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is full of implied reference to the whole arena of
modern vagrancy. He was for many years con-
cerned in the management of the Post-Office ; and
we can imagine no experience more fitted to impress
a man with the diversity of human relations. It is
possibly from this source that he derived his fond-
ness for transcribing the letters of his love-lorn
maidens and other embarrassed persons. No con-
temporary story-teller deals so much in letters ; the
modern English epistle (very happily imitated, for the
most part), is his unfailing resource.

There is perhaps little reason in it, but I find
myself comparing this tone of allusion to many
lands and many things, and whatever it brings us
of easier respiration, with that narrow vision of
humanity which accompanies the strenuous, serious
work lately offered us in such abundance by the
votaries of art for art who sit so long at their desks
in Parisian quatrikmes. The contrast is complete,
and it would be interesting, had we space to do so
here, to see how far it goes. On one side a wide,
good-humoured, superficial glance at a good many
things ; on the other a gimlet-like consideration of a
few. Trollope's plan, as well as Zola's, was to de-


scribe the life that lay near him; but the two
writers differ immensely as to what constitutes life
and what constitutes nearness. For Trollope the
emotions of a nursery-governess in Australia would
take precedence of the adventures of a depraved
femme du monde in Paris or London. They both
undertake to do the same thing to depict
French and English manners ; but the English
writer (with his unsurpassed industry) is so occa-
sional, so accidental, so full of the echoes of voices
that are not the voice of the muse. Gustave
Flaubert, Emile Zola, Alphonse Daudet, on the other
hand, are nothing if not concentrated and sedentary.
Trollope's realism is as instinctive, as inveterate as
theirs ; but nothing could mark more the difference
between the French and English mind than the
difference in the application, on one side and the
other, of this system. We say system, though on
Trollope's part it is none. He has no visible, cer-
tainly no explicit care for the literary part of the
business ; he writes easily, comfortably, and pro-
fusely, but his style has nothing in common either
with the minute stippling of Daudet or the studied
rhythms of Flaubert. He accepted all the common
restrictions, and found that even within the barriers
there was plenty of material. He attaches a preface
to one of his novels The Ficar of Bullhampton, before
mentioned for the express purpose of explaining
why he has introduced a young woman who may, in
truth, as he says, be called a " castaway " ; and in


relation to this episode he remarks that it is the
object of the novelist's art to entertain the young
people of both sexes. Writers of the French school
would, of course, protest indignantly against such
a formula as this, which is the only one of the
kind that I remember to have encountered in Trol-
lope's pages. It is meagre, assuredly ; but Trollope's
practice was really much larger than so poor a
theory. And indeed any theory was good which
enabled him to produce the works which he put
forth between 1856 and 1869, or later. In spite of
his want of doctrinal richness I think he tells us, on
the whole, more about life than the " naturalists " in
our sister republic. I say this with a full con-
sciousness of the opportunities an artist loses in
leaving so many corners unvisited, so many topics
untouched, simply because I think his perception
of character was naturally more just and liberal
than that of the naturalists. This has been from
the beginning the good fortune of our English pro-
viders of fiction, as compared with the French.
They are inferior in audacity, in neatness, in acute-
ness, in intellectual vivacity, in the arrangement of
material, in the art of characterising visible tilings.
But they have been more at home in the moral world ;
as people say to-day they know their way about the
conscience. This is the value of much of the work
done by the feminine wing of the school work
which presents itself to French taste as deplorably
thin and insipid. Much of it is exquisitely human,


and that after all is a merit. As regards Trollope,
one may perhaps characterise him best, in opposition
to what 1 have ventured to call the sedentary school,
by saying that he was a novelist who hunted the fox.
Hunting was for years his most valued recreation,
and I remember that when I made in his company
the voyage of which I have spoken, he had timed his
return from the Antipodes exactly so as to be able to
avail himself of the first day on which it should be
possible to ride to hounds. He "worked" the
hunting-field largely ; it constantly reappears in his
novels ; it was excellent material.

But it would be hard to say (within the circle in
which he revolved) what material he neglected. I
have allowed myself to be detained so long by general
considerations that I have almost forfeited the
opportunity to give examples. I have spoken of
The Warden not only because it made his reputation,
but because, taken in conjunction with Barchester
Towers, it is thought by many people to be his highest
flight. Barchester Towers is admirable; it has an
almost Thackerayan richness. Archdeacon Grantley
grows more and more into life, and Mr. Harding is as
charming as ever. Mrs. Proudie is ushered into a
world in which she was to make so great an im-
pression. Mrs. Proudie has become classical ; of all
Trollope's characters she is the most often referred
to. She is exceedingly true ; but I do not think
she is quite so good as her fame, and as several
figures from the same hand that have not won so


much honour. She is rather too violent, too vixenish,
too sour. The truly awful female bully the com-
pletely fatal episcopal spouse would have, I think, a
more insidious form, a greater amount of superficial
padding. The Stanhope family, in Barchester Towers,
are a real trouvaille, and the idea of transporting the
Signora Vesey-Neroni into a cathedral- town was an
inspiration. There could not be a better example of
Trollope's manner of attaching himself to character
than the whole picture of Bertie Stanhope. Bertie
is a delightful creation ; and the scene in which, at
the party given by Mrs. Proudie, he puts this
majestic woman to rout is one of the most amusing
in all the chronicles of Barset. It is perhaps per-
mitted to wish, by the way, that this triumph had
been effected by means intellectual rather than
physical ; though, indeed, if Bertie had not despoiled
her of her drapery we should have lost the lady's
admirable " Unhand it, sir ! " Mr. Arabin is charm-
ing, and the henpecked bishop has painful truth ;
but Mr. Slope, I think, is a little too arrant a scamp.
He is rather too much the old game ; he goes too
coarsely to work, and his clamminess and cant are
somewhat overdone. He is an interesting illustra-
tion, however, of the author's dislike (at that period
at least) of the bareness of evangelical piety. In
one respect Barchester Towers is (to the best of our
recollection) unique, being the only one of Trollope's
novels in which the interest does not centre more or
less upon a simple maiden in her flower. The novel


offers us nothing in the way of a girl ; though we
know that this attractive object was to lose nothing
by waiting. Eleanor Bold is a charming and natural
person, but Eleanor Bold is not in her flower. After
this, however, Trollope settled down steadily to the
English girl ; he took possession of her, and turned
her inside out. He never made her a subject of
heartless satire, as cynical fabulists of other lands
have been known to make the shining daughters
of those climes ; he bestowed upon her the most
serious, the most patient, the most tender, the most
copious consideration. He is evidently always more
or less in love with her, and it is a wonder how
under these circumstances he should make her so
objective, plant her so well on her feet. But, as I
have said, if he was a lover, he was a paternal lover ;
as competent as a father who has had fifty daughters.
He has presented the British maiden under innumer-
able names, in every station and in every emergency
in life, and with every combination of moral and
physical qualities. She is always definite and natural.
She plays her part most properly. She has always
health in her cheek and gratitude in her eye. She
has not a touch of the morbid, and is delightfully
tender, modest and fresh. Trollope's heroines have a
strong family likeness, but it is a wonder how finely
he discriminates between them. One feels, as one
reads him, like a man with " sets " of female cousins.
Such a person is inclined at first to lump each group
together ; but presently he finds that even in the


groups there are subtle differences. Trollope's girls,
for that matter, would make delightful cousins. He
has scarcely drawn, that we can remember, a dis-
agreeable damsel. Lady Alexandrina de Courcy is
disagreeable, and so is Amelia Roper, and so are
various provincial (and indeed metropolitan) spins-
ters, who set their caps at young clergymen and
government clerks. Griselda Grantley was a stick ;
and considering that she was intended to be attractive,
Alice Vavasor does not commend herself particularly
to our affections. But the young women I have men-
tioned had ceased to belong to the blooming season ;
they had entered the bristling, or else the limp,
period. Not that Trollope's more mature spinsters
invariably fall into these extremes. Miss Thorne of
Ullathorne, Miss Dunstable, Miss Mackenzie, Rachel
Ray (if she may be called mature), Miss Baker and
Miss Todd, in The Bertrams, Lady Julia Guest, who
comforts poor John Eames : these and many other
amiable figures rise up to contradict the idea. A
gentleman who had sojourned in many lands was
once asked by a lady (neither of these persons was
English), in what country he had found the women
most to his taste. " Well, in England," he replied.
"In England ?" the lady repeated. "Oh yes," said
her interlocutor ; " they are so affectionate ! " The
remark was fatuous, but it has the merit of describing
Trollope's heroines. They are so affectionate. Mary
Thorne, Lucy Robarts, Adela Gauntlet, Lily Dale,
Nora Rowley, Grace Crawley, have a kind of clinging


tenderness, a passive sweetness, which is quite in the
old English tradition. Trollope's genius is not the
genius of Shakespeare, but his heroines have something
of the fragrance of Imogen and Desdemona. There
are two little stories to which, I believe, his name
has never been affixed, but which he is known to
have written, that contain an extraordinarily touching
representation of the passion of love in its most
sensitive form. In Linda Tressel and Nina Balatka
the vehicle is plodding prose, but the effect is none
the less poignant. And in regard to this I may say
that in a hundred places in Trollope the extremity of
pathos is reached by the homeliest means. He often
achieved a conspicuous intensity of the tragical. The
long, slow process of the conjugal wreck of Louis
Trevelyan and his wife (in He Knew He Was Right],
with that rather lumbering movement which is often
characteristic of Trollope, arrives at last at an im-
pressive completeness of misery. It is the history
of an accidental rupture between two stiff-necked
and ungracious people "the little rift within the
lute " which widens at last into a gulf of anguish.
Touch is added to touch, one small, stupid, fatal
aggravation to another ; and as we gaze into the
widening breach we wonder at the vulgar materials
of which tragedy sometimes composes itself. I have
always remembered the chapter called " Casalunga,"
toward the close of He Knew He Was Right, as a
powerful picture of the insanity of stiff-neckedness.
Louis Trevelyan, separated from his wife, alone,


haggard, suspicious, unshaven, undressed, living in a
desolate villa on a hill-top near Siena and returning
doggedly to his fancied wrong, which he has nursed
until it becomes an hallucination, is a picture worthy
of Balzac. Here and in several other places Trollope
has dared to be thoroughly logical ; he has not sacri-
ficed to conventional optimism; he has not been
afraid of a misery which should be too much like
life. He has had the same courage in the history of
the wretched Mr. Crawley and in that of the much-
to-be-pitied Lady Mason. In this latter episode he
found an admirable subject. A quiet, charming,
tender-souled English gentlewoman who (as I remem-
ber the story of Orley Farm) forges a codicil to a will
in order to benefit her son, a young prig who doesn't
appreciate immoral heroism, and who is suspected,
accused, tried, and saved from conviction only by
some turn of fortune that I forget ; who is further-
more an object of high-bred, respectful, old-fashioned
gallantry on the part of a neighbouring baronet, so
that she sees herself dishonoured in his eyes as well
as condemned in those of her boy : such a personage
and such a situation would be sure to yield, under
Trollope's handling, the last drop of their reality.

There are many more things to say about him
than I am able to add to these very general observa-
tions, the limit of which I have already passed. It
would be natural, for instance, for a critic who affirms
that his principal merit is the portrayal of individual
character, to enumerate several of the figures that he


has produced. I have not done this, and I must ask
the reader who is not acquainted with Trollope to
take my assertion on trust ; the reader who knows
him will easily make a list for himself. No account
of him is complete in which allusion is not made to
his practice of carrying certain actors from one
story to another a practice which he may be said
to have inherited from Thackeray, as Thackeray may
be said to have borrowed it from Balzac. It is a
great mistake, however, to speak of it as an artifice
which would not naturally occur to a writer proposing
to himself to make a general portrait of a society.
He has to construct that society, and it adds to the
illusion in any given case that certain other cases
correspond with it. Trollope constructed a great
many things a clergy, an aristocracy, a middle-class
an administrative class, a little replica of the political
world. His political novels are distinctly dull, and I
confess I have not been able to read them. He
evidently took a good deal of pains with his aristo-
cracy ; it makes its first appearance, if I remember
right, in Doctor Thorne, in the person of the Lady
Arabella de Courcy. It is difficult for us in America
to measure the success of that picture, which is
probably, however, not absolutely to the life. There
is in Doctor Thorne and some other works a certain
crudity of reference to distinctions of rank as if
people's consciousness of this matter were, on either
side, rather inflated. It suggests a general state of
tension. It is true that, if Trollope's conscious-


ness had been more flaccid he would perhaps not
have given us Lady Lufton and Lady Glencora
Palliser. Both of these noble persons are as living
as possible, though I see Lady Lufton, with her
terror of Lucy Robarts, the best. There is a touch
of poetry in the figure of Lady Glencora, but I think
there is a weak spot in her history. The actual
woman would have made a fool of herself to the end
with Burgo Fitzgerald; she would not have dis-
covered the merits of Plantagenet Palliser or if she
had, she would not have cared about them. It is an
illustration of the business-like way in which Trollope
laid out his work that he always provided a sort of
underplot to alternate with his main story a strain
of narrative of which the scene is usually laid in a
humbler walk of life. It is to his underplot that
he generally relegates his vulgar people, his dis-
agreeable young women ; and I have often admired
the perseverance with which he recounts these less
edifying items. Now and then, it may be said,
as in Ralph the Heir, the story appears to be all
underplot and all vulgar people. These, however,
are details. As I have already intimated, it is diffi-
cult to specify in Trollope's work, on account of the
immense quantity of it ; and there is sadness in the
thought that this enormous mass does not present
itself in a very portable form to posterity.

Trollope did not write for posterity ; he wrote for the
day, the moment ; but these are just the writers whom
posterity is apt to put into its pocket. So much of


the life of his time is reflected in his novels that we
must believe a part of the record will be saved ; and
the best parts of them are so sound and true and
genial, that readers with an eye to that sort of enter-
tainment will always be sure, in a certain proportion,
to turn to them. Trollope will remain one of the
most trustworthy, though not one of the most elo-
quent, of the writers who have helped the heart of
man to know itself. The heart of man does not
always desire this knowledge ; it prefers sometimes
to look at history in another way to look at the
manifestations without troubling about the motives.
There are two kinds of taste in the appreciation of
imaginative literature : the taste for emotions of
surprise and the taste for emotions of recognition.
It is the latter that Trollope gratifies, and he gratifies
it the more that the medium of his own mind,
through which we see what he shows us, gives a con-
fident direction to our sympathy. His natural right-
ness and purity are so real that the good things he
projects must be real A race is fortunate when it
has a good deal of the sort of imagination of
imaginative feeling that had fallen to the share of
Anthony Trollope ; and in this possession our English
race is not poor.




IF there be a writer of our language at the present
moment who has the effect of making us regret the
extinction of the pleasant fashion of the literary por-
trait, it is certainly the bright particular genius whose
name I have written at the head of these remarks.
Mr. Stevenson fairly challenges portraiture, as we
pass him on the highway of literature (if that be the
road, rather than some wandering, sun -chequered
by-lane, that he may be said to follow), just as the
possible model, in local attire, challenges the painter
who wanders through the streets of a foreign town
looking for subjects. He gives us new ground to
wonder why the effort to fix a face and figure, to
seize a literary character and transfer it to the canvas
of the critic, should have fallen into such discredit
among us, and have given way, to the mere multipli-
cation of little private judgment-seats, where the
scales and the judicial wig, both of them considerable
awry, and not rendered more august by the company


of a vicious-looking switch, have taken the place, as
the symbols of office, of the kindly, disinterested
palette and brush. It has become the fashion to be
effective at the expense of the sitter, to make some
little point, or inflict some little dig, with a heated
party air, rather than to catch a talent in the fact,
follow its line, and put a finger on its essence : so
that the exquisite art of criticism, smothered in gross-
ness, finds itself turned into a question of "sides."
The critic industriously keeps his score, but it is
seldom to be hoped that the author, criminal though
he may be, will be apprehended by justice through
the handbills given out in the case ; for it is of the
essence of a happy description that it shall have been
preceded by a happy observation and a free curiosity ;
and desuetude, as we may say, has overtaken these
amiable, uninvidious faculties, which have not the
glory of organs and chairs.

We hasten to add that it is not the purpose of
these few pages to restore their lustre or to bring
back the more penetrating vision of which we lament
the disappearance. No individual can bring it back,
for the light that we look at things by is, after all,
made by all of us. It is sufficient to note, in passing,
that if Mr. Stevenson had presented himself in an
age, or in a country, of portraiture, the painters
would certainly each have had a turn at him. The
easels and benches would have bristled, the circle
would have been close, and quick, from the canvas to
the sitter, the rising and falling of heads. It has


happened to all of us to have gone into a studio, a
studio of pupils, and seen the thick cluster of bent
backs and the conscious model in the midst. It has
happened to us to be struck, or not to be struck,
with the beauty or the symmetry of this personage,
and to have made some remark which, whether ex-
pressing admiration or disappointment, has elicited
from one of the attentive workers the exclamation,
" Character, character is what he has ! " These words
may be applied to Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson ; in
the language of that art which depends most on
direct observation, character, character is what he
has. He is essentially a model, in the sense of a
sitter; I do not mean, of course, in the sense of a
pattern or a guiding light. And if the figures who
have a life in literature may also be divided into two
great classes, we may add that he is conspicuously
one of the draped : he would never, if I may be
allowed the expression, pose for the nude. There
are writers who present themselves before the critic
with just the amount of drapery that is necessary for
decency ; but Mr. Stevenson is not one of these he
makes his appearance in an amplitude of costume.
His costume is part of the character of which I just
now spoke ; it never occurs to us to ask how he
would look without it Before all things he is a
writer with a style a model with a complexity of
curious and picturesque garments. It is by the
cut and the colour of this rich and becoming
frippery I use the term endearingly, as a painter


might that he arrests the eye and solicits the

That is, frankly, half the charm he has for us, that
he wears a dress and wears it with courage, with a
certain cock of the hat and tinkle of the supereroga-
tory sword ; or in other words that he is curious of
expression and regards the literary form not simply
as a code of signals, but as the key-board of a piano,
and as so much plastic material. He has that voice
deplored, if we mistake not, by Mr. Herbert Spencer,
a manner a manner for manner's sake it may some-
times doubtless be said. He is as different as possible
from the sort of writer who regards words as
numbers, and a page as the mere addition of them ;
much more, to carry out our image, the dictionary
stands for him as a wardrobe, and a proposition as a
button for his coat. Mr. William Archer, in an
article 1 so gracefully and ingeniously turned that the
writer may almost be accused of imitating even while
he deprecates, speaks of him as a votary of " lightness
of touch," at any cost, and remarks that " he is not
only philosophically content but deliberately resolved,
that his readers shall look first to his manner, and
only in the second place to his matter." I shall not
attempt to gainsay this ; I cite it rather, for the
present, because it carries out our own sense. Mr.
Stevenson delights in a style, and his own has
nothing accidental or diffident ; it is eminently

1 "R. L. Stevenson, his Style and Thought," Time,
November 1885.


conscious of its responsibilities, and meets them with
a kind of gallantry as if language were a pretty
woman, and a person who proposes to handle it had
of necessity to be something of a Don Juan. This
bravery of gesture is a noticeable part of his nature,
and it is rather odd that at the same time a striking
feature of that nature should be an absence of care
for things feminine. His books are for the most part
books without women, and it is not women who fall
most in love with them. But Mr. Stevenson does
not need, as we may say, a petticoat to inflame him :
a happy collocation of words will serve the purpose,
or a singular image, or the bright eye of a passing
conceit, and he will carry off a pretty paradox without

Online LibraryHenry JamesPartial portraits → online text (page 8 of 24)