Humphry Ward.

The history of David Grieve online

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All rights reserved

Copyright, 1891,

Special edition, April, July, 1905; March, 1906:
October, 1908.

Nortoooti ^xtsi

J. S. Ciwhlng & Co. — Berwick & Smith C».

Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.









Youth .


..... 123

Storm and Stress • • • * ^"^^





London : May 2, 1892.

Dear Mr. Smith,

A few days ago there came into my head the idea
of writing you — my friend and publisher — an 'open letter'
which might serve, if you thought well, as a little preface to
the sixth and popular edition of ' The History of David Grieve;'
and I was turning the notion over in my mind when I fell upon
a passage in M. Kenan's last volume of ' Souvenirs,' which he
has called ' Feuilles Detachees.' He is describing his relations
with the 'Journal des Debats' and with M. Silvestre de
Sacy, the editor of that well-known newspaper when the young
ex-seminarist and future author of the 'Vie de Jesus' first
joined its staff. 'I owe to M. de Sacy,' says M. Renan, ' some
of the moral rules that I have always followed. I owe to him
in particular the habit of never replying to newspaper attacks
even when they contain the greatest enormities. When I sub-
mitted to him different cases of possible exceptions, his answer
was invariable : ^^ Jamais, jamais, jamais !" I believe that on
this point, as on so many others, I have conscientiously followed
the counsels of my old master. Du haut du del M. de Sacy sera
content de moi.^

' Jamais ! '

It is true tiiat, a little further on, M. Renan, with his usual
hatred of the absolute, begins to qualify and ponder a little —
falls wondering, after all, whether ' nowadays M. de Sacy would
not change his mind.' But all the same, that ' Jamais ! ' of M.
de Sacy lingered in my ear, and stood in the way of my own
small project. ' No, no ! ' I have said to myself ; ' M. Renan's
old friend was a thousand times right. If I let myself put
down the things now fermenting in me, I shall be answering
my reviewers ; and what can be more futile? — what even, if I
may say so without arrogance, more superfluous ? For, as our


English criticism is constituted at the present moment, does it
not jDerpetually answer itself ? It has no recognised leaders ;
and when it attacks, it falls at a moment's notice into violence.
Now the snare of violence is contradiction ; and if contradiction
is not the note just now of large tracts of English reviewing,
what is ? Let it alone, and finish M. Ilenan's entertaining

But no. Even that ^ Jamais!^ is not strong enough, and I
take up my pen determined somehow both to write my letter
and to profit by the wisdom of M. de Sacy. After all, does it
not depend upon what is meant by ' answering ' ?

In the first place, however, that word ' contradiction ' haunts
me, and before I turn to one or two very general matters, on
which I have asked you to give me this opportunity of saying a
public word or two, let me draAv your attention for a moment—
a passing tremulous moment — tO those three Quarterlies which
in this month of grace have been bombarding ' David Grieve.'
(Ah ! I feel that when you come to tliis you will be nervous.
You will say to yourself, ' This will never do — Mrs. Ward can-
not, after all, refrain.' No, no ! you will see it will all come
right.) So let us look ! — on our way to other things. As for
me, it is like the bogies of my childhood — the more I look, the
less I shake. There is, first of all, the writer in the ' Quarterly,'
who is now, as always, what yo\x might expect to find him.
This time he is equally displeased with all the recent birtlis of
time. The situation in literature, as he describes it, is sombre
indeed. Nevertheless, his style is trijoping, and his humour con-
fident ; one perceives that after all, perhaps, at bottom, like the
reader, he remembers that the ' Quarterly' has walled over
many generations, that ' howsoe'er the world goes ill ' the
thrushes still sing in it, and cheerfulness is best. Still, though
he is cheerful, he is severely confident, and when he tells me in
the same breath, first, that ' sixteen centuries ago' the religious
puzzles with which people, and especially David Grieves, trouble
their heads in the present day were all satisfactorily settled,
and next, that 'David Grieve' is 'tiresome as a novel and in-
CiTectual as a sermon,' I am for the moment so carried away by
the Olympian sureness of the tone that I find both statements
equally true, and am naturally depressed by the last. But
there is balm — not only in Gilead, but where one least looks for
it. Public report tells me that if the ' Quarterly ' has used
wliips, the 'Edinbui-gh' has used scorpions, and I go on to my
second reviewer in fear and trembling. And in the 'Edin-


burgh' I do indeed discover an extremely hostile gentleman
writing in an agitation whicli betrays him into a very quagmire
of repetitions, and finally leads him, through a breathless series
of the most trenchant adjectives known to the language, up to
the composition of, surely, two of the most incompetent pages
ever penned in defence of the Christian religion ! But at the
same time I stumble on a little sentence dropped out by the
way, which arrests me by its odd incongruity with its surround-
ings. ' David Grieve,' of course, 'is a failure,' but all the same
the writer who so labels it contrives to admit that he has found
it 'a powerful story, at times of absorbing interest.' How be-
wildering ! But how soothing ! For clearly the * Edinburgh '
and the ' Quarterly ' cannot both be right. A book cannot be at
one and the same time 'tiresome as a novel and ineffectual as
a sermon,' and 'a powerful story — of absorbing interest.' The
two statements cancel out like those mysterious sums of one's
childhood, which I still remember as though they were some
pleasant conjuring trick— amusing and impenetrable.

And when I bring in my third critic— him of the 'Church
Quarterly'— the cancelling process becomes brisk indeed. My
new reviewer holds up poor ' David,' if I remember right, as one
of several shocking examples showing the decline of ' theology
and morality ' in fiction. But his ways are gentler than those
of Ids colleagues, and I notice with some inward glow that he
has let my tale-spinning beguile him a good deal. The 'Edin-
burgh ' only rails the moi-e because against its v/ill it has been
interested ; but the ' Church Quarterly,' in the midst of its hard
sayings, will still confess that it has lauglied over Lucy's social
pangs, and been touched by Lucy's dying. The book shows ' a
total absence of humour,' says the 'Edinburgh' fiercely (the
italics are mine, they merely represent the general energy of the
context); but here is the 'Church Quarterly' talking of 'a
refined and delicate sense of humour,' of 'mingled Immour and
pathos,' of

But no ! this is absurd. I must not count my compliments.
I must remember that they too, for the moment, ' cancel out.'

Once more. The ' Quarterly ' is clear that ' David ' is ' dis-
tinctly and surprisingly inferior ' to its predecessor ' in all the
arts and devices necessary to produce a literary composition.'
But the 'Edinburgh' puts it in this way : the 'workmanship,
' critical ability,' and ' gift of literary expression ' are the same ;
the defects are about equal; but 'the later novel has greater
interest, more passion, more power, and more pathos.' As for


the * Church Quarterly,' it says roundly that ' David Grieve ' is
a great improvement, so that on the whole this little sum leaves
me in good spirits.

Finally the ' Quarterly,' as I have before remarked, is so
contemptuously certain that Athanasius and Nicsea ('sixteen
centuries' back bring us up somewhere, I think, just behind
Nicsea 1) left nothing for German or any other theologians to
do, and that all those 'puzzled commonplaces' which poor
David stole from Germany or Oxford were really comfortably
disposed of at that early date — it is so certain of these things, it
tells us, that to this side of the matter it will have— or rather it
endeavours to have— nothing at all to say. Its dignity revolts.
And perhaps it remembers how much it had to say of this kind
in the case of ' Kobert Elsmere,' and will not repeat, even to
a world that forgets. But the ' Edinburgh ' neither feigns nor
feels a composure of the sort. It stands and wrings its hands,
lamenting that ' such an attack as Mrs. Ward's might well put
the defenders of Christianity on the alert.' And meanwhile
the biographer of 'David Grieve,' standing between the two
voices — the voice of ill-assured contempt and the voice of angry
alarm— does not know whether to laugh or cry ! She can only
find one thing to say— one little, foolish, personal thing. Did
neither of these gentlemen ever possess a college friend with
whom he talked and to whom he wrote on those matters of
'whence' and 'whither' which have a trick of engaging our
attention at some period of life ? No doubt, no one — or very
few— ought to feel an interest in them. But still can he re-
member any such futile moments or no? If he can, were they
not a part of life— for the time, at least, an important part of
life — just so much and no more ? And if they were, can he not
allow a ' David Grieve,' who had no college friends, his thoughts
and his journal, unorthodox and irritating though it be — as
at least a part of life — so much and no more ? Why scold his
biographer because she tries to fill in the picture as each man's
memory fills in his own? Is it her fault if every rich human
life contains these things? The real point is, Do men and
women trouble their hearts and heads about these matters, —
do they affect action and conduct? If so, the novelist claims
them as he claims all else tliat belongs to life — under the con-
ditions of his art hien entendu — and the critic who will not play
the game, so to speak, who stands and breaks into personalities
al)Out the painter when he should be judging the picture as a


Here, indeed, I have fallen headlong into the snare ! I am
'answering' on my own account — there can be no possible
doubt of that— and I see your admonitory look. Well, let us
come to the point. Let me have done trifling with j\I. de Sacy's
' Jamais ! ' and take up those more serious matters for which in
truth I am disquieting you with this letter. And first let me
return a moment, but in another spirit, to my three latest critics,
lest I should inadvertently misrepresent them as they, to my
thinking, have sometimes misrepresented ' David Grieve.' It is
quite true that some of their most formidable dicta ' cancel out'
with astonishing neatness, and to the stimulus of that sense of
humour in which the ' Edinburgh ' finds David's biographer so
deficient. But it is also true that in certain canons and
methods of criticism they are very closely agreed ; and because
it is so, and because the articles are long, simultaneous, and
conspicuous, it may be well to take them as representative of
much else— I will not say in the mind of the public— but at any
rate in the mind of a portion of the press. All three dislike
and resent what they call the intrusion of Hheology ' into a
novel, and tlie two older Quarterlies are especially intolerant
of ' the novel with a purpose,' of any writing within the domain
of art which, as the ' Quarterly ' puts it, aims at ' reforming the
world.' Great stress is also laid— particularly in the 'Edin-
burgh '—on that method of reviewing which consists in putting
together all that one may know, or imagine one knows, about
the personal history of a writer, and framing one's literary
judgment to suit.

Now these points — what is meant by a ' novel with a pur-
pose,' or by 'dragging theology into fiction,' and the legitimacy
of the 'personal' method of reviewing— are worth discussion,
and I am not ungrateful to the Quarterlies for having turned
my attention to them once more. Let me take the last first, as
being the most diverting ; for I have a certain love, as I fear
my books betray, for a ' serious ending.' The ' personal ' method
consists apparently in examining wliether to your knowledge
the author of a given book has ever been personally placed in
the precise situations he describes, and judging his work accord-
ingly. It leads to deductions of this kind—' ^Mr. A.'s pictures
of convict life cannot possibly be well done, since Mr. A.— we
know it for certain— has never been a convict. As for Mr. B.'s
descriptions of immorality and divorce— absurd !— we happen
to know that a better husband and father than Mr. B. does not
exist. And what does Miss C mean by talking to us about


peasants ? ]Miss C lives — we have looked it up — in D

Street, Kentish Town. Now what, we should like to ask, have

English, or still more Scotch peasants to do with D Street,

Kentish Town ? As for ^Ir. F., we know all about his relations,
and are not to be taken in ; none of them ever attempted what
Mr. F. has attempted ; the inference is obvious.'

The danger of this method is that it is difficult to be informed
enough, and that your literary judgments are ajDt to be kept
waiting while you are quarrelling with ' Men of the Time ' for
not supplying you with detail enough to make them. The
attractions of the ' personal ' method of criticism are no doubt
great. Sainte - Beuve ha^ a rapturous passage in which he
declares that he never understood Chateaubriand till he knew
all about Chateaubriand's sisters. Still, by that time Chateau-
briand was dead — which in this connection is something. In-
formation of the personal sort is apt to accumulate after a
writer's decease; and criticism, as the 'Edinburgh' conceives
it, is thereby made easier. During a writer's lifetime I con-
stantly notice that while the critic^ are spending time and
temper over these matters, the public is reading the book, —
which is after all more important.

As for the one literary assumption underlying these vagaries,
— that a writer must deal with nothing but his or her personal
exjDerience, — it is of course a very respectable assumption. All
that one lias to say is that literature and the public have upset
it times without number. It is tolerably obvious that Sir
Walter Scott could not have personally observed the society
of George II. 's day, or have lived familiarly in the society of
Louis XI. ; which does not prevent the ' Heart of Midlothian '
or 'Quentin Durward' from being great novels. Another
truism, you say. Very well. At any rate the successes of the
historical novel prove that the imaginative treatment of life
depends upon personal experience as one of its great factors,
but by no means the only one. Personal experience, at least,
of the narrow and technical sort. Every novel that ever
touched a reader depends, of course, ultimately upon personal
experience— that is to say, upon what the writer is, and can
put into the framework with which experience or imagination,
or research if you like, supplies him. But that is another

To return, however, to what are really the 'hanging matters,'
with the Quarterlies, and with other people besides.

'The novel,' says a writer in the 'New Review,' 'will not


bear ' what the writer of ' David Grieve ' puts into it ; will not
bear, that is to say, the introduction of matter drawn from
the religious and philosophical field. Naturally the proposition
interests me. But'it rouses in me a little amused wonder that
a critic with so wide a knowledge of literature as Mr. Traill
should imagine that the matter can be settled quite so easily.
For as one looks back over the history of the novel nothing
seems to be so clear as that it has ' borne ' everything of what-
ever kind that a writer who could make himself heard was
minded to put into it. In the days of Cervantes the novel,
fish-like, swallowed other novels whole, and the adventures of
the immortal knight came to a standstill while the fortunes
and career of 'El Curioso Impertinente ' unrolled. In the
days of ' Julie,' the cadre supplied by the loves of Saint-Preux
and Madame de Wolmar admitted of the introduction of a vast
amount of material which would make the critic of to-day rise
in his wrath — discussions of the opera, of the qualities of
women of the world, of the existence of God, of the proper
management of children and estates, and much else. The dis-
cussions happened to be interesting then, and they are in-
teresting historically now. Rousseau wrote as the spirit moved
him, choosing out of the variegated spectacle of life what
attracted him, and the instant response of his generation — in
spite of the sarcasms of Voltaire — showed that he was right.
' Wilhelm Meister ' wanders, digresses, and preaches as Goethe
pleases, but the man who wrote of life and thought in it had
lived and thought ; and, formless as it is, the book has entered
into the training of Europe. Chateaubriand, George Sand, and
Victor Hugo have bent the novel to all the purposes of pro-
paganda in turn. Theology, politics, social problems and
reforms, they have laid hands on them all, and have but stirred
the more vibrations thereby in the life of their time. And
which of them, from ' Don Quixote ' downwards, will you save
from this opprobrious category of ' novels with a purpose ' 1 —
which of them has not tried in its own way and with its own
vehemence to * reform the world,' whether it be by throwing an
effete literature out of window, or by holding up the picture of
married virtue and religious faith beside that of illicit love and
empty doubt, or by showing forth the wrongs and difficulties of
women, or by the passionate attempt to make the world realise
the pressure of the pyramid of our civilised society on the poor
and the weak at its base ?

It is no doubt true, and the fact is one of great psychological


interest, that in Engiand the novel has been specially objective,
positive, concrete. Our novels since Fielding descend rather
from. 'Gil Bias 'and that Spanish picaresque literature, the
refuge of a people intellectually starved, which became so
popular and found so many imitators in a seventeenth- or
eighteenth-century England, than they descend from ' Euphues'
or 'The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia.' We have always
taken more delight in the mere spectacle of life than our
neighbours ; ' ideas ' have on the whole, and for good reasons,
been more distasteful to us than to France or Oerraany ; and
in the novel of our century we have the splendid result of both
tendencies, positive and negative. Still there have been con-
siderable exceptions. If one looks back over the fiction of the
last fifty years, one comes again and again upon books that
have broken bounds so to speak, and that have owed both
their motive-power and their success to this desire, which the
* Quarterly ' finds so terrible and so abominable, of ' reforming
the world,' or, as I should put it, to the expression of 'a criti-
cism of life,' wliich may advance, wliether in the hearts of the
many or the few, thoughts and causes dear to the writers.
' Think with me ! ' * See with me ! ' ' Let me persuade you ! '
they seem to say, and again and again the world, or rather the
world which belonged to the book, has let itself be persuaded,

Let us, indeed, exchange the idea of ' purpose ' for the idea
'criticism of life,' and see how the matter stands. 'Poetry,'
said Mr. Matthew Arnold, 'is a criticism of life under the
conditions of poetic truth and poetic beauty.' For this dictum
he has been roughly handled by the school which, in its zeal for
certain elements and aspects of art, and under the influence of
a narrow conception of criticism, would, if it could, divorce art
from criticism and claim for it a divine and irresponsible
isolation. But, in my belief at any rate, the task is impossible.
Criticism lurks, and will always lurk, in the very holiest and
secretest places of art. For the artist there is always the choice
between this and that, between good and better, between the
congruous and the discordant, between one sequence and
another. Every act of literary conception is half creative, half
critical, and could not be creative without being critical.

Alter two words, then, in Mr. Arnold's definition of poetry,
and watch how it applies to the novel. 'A criticism of It/e
under the conditions of imaginative trtith and imaginative
heaiUy.^ It is easy to see that the definition so drawn sweeps into


its net all the remembered novel-writing of the century. For
even Miss Austen — that most detached and impersonal of all
the great story-tellers — has her ' criticism of life ' and makes it
felt. Witii what glee and malice does she hold up to us the
absurdities of aristocratic pride in Darcy and in Lady Catherine
de Burgh, and how large she writes the lesson of Emma's
patronising and meddlesome conceit ! As for Scott, Thackeray,
Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, compare the 'criticism of life' in-
volved in the work of any one of them with that involved in
the work of any conspicuous French novelist, of George Sand,
or Theophile Gautier, or Octave Feuillet, and the contrasts of
nationality will make you realise at once that each of these
writers, however objective and positive he may seem, has all
the while an ethical and social ideal which he is trying to make
prevail. Each delights, as every artist should and does delight,
in the mere play of the imaginative gift ; but through each
and all throbs the wish 'to reform the world' in his or her
measure. The question is, can you have lasting imaginative
work without it 1

Well, but — you will perhaps say to me with impatience — this
is all trite and familiar enough. What you call ' criticism of
life' other people call 'individuality,' and very few dream of
denying that the novel or the poem should have individuality
— should embody a 'criticism of life' up to this point. The
question is : How far is the criticism to be carried ?

Ah ! that is indeed the question, the whole question. All
that one can say is there have always been two answers — the
answer of those who wish to make of art a protection against
life, and the answer of those who attempt to use it as the torch
for exploring life. Do not attempt to carry your criticism, say
the first, beyond the point of common experience, above all of
common agreement. The world is rich enough within these
limits ; it will give you amply within them the wherewithal to
laugh or cry, or wonder ; for heaven's sake be content ! and
join with us in making of fiction and poetry an ark of refuge, a
many-coloured shrine for the common perennial passions and
emotions and delights of mankind, reared amid the clash of
irreconcilable interests, and that surrounding darkness of the
Unknown which neither philosophy nor religion, say what you
will, can clear away.

A beguiling answer !— and what magicians it has called into
its service ! It was the creed of Scott and Miss Austen ; in
words at least of George Eliot ; it is implied in the golden art


of Mr. Stevenson. We have all felt the charm and the per-
suasiveness of it ; and in certain moods of life there is not a
single man or woman that has not wished it, consciously or
unconsciously, to prevail.

But there is another answer, — and it is equally legitimate.
'Nay, let us have no lines, no exclusions!' it says. 'Life
divided into sections is life shorn of some of its fulness. There
are no hard and fast limits in reality ; the great speculative
motives everywhere play and melt into the great practical
motives ; each different life implies a different and a various
thought-stuff; and there is nothing in art to forbid your deal-
ing — if you can ! — with the thought-stuff of the philosopher as
freely as with the thought-stuff of the peasant or the maiden.

Online LibraryHumphry WardThe history of David Grieve → online text (page 1 of 69)