creature, too, is in awe of
them his clothes, per se the " properties " of the
great European actor, set ingeniously up, and looking
as grand and much steadier than with him inside.
The idea and the execution are full of genius. The
frontispice of the same book contains a study of
Heads, than which Hogarth certainly never did any-
thing better. These explanatory lines are below the
picture :

" Number 1's an ancient Carlist, number 3 a Paris artist ;
Gloomily there stands between them, number 2, a Bonapartist;



THACKERAY. 465

In the middle is King Louis Philip standing at his ease,
Guarded by a loyal grocer, and a serjeant of police ;
4's the people in a passion, 6 a priest of pious mien,
5 a gentleman of fashion copied from a magazine."

No words can do justice to the truth and power of
this group of characters : it gives a history of France
during the Orleans dynasty.

We give on the opposite page a facsimile of a
drawing sent by him to a friend, with the following
note :

" Behold a drawing instead of a letter. I've been thinking
of writing you a beautiful one ever so long, but, etc. etc.
And instead of doing my duty this morning, I began this
here drawing, and will pay your debt some other day no,
part of your debt. I intend to owe the rest, and like to owe
it, and think I'm sincerely grateful to you always, my dear
good friends. W. M. T."

This drawing is a good specimen of his work ; it
tells its own story, as every drawing should. Here is
the great lexicographer, with his ponderous shuffling
tread, his thick lips, his head bent down, his book close
to his purblind eyes, himself totus in illo, reading, as
he fed, greedily and fast. Beside him simpers the
clumsy and inspired Oliver, in his new plum-coloured
coat ; his eyes bent down in an ecstasy of delight, for
is he not far prouder of his visage, and such a visage !
and of his coat, than of his artless genius ? We all
know about that coat, and how Mr. Filby never got
paid for it. There he is behind his window in sartorial
posture ; his uplifted goose arrested, his eye following
wistfully, and not without a sense of glory and dread,
that coat and man. His journeyman is grinning at
him ; he is paid weekly, and has no risk. And then
what a genuine bit of Thackeray, the street boy and
his dear little admiring sister ! there they are, step-
ping out in mimicry of the great two. Observe the



466 THACKERAY.

careful, honest work, and how the turn of the left foot of
the light-hearted and heeled gamin whose toes, much
innocent of shoes, have a prehensile look about them,
suggestive of the Huxley grandfather is corrected, as
also Dr. Goldsmith's. He could never let anything
remain if it was untrue.

It would not be easy to imagine better criticisms of
art than those from Mr. Thackeray's hand in " Fraser,"
in " Punch," in a kindly and beautiful paper on our
inimitable John Leech in the " Quarterly," in a
Koundabout on Eubens, and throughout his stories
especially the " Newcomes " wherever art comes in.
He touches the matter to the quick ; and touches
nothing else : and while sensitive to all true and great
art, he detects and detests all that is false or mean.
He is not so imaginative, not so impassioned and
glorious, not so amazing in illustration, and in painting
better than pictures, as Mr. Euskin, who has done
more for art and its true interests than all other
writers. But he is more to be trusted because he is
more objective, more cool, more critical in the true
sense. He sees everything by the lumen siccum,
though it by no means follows that he does not feel as
well as see ; but here, as in everything else, his art
" has its seat in reason, arid is judicious." Here is his
description of Turner's Old Teme'raire, from a paper
on the Royal Academy in " Fraser." We can give it
no higher praise than that it keeps its own with
Ruskin's :

" I must request you to turu your attention to a noble
river piece, by J. W. M. Turner, Esq., B.A., ' The Fighting
Te'me'raire/ as grand a painting as ever figured on the walls
of any academy, or came from the easel of any painter. The
old Teme'raire is dragged to her last home by a little, spite-
ful, diabolical steamer. A mighty red sun, amidst a host of
flaring clouds, sinks to rest on one side of the picture, and
illumines a river that seems interminable, and a countless



THACKERAY. 467

navy that fades away into such a wonderful distance as never
was painted before. The little demon of a steamer is belch-
ing out a volume (why do I say a volume ? not a hundred
volumes could express it) of foul, lurid, red-hot, malignant
smoke, paddling furiously, and lashing up the water round
about it ; while behind it (a cold, grey moon looking down on
it), slow, sad, and majestic, follows the brave old ship, with
death as it were, written on her. . . . It is absurd, you
will say (and with a great deal of reason), for Titmarsh or
any other Briton, to grow so politically enthusiastic about a
four-foot canvas, representing a ship, a steamer, a river, and
a sunset. But herein surely lies the power of the great
artist. He makes you see and think of a great deal more
than the objects before you ; he knows how to soothe or to
intoxicate, to fire or to depress, by a few notes, or forms, or
colours, of which we cannot trace the effect to the source, but
only acknowledge the power. I recollect some years ago, at
the theatre at Weimar, hearing Beethoven's 'Battle of
Vittoria,' in which, amidst a storm of glorious music, the air
of ' God save the King,' was introduced. The very instant it
begun, every Englishman in the house was bolt upright, and
so stood reverently until the air was played out. Why so ?
From some such thrill of excitement as makes us glow and
rejoice over Mr. Turner and his ' Fighting Temeraire/ which
I am sure, when the art of translating colours into poetry or
music shall be discovered, will be found to be a magnificent
national ode or piece of music."

When speaking of " The Slave Ship " by the same
amazing artist, he says, with delightful naivete, " I
don't know whether it is sublime or ridiculous," a
characteristic instance of his outspoken truthfulness ;
and he lays it down that the " first quality of an artist
is to have a large heart," believing that all art, all ima-
ginative work of the highest order, must originate in
and be addressed to the best powers of the soul, must
" submit the shows of things to the desires of the
mind."

Mr. Trollope says, in the " Cornhill" for this Feb-
ruary, " that which the world will most want to know



468 THACKERAY.

of Thackeray is the effect which his writings have
produced/' In one sense of the word, the world is
not likely ever to find this out ; it is a matter which
each man must determine for himself. But the world
can perhaps ascertain what special services Mr.
Thackeray has rendered ; and it is this probably which
Mr. Trollope means. His great service has been in
his exposure of the prevailing faults of his time.
Among the foremost are the faults of affectation and
pretence, but there is one yet more grievous than
these the sceptical spirit of the age. This he has
depicted in the gentlest and saddest of all his books,
" Pendennis : "

" And it will be seen that the lamentable stage to which
his logic at present has brought him " (Arthur Pendennis),
is one of general scepticism, and sneering acquiescence in
the world as it is ; or if you like so to call it, a belief qualified
with scorn in all things extant. . . . And to what does
this easy and sceptical life lead a man ? Friend Arthur was
a Sadducee, and the Baptist might be in the wilderness
shouting to the poor, who were listening with all their might
and faith to the preacher's awful accents and denunciations
of wrath or woe or salvation ; and our friend the Sadducee
would turn his sleek mule with a shrug and a smile from
the crowd, and go home to the shade of his terrace, and
muse over preacher and audience, and turn to his roll of
Plato, or his pleasant Greek song-book babbling of honey
and Hybla, and nymphs and fountains and love. To what,
we say, does this scepticism lead? It leads a man to a
shameful loneliness and selfishness, so to speak the more
shameful, because it is so good-humoured and conscienceless
and serene. Conscience ! What is conscience ? Why accept
remorse? What is public or private faith? Mythuses
alike enveloped in enormous tradition."

The delineation is not a pleasant one, but it is true.
The feeling hardly deserves to be called scepticism ; it
is rather a calm indifferentism ; a putting aside of all
things sacred. And as the Sadducees of Judea were,



THACKERAY. 469

on the whole, better men than the Pharisees, so this
modern Sadducean feeling prevails not only among the
cultivated classes, but among those conspicuously
honourable and upright. These men, in fact, want
spiritual guides and teachers. The clergy do not
supply this want ; most of them refuse to acknowledge
its existence ; Mr. Thackeray, with his fearless truth-
fulness, sees it, and tells it. To cure it is not within
his province. As a lay-preacher, only the secondary
principles of morality are at his command. " Be each,
pray God, a gentleman/' is his highest sanction. But
though he cannot tell the afflicted whither to turn, it
is no slight thing to have laid bare the disorder from
which so many suffer, and which all, with culpable
cowardice, study to conceal. And he does more than
lay bare the disorder ; he convinces us how serious it
is. He does this by showing us its evil effect on a
a good and kindly nature. No teaching can be more
impressive than the contrast between Pendennis under
the influence of this sceptical spirit, and Warrington,
over whom, crushed as he is by hopeless misfortune,
it has no power.

The minor vices of affectation and pretension he
assails directly. To do this was his especial mission
from the first. What success may have attended his
efforts we cannot certainly tell. It is to be feared,
however, that, despite his teaching, snobs, like poverty,
will never cease out of the land. But all who feel
guilty and every one of us is guilty more or less
and who desire to amend, should use the means : the
"Book of Snobs" should be read carefully at least
once a year. His was not the hortatory method.
He had no notion that much could be done by telling
people to be good. He found it more telling to show
that by being otherwise they were in danger of be-
coming unhappy, ridiculous, and contemptible. Yet



470 THACKERAY.

he did not altogether neglect positive teaching. Many
passages might be taken from his works even from
the remorseless "Book of Snobs " itself which incul-
cate the beauty of goodness ; and the whole tendency
of his writings, from the first to the last line he
penned during a long and active literary life, has
invariably been to inspire reverence for manliness and
purity and truth. And to sum up all, in representing
after his measure the characteristics of the age, Mr.
Thackeray has discharged one of the highest functions
of a writer. His keen insight into modern life has
enabled him to show his readers that life fully : his
honesty and high tone of mind has enabled him to do
this truly. Hence he is the healthiest of writers. In
his pages we find no false stimulus, no pernicious
ideals, no vulgar aims. We are led to look at things
as they really are, and to rest satisfied with our place
among them. Each man learns that he can do much
if he preserves moderation ; that if he goes beyond
his proper sphere he is good for nothing. He teaches
us to find a fitting field for action in our peculiar
studies or business, to reap lasting happiness in the
affections which are common to all. Our vague long-
ings are quieted ; our foolish ambitions checked ; we
are soothed into contentment with obscurity en-
couraged in an honest determination to do our duty.

A " Koundabout Paper " on the theme Nil nisi
bonum concludes thus :

" Here are two literary men gone to their account ; and,
laus Deo, as far as we know, it is fair, and open, and clean.
Here is no need of apologies for shortcomings, or explanations
of vices which would have been virtues but for unavoidable,
etc. Here are two examples of men most differently gifted :
each pursuing his calling ; each speaking his truth as God
bade him ; each honest in his life ; just and irreproachable
in his dealings ; dear to his friends ; honoured by his



THACKERAY. 471

country ; beloved at his fireside. It has been the fortunate
lot of both to give incalculable happiness and delight to the
world, which thanks them in return with an immense kind-
liness, respect, affection. It may not be our chance, brother
scribe, to be endowed with such merit, or rewarded with such
fame. But the rewards of these men are rewards paid to
our service. We may not win the baton or epaulettes ; but
God give us strength to guard the honour of the flag ! "

The prayer was granted : he had strength given
him always to guard the honour of the flag ; and now
his name is worthy to be placed beside the names of
Washington Irving and Lord Macaulay, as of one no
whit less deserving the praise of these noble words.

We have seen no satisfactory portrait of Mr.
Thackeray. We like the photographs better than the
prints ; and we have an old daguerreotype of him
without his spectacles which is good ; but no photo-
graph can give more of a man than is in any one
ordinary often very ordinary look of him ; it is only
Sir Joshua and his brethren who can paint a man
liker than himself. Laurence's first drawing has much
of his thoroughbred look, but the head is too much
tossed up and vif. The photograph from the later
drawing by the same hand we like better : he is alone
and reading with his book close up to his eyes. This
gives the prodigious size and solidity of his head, and
the sweet mouth. We have not seen that by Mr.
Watts, but if it is as full of power and delicacy as his
Tennyson, it will be a comfort.

Though in no sense a selfish man, he had a wonderful
interest in himself as an object of study, and nothing
could be more delightful and unlike anything else
than to listen to him on himself. He often draws his
own likeness in his books. In the " Fraserians " by
Maclise, in " Fraser," is a slight sketch of him in his
unknown youth ; and there is an excessively funny



472 THACKERAY.

and not unlike extravaganza of him by Doyle or Leech,
in the " Month," a little short-lived periodical, edited
by Albert Smith. He is represented lecturing, when
certainly he looked his best. We give below what is
like him in face as well as in more.




The tired, young, kindly wag is sitting and looking
into space, his mask and his jester's rod lying idly on
his knees.

The foregoing estimate of his genius must stand
instead of any special portraiture of the man. Yet
we would mention two leading traits of character
traceable, to a large extent, in his works, though find-
ing no appropriate place in a literary criticism of them.
One was the deep steady melancholy of his nature.
He was fond of telling how on one occasion, at Paris,
he found himself in a great crowded salon ; and look-
ing from the one end across the sea of heads, being in
Swift's place of calm in a crowd, 1 he saw at the other
end a strange visage, staring at him with an expression
of comical woebegoneness. After a little he found
that this rueful being was himself in the mirror. He
was not, indeed, morose. He was alive to and thank-
ful for everyday blessings, great and small ; for the
happiness of home, for friendship, for wit and music,
for beauty of all kinds, for the pleasures of the " faith-
ful old gold pen ;" now running into some felicitous

1 " An inch or two above it."



THACKERAY. 473

expression, now playing itself into some droll initial
letter ; nay, even for the creature comforts. But his
persistent state, especially for the later half of his life,



Online LibraryHenry H LancasterEssays and reviews → online text (page 37 of 38)