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was profoundly morne there is no other word for it.
This arose in part from temperament, from a quick
sense of the littleness and wretchedness of mankind.
His keen perception of the meanness and vulgarity of
the realities around him contrasted with the ideal
present to his mind could produce no other effect.
This feeling, embittered by disappointment, acting on
a harsh and savage nature, ended in the saeva
indignatio of Swift ; acting on the kindly and too
sensitive nature of Mr. Thackeray, it led only to com-
passionate sadness. In part, too, this melancholy was
the result of private calamities. He alludes to these
often in his writings, and a knowledge that his sor-
rows were great is necessary to the perfect apprecia-
tion of much of his deepest pathos. We allude to
them here, painful as the subject is, mainly because
they have given rise to stories some quite untrue,
some even cruelly injurious. The loss of his second
child in infancy was always an abiding sorrow
described in the " Hoggarty Diamond," in a passage
of surpassing tenderness, too sacred to be severed from
its context. 1 A yet keener and more constantly
present affliction was the illness of his wife. He
married her in Paris when he was "mewing his mighty
youth," preparing for the great career which awaited
him. One likeg to think on these early days of
happiness, when he could draw and write with that
loved companion by his side : he has himself sketched
the picture : " The humblest painter, be he ever so
poor, may have a friend watching at his easel, or a
gentle wife sitting by with her work in her lap, and
with fond smiles or talk or silence,- cheering his

1 Also in " The Virginians," vol. ii.



474 THACKERAY.

labours." After some years of marriage, Mrs. Thack-
eray caught a fever, brought on by imprudent ex-
posure at a time when the effects of such ailments are
more than usually lasting both on the system and the
nerves. She never afterwards recovered so as to be
able to be with her husband and children. But she
has been from the first intrusted to the good offices of
a kind family, tenderly cared for, surrounded with
every comfort by his unwearied affection. The beauti-
ful lines in the ballad of the " Bouillabaisse " are well
known :

" Ah me ! how quick the days are flitting !

I mind me of a time that 's gone,
When here I 'd sit as now I 'm sitting,

In this same place but not alone.
A fair young form was nestled near me,

A dear, dear face looked fondly up,
And sweetly spoke and smiled to cheer me,

There 's no one now to share my cup."

In one of the latest Eoundabouts we have this touch-
ing confession : " I own for my part that, in reading
pages which this hand penned formerly, I often lose
sight of the text under my eyes. It is not the words
I see ; but that past day ; that bygone page of life's
history ; that tragedy, comedy it may be, which our
little home-company was enacting ; that merry-mak-
ing which we shared ; that funeral which we followed ;
that bitter, bitter grief which we buried/' But all
who knew him know well, and love to recall, how
these sorrows were soothed and his home made a place
of happiness by his two daughters and his mother,
who were his perpetual companions, delights, and
blessings, and whose feeling of inestimable loss now
will be best borne and comforted by remembering how
they were everything to him, as he was to them.
His sense of a higher Power, his reverence and



THACKERAY. 475

godly fear, is felt more than expressed as indeed it
mainly should always be in everything he wrote.
It comes out at times quite suddenly, and stops at
once, in its full strength. We could readily give
many instances of this. One we give, as it occurs
very early, when he was probably little more than
six-and-twenty ; it is from the paper, " Madame Sand
and the New Apocalypse." Eeferring to Henri
Heine's frightful words, " Dieu qui se meurt," " Dieu
est mort" and to the wild godlessness of Spiridion,
he thus bursts out : " awful, awful name of God !
Light unbearable ! mystery unfathomable ! vastness
immeasurable ! Who are these who come forward to
explain the mystery, and gaze unblinking into the
depths of the light, and measure the immeasurable
vastness to a hair ? name that God's people of old
did fear to utter ! light that God's prophet would
have perished had he seen ! who are these now so
familiar with it ?" In ordinary intercourse the same
sudden " Te Deum " would occur, always brief and
intense, like lightning from a cloudless heaven ; he
seemed almost ashamed not of it, but of his giving
it expression.

We cannot resist here recalling one Sunday evening
in December, when he was walking with two friends
along the Dean road, to the west of Edinburgh one
of the noblest outlets to any city. It was a lovely
evening, such a sunset as one never forgets ; a rich
dark bar of cloud hovered over the sun, going down
behind the Highland hills, lying bathed in ame-
thystine bloom ; between this cloud and the hills there
was a narrow slip of the pure aether, of a tender cow-
slip colour, lucid, and as if it were the very body of
heaven in its clearness ; every object standing out as
if etched upon the sky. The north-west end of
Corstorphine Hill, with its trees and rocks, lay in the



476 THACKERAY.

heart of this pure radiance, and there a wooden crane,
used in the quarry below, was so placed as to assume
the figure of a cross ; there it was, unmistakable,
lifted up against the crystalline sky. All three gazed
at it silently. As they gazed, he gave utterance in a
tremulous, gentle, and rapid voice, to what all were
feeling, in the word " CALVARY !" The friends walked
on in silence, and then turned to other things. All
that evening he was very gentle and serious, speaking,
as he seldom did, of divine things, of death, of sin,
of eternity, of salvation ; expressing his simple faith
in God and in his Saviour.

There is a passage at the close of the " Eoundabout
Paper," No. xxin., De Finibus, in which a sense of
the ebb of life is very marked ; the whole paper is
like a soliloquy. It opens with a drawing of Mr.
Punch, with unusually mild eye, retiring for the night ;
he is putting out his high-heeled shoes, and before
disappearing gives a .wistful look into the passage, as
if bidding it and all else good-night. He will be in
bed, his candle out, and in darkness, in five minutes,
and his shoes found next morning at his door, the
little potentate all the while in his final sleep. The
whole paper is worth the most careful study ; it
reveals not a little of his real nature, and unfolds very
curiously the secret of his work, the vitality, and
abiding power of his own creations ; how he " invented
a certain Costigan, out of scraps, heel-taps, odds and
ends of characters," and met the original the other
day, without surprise, in a tavern parlour. The
following is beautiful : "Years ago, I had a quarrel
with a certain well-known person (I believed a state-
ment regarding him which his friends imparted to me,
and which turned out to be quite incorrect). To his
dying day that quarrel was never quite made up. I
said to his brother, ' Why is your brother's soul still



THACKERAY. 477

dark against me ? It is I who ought to be angry and
unforgiving, for I was in the wrong. 1 " Odisse quern
Iceseris was never better contravened. But what we
chiefly refer to now is the profound pensiveness of the
following strain, as if written with a presentiment of
what was not then very far off: "Another Finis
written ; another milestone on this journey from birth
to the next world. Sure it is a subject for solemn
cogitation. Shall we continue this story-telling busi-
ness, and be voluble to the end of our age? Will
it not be presently time, prattler, to hold your
tongue V And thus he ends :

" Oh, the sad old pages, the dull old pages ; oh, the cares,
the ennui, the squabbles, the repetitions, the old conversa-
tions over and over again ! But now and again a kind
thought is recalled, and now and again a dear memory.
Yet a few chapters more, and then the last ; after which,
behold Finis itself comes to an end, and the Infinite begins."

He sent the proof of this paper to his "dear
neighbours," in Onslow Square, to whom he owed so
much almost daily pleasure, with his corrections, the
whole of the last paragraph in manuscript, and above
a first sketch of it also in MS., which is fuller and
more impassioned. His fear of " enthusiastic writing "
had led him, we think, to sacrifice something of the
sacred power of his first words, which we give with
its interlineations :

" Another Finis, another slice of life which Tempus edax
has devoured ! And I may have to write the word once or
twice perhaps, and then an end of Ends. Fim'tp. ia ovp.r, n.nd
Oh the troubles, the cares, the ennui,



disputes

t.Vi P mm pi i p. a f i rm Q the repetitions, the old conversations over
and over again, and here and there and oh the delightful
passages, the dear, the brief, the for ever remembered !
Anrl f.V>pn A few chapters more, and then the last, and then
behold Finis itself coming to an end and the Infinite



beginning !"



2 I



478 THACKERAY.

How like music this like one trying the same air
in different ways ; as it were searching out and
sounding all its depths! " The dear, the brief, the
for ever remembered ;" these are like a bar out of
Beethoven, deep and melancholy as the sea ! He had
been suffering on Sunday from an old and cruel
enemy. He fixed with his friend and surgeon to
come again on Tuesday ; but with that dread of
anticipated pain, which is a common condition of
sensibility and genius, he put him off with a note from
" yours unfaithfully, W. M. T." He went out on Wed-
nesday for a little, and came home at ten. He went
to his room, suffering much, but declining his man's
offer to sit with him. He hated to make others suffer.
He was heard moving, as if in pain, about twelve, on
the eve of

" That the happy morn,

Wherein the Son of Heaven's eternal King,
Of wedded maid, and virgin-mother born,

Our great redemption from above did bring."

Then all was quiet, and then he must have died in a
moment. Next morning his man went in, and open-
ing the windows found his master dead, his arms
behind his head, as if he had tried to take one more
breath. We think of him as of our Chalmers ; found
dead in like manner; the same child-like, unspoiled
open face ; the same gentle mouth ; the same spacious-
ness and softness of nature ; the same look of power.
What a thing to think of, his lying there alone in the
dark, in the midst of mighty London ; his mother and
his daughters asleep, and, it may be, dreaming of his
goodness. God help them, and us all 1 What would
become of us, stumbling along this our path of life, if
we could not, at our utmost need, stay ourselves on
Him'?

Long years of sorrow, labour, and pain had killed



THACKERAY. 479

him before his time. It was found after death how
little life he had to live. He looked always fresh
with that abounding, silvery hair, and his young,
almost infantine face, but he was worn to a shadow
and his hands wasted as if by eighty years. With
him it is the end of Ends ; finite is over, and infinite
begun. What we all felt and feel can never be so
well expressed as in his own words of sorrow for the
early death of Charles Buller

" Who knows the inscrutable design ?

Blest be He who took and gave !
Why should your mother, Charles, not mine,

Be weeping at her darling's grave ?
We bow to Heaven that will'd it so,

That darkly rules the fate of all,
That sends the respite or the blow,

That's free to give, or to recall."



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