J. Hain (James Hain) Friswell.

Modern men of letters honestly criticised online

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Modern Men of Letters



HONESTLY CRITICISED.



J. HAIN FRISWELL,

Author of "Essays on English Writers,"
&c.r &c.




Sontion :
HODDER AND STOUGHTON,

27, PATERNOSTER ROW.



MDCCCI.XX.




UNWIN BROTHERS, PRINTERS, BUCKLERSBURY, LONDON.




:>



I05



tlTo P?ig CFxcellcncj)
M. SYLVAIN VAN DE WEYER,

MINISTRE d'etat,
ENVOYB EXTRAORDINAIRE ET MINISTRE PLENIPOTENTIARE,

IN ADMIRATION OF HIS GENIUS AS A WRITER

HIS SKILL AND HONESTY AS A DIPLOMATIST

AND IN GRATITUDE FOR HIS FRIENDSHIP



PREFACE.




^3^^J^



HE ordinary mode of criticising the results
of a scholar's hard and long-continued work
is, as we are well aware, to test it here and
there by means of the index, and to show off the
critic's second-hand learning at the expense of the
literary subject which he is dissecting, pointing out
a weak point here and an unsound spot there ; but
such a mode of treatment would be entirely beside
the mark in the present case."

The above sentence from a review in the A thencEum
of May 2ist, will be a sufficient explanation of, and
excuse for, the words on the title-page, " honestly
criticised." The italics are not those of the journal,
but added here to mark the openness of confession,
and, at the same time, the curious reservation in
favour of Mr. Cox's work on the " Myths of the
Aryan Nations," as if in any case so perfunctory
and essentially dishonest a method could be excused.



VI PREFACE.

But there is even a worse "mode of treatment" with
some critics, which is to fall into, or even to commit,
blunders and errors, and to attribute them to the
more correct author. Those who have suffered from
such a treatment, have learnt the value of such
criticism, and the causes which make the ordinary
book-notice valueless. As a rule, if an author be
good and strong, he will succeed, and the more
antagonism he meets with, the better. The only
thing valuable in this life is Truth, and although
at present we may be overborne with a multiplicity
and superabundance of error, although we are quite
aware that Truth can effectually be stamped down
and hidden for years, still the more ardent and con-
stant grows our belief in the ultimate triumph of
that which is earnest and right. A bad book may
have a wide-spread influence and may succeed for
a time, but, as a rule, that influence is contemptible
and its reign is exceedingly short ; goodness and
wisdom win the day, they only are permanent and
endure.

Another great fault in the criticism of the present
day is its cliquisni. If the author of a book be
unknown, if he veil his name for a time, he may
chance to meet with a valuable, because an un-



PREFACE. Vll

biassed, review of his work. So well is this known,
that we could count on our fingers ten of the best
authors of the day who have written anonymously
for the express purpose of eliciting from the Press
a true value of their work; and as these gentlemen —
among whom we may count Mr. Disraeli and Lord
Lytton — have more than once resorted to this
method, we presume that it has been successful.
The simple suggestion, often most erroneous, that
Mr. A has been very successful, and that his works
bring him much money, is sufficient to make the
envious and unsuccessful irritated and inimical.
Not that critics have no generosity, they have often
exhibited much, but that in the poorly-paid and
poorly-prized profession to which they belong, the
trials of which are so acute, and the nature of those
engaged in it so sensitive, some seem to feel the
success of a fellow or a contemporary whom they
hardly recognised, as a personal insult. There is
also a Celtic and Bohemian delight in following the
practice of that humorous Irishman who, wanting
to fight with somebody, walked out of the tent or
booth, and felt outside its canvas for the hardest,
roundest, and biggest head of those who leant
against its sides, gave it a crack with his shillelah,



Vlll PREFACE.

and then waited for its owner to come and defend
himself. Many a peaceful author, thus refreshing
himself after his labour, has been cruelly assaulted
in this way, and the pain resulting from such a
wound is acute — for it is but human nature that a
man who has written a wise or clever book should
desire the guerdon of praise. That, we know from
the purest and best penman who ever lived, " is
the last infirmity of noble minds." Let us add,
that if the wielder of the shillelah belongs to a
clique, he spares the heads of his friends, out of a
prophetic feeling that they in their turn will spare
his.

"To-morrow," says Disraeli in "Lothair," "the
critics will be upon us. Who are the critics ? they
who have been unsuccessful in literature and art ; "
to which we would add, not always jn^successful.
One of the greatest dangers of an author arises from
the successful, the genial, and the friendly critic,
who will applaud his mistakes, quote his platitudes
for beauties, patronise him in a way as open as it
is oily, and who, while he reveals his bias, shows
nothing else in three columns of grammatical com-
monplace. Such writing as this deprived a certain
paper of its selling value. There was a time when



PREFACE. IX

a review in would sell an edition of a novel.

" If you can promise me a review there, '^ said a
well-known publisher to a well-known lady writer,
"I can raise the copy money by £150 or ^£'200 ! "
But he would not do so now. As the Economist
wisely notes in other matters, the Press, especially
the London Press, is losing its influence ; the cause
is, that much of it is losing its truth. A paper
known to be skilful and honest is as influential
as heretofore. We have no reason surely to regret
the loss of an influence which is essentially im-
moral ; we may be certain that the Press will regain
that influence when it deserves it, and that the
really influential portion does, even at present, both
hold and deserve it.

Lastly, criticism which, as is too often the
" mode," — to use the word of the Athenceum, — lays
on the praise, or the contrary objurgation, in huge
layers, simple without being pure, is unworthy of
the name. To judge fairly, you must at least be
a judge. " It is an easy task to praise or blame, the
hard task and the virtue to do both." This sentence
has been borne in mind throughout this book, and
has never been absent from the writer's mind.
Where blame has been freely expressed, reason has



X PREFACE.

been given for it. We are getting weary of false

friendships and falser animosities in literature ; it

is time to call a spade a spade. As the great

Dryden — for the touch is his, though found in Sir

William Soame's translation from " Boileau," which

he altered and amended — said :

" In our scribbling times
No fool can want a sot to praise his rhymes:
The flattest work has ever in the Court
Met with some zealous ass for its support:
And in all times a forward scribbling fop
Has found some greater fool to cry him up."

And the present Laureate has left it on record that
reviewers are "indolent," and that "raffs are rife
in prose and rhj'me." The best way to discourage
the terrible waste of paper and print at present
going on, is for competent critics to speak out
firmly and fully, with an honesty which will secure
attention, with a judgment that will carry convic-
tion, with a severity which is more kind in reality
than ungrudging praise, and with a decision which
must arise from all three. How far the writer has
been able to follow his own rule, he leaves to the
most kind, yet severe, the most unbiassed and most
competent of all critics, the Public, to say.

September, 1870.



A CAVEAT,

WHICH THE AUTHOR EARNESTLY REQUESTS THE
READER TO LOOK OVER, AND NOT TO OVERLOOK,

" We see that Mr. Friswell has in the press a volume entitled
' Modern Men of Letters honestly Criticised.' We confess we
are not a little anxious to see the book. If it be what it
professes to be, the author must be a more fearless man than
most literary men are. If his criticism be unfavourable — and
surely it cannot all be flattering — he will find he had better have
put his head into a hornets' nest. Let him beware of the little
clique of brethren of the Society for Mutual Admiration. If
he refuses them the due to which they fancy they are entitled,
it will go hard with him."

This paragraph, from the Literary World of
September 2nd, will prove to the reader that some
alteration is needed in the present mode of criticism,
if the fears expressed by the honest and able sheet
whence I quote it, have any foundation. It is to
be sincerely hoped that they have not. Surely the
English critics, from whom personally I have re-
ceived so much kind consideration, are too manly
to be biassed by pique or spite. The paragraph



XU A CAVEAT.

is cited, however, because it affords the writer an
opportunity to explain the nature of his book, and
to apologise for its shortcomings.

The reader will perceive that the sketches are
bibliographical and biographical as well as critical ;
too many authors are debated to allow of the reviews
to be exhaustive, or to be other than they are — an
introduction to the study of modern writers. The
reader will also please to note that although the
writer has the honour to be known to almost all
the subjects of these pen-and-ink sketches, the
personal notes are such only as could be made
from the public appearance, or from the photo-
graphic portraits of the authors; and that while
earnest opinions are strongly expressed, it is trusted
that such expression never oversteps the bounds of
good breeding, nay, even of good nature.



CONTENTS.



4^



CHARLES DICKENS

MR. MARK LEMON

VICTOR HUGO

CHARLES READE.

JOHN RUSKIN, M.A., D.C.L , ETC

THE ETHICS OF RUSKIN .

ROBERT BROWNING .

MR. ANTHONY TROLLOPE .

ALFRED TENNYSON .

MR. GEORGE AUGUSTUS SALA

MR. CHARLES LEVER .

MR. GEORGE GROTE .

THE RIGHT HON. B. DISRAELI, P.C, D

LORD LYTTON .

MR. HARRISON AINSWORTH



C.L.,



M.P.,



ETC.



ETC.



PAGE
I

49
6i

n

91

105

119

135

147

159
171

183

195

243
257



xiv



CONTENTS.



THOMAS CARLYLE

HENRY W. LONGFELLOW .

MR. ALGERNON C. SWINBURNE

THE REV. CHARLES KINGSLEY ,

RALPH WALDO EMERSON .

MR. T. W. ROBERTSON

M. EDMOND ABOUT



PAGE
285

333

346
360



CHARLES DICKENS.



MR. CHARLES DICKENS.




{he great humorous novelist whose life
stands first in our volume is but lately
dead. What follows was written while
he was alive, but on careful revision the writer
finds nothing to alter. He was not one of those
who flattered Dickens while living, nor is he one
who would alter his opinion when dead. What
is written was and is felt, and the late author knew
how dangerous and fallible, how hurtful to a living
author is criticism which is injudicious in its praise
and unthoughtful even in its fault-finding. A French
writer, if we believe the newspapers, relates that
Dickens said to him that " he had been spoilt by
over-much kindness," or words to that effect; "this,"
said the gentleman, "was not true; but he felt it, and
if he felt it, it was true." For a young author looks

B



2 MODERN MEN OF LETTERS.

for kindly guidance and a wise supervision. He
seldom finds either. The ordinary critic

" Wonders with a foolish face of praise "

at his brilliant passages, praises him too often
for his faults, checks him when he should be
encouraged, and nurses a folly till it becomes a vice.
" Don't mind the critics," said Thackeray to me, " I
never read what is written of me ; I am tired of
seeing my name in print," With these few words
written without arriere pens<^e, let us proceed to our
subject. The paragraph which follows I quote : —

" Charles John Hougham Dickens (the two intermediate
names being never used by him) was born on the 7th of
February, 1812, at Portsmouth, his father being Mr. John
Dickens, once a clerk in the Pay Department of the Navy,
but who, at the close of the war, retired on his pension, and
came to London as a newspaper reporter. After being
educated at Chatham, Charles Dickens was articled to a
solicitor in Bedford Row, and reminiscences of his office life
are to be found in the clerkly doings at Messrs. Dodson and
Fogg's, and through the pages of " Copperficld " and " Bleak
House." But he did not take kindly to the law, and, having
acquired the mysteries of shorthand, soon obtained employment
as a reporter. His first engagements were on the T?-7ie Sun
and the Mirror of Parliament, but he soon joined the staff of
the Morning Chrotiicle. The late Earl of Derby, then Lord
Stanley, had on some important occasion made a grand speech
in the House of Commons. This speech, of immense length,
it was found necessary to compress ; but so admirably had its
pith and marrow been given in the Morning Chronicle, that
Lord Stanley sent to the office requcsling that the gentleman
who had reported it would wait upon him at his residence in



MR. CHARLES DICKENS. 3

Carlton House-terrace, that he might then and there take
down the speech in its entirety from his lordship's lips, Lord
Stanley being desirous of having a perfect transcript of it. The
reporter was Charles Dickens. He attended, took down the
speech, and received Lord Stanley's compliments on his work.
Many years after, Mr. Dickens, dining for the first time with
a friend in Carlton House Terrace, found the aspect of the
dining-room strangely familiar to him, and on making inquiries
discovered that the house had previously belonged to Lord
Derby, and that that was the very room in which he had
taken down Lord Stanley's speech.

" It is a mistake to suppose that Mr. Dickens's earliest
writings appeared in the Morning Chronicle under the editor-
ship of Mr. Black. Mr. Dickens first became connected with
the Morniftg Chronicle as a reporter in the gallery of the House
of Commons This was in 1 835-36, but Mr. Dickens had been pre-
viously engaged, while in his nineteenth year, as a reporter for a
publication entitled the Mirror of Parliament, in which capacity
he occupied the very highest rank among the eighty or ninety
reporters for the press then in Parliament,"

It was a natural leap from reporting to "sketching,"
as the term then was, and a Mr. White, in his
" Mornings at Bow Street," had made such sketches
possible and popular. In 1835 Captain Holland
conducted the Old Monthly Magazine, and in these
pages sketches of a humorous character, signed
" Boz," first appeared. Almost simultaneously with
these was written a comic opera, entitled "Village
Coquettes," the verses of which survived for some
time, being sung at various concerts by Braham,
When a gentleman who, writing to a paper, signs
himself "J. G.," took the editorship of the Old

B 2



4 MODERN MEN OF LETTERS.

Monthly, Captain Holland, excellent editor ! had
forgotten the name of his contributor, although
"J. G." had marked the verve and worth of the
" Sketches." With some trouble it was found, and
Dickens, when written to, offered to furnish matter at
eight guineas a sheet of sixteen pages ; in six months
from that date, so rapid was his rise, he could have
commanded one hundred guineas. Thus Dickens
commenced literary life. How easily he succeeded
he has told us in a speech he made at a literary
dinner. "I began to tread this life when very
young, without money, without influence, without
companions, introducer, or adviser," and he adds,
" I met with no dragons in the path," to which one
may add, "No, but with many friends."

These "Sketches" were reprinted in 1836 and 1837
respectively, and published by Mr. Macrone, of
Regent Street, illustrated by George Cruikshank,
whose name was relied on to sell them rather than
that of the author. The papers and illustrations
are worthy of each other; both are exaggerations,
rather than caricatures, the exaggeration being but a
veil through which the truth was easil}' seen. Each
character is drawn ad vivum, and our fathers thought
them very vulgar if very funny, but there is now
and then a touch of real genius ; the sketch of
Monmouth Street is not only fanciful, but at the
same time true and pathetic. Their value as true



MR. CHARLES DICKENS. 5

pieces of art may be seen in their present popularity
in Mr. Bellew's Readings, and at "Penny Readings."
They are not above the calibre of the lower middle-
class, and suit persons easily amused by pantomimic
action. Some of them are far too free for strait-
laced people of the present day, and the " Blooms-
bury Christening" has been objected to by more
than one clergyman as profane. In a volume of
Dickens's life, hastily got up, it is asserted that
Dickens formed his style upon Mr. Pierce Egan's
"Tom and Jerry; or, Life in London." He did
no such thing ; he has named one of his sons Henry
Fielding and Smollett, and the influence of those
writers on Dickens, no less than on Thackeray, is
distinctly traceable on every line of his works.

The success of Dickens in the good old days when
publishers really now and then suggested works to
authors, had the effect of inducing Messrs. Chapman
and Hall to propose that he should write certain
libretti, to plates of a comic character, and of
the sporting-life class, furnished by a very clever
humorous artist, Mr. Robert Seymour. There is
no doubt that all that Dickens was expected to do
was to write up to these plates, and the accounts
given by himself and Mrs. Seymour, widow of the
artist, naturally vary. The idea floating in the
mind of the publishers was, that they would put before
the public in Dickens's own words, " a monthly



b MODERN MEN OF LETTERS.

something to be the vehicle for certain plates to be
executed by Mr. Seymour." This is distinct enough,
the inferior position was assigned to the literary
artist. Here are Dickens's words : —

" I was a young man of two or three-and-twenty, when
Messrs. Chapman and Hall, attracted by some pieces I was at
that time writing in the Mortiing Chronicle newspaper, or had
just written in the Old Motithly Magazine (of which one series
had lately been collected and published in two volumes, illus-
trated by Mr. George Cruikshank), waited upon me to propose
a something that should be published in shilling numbers —
then only known to me, or, I believe, to anybody else, by a dim
recollection of certain interminable novels in that form, which
used to be carried about the country by pedlars ; and over some
of which I remember to have shed innumerable tears before I
had served my apprenticeship to life. When I opened my door
in Furnival's Inn to the partner who represented the firm. I
recognised in him the person from whose hands I had bought,
two or three years previously, and whom I had never seen
before or since, my first copy of the magazine in which my first
effusion — a paper in the ' Sketches,' called ' Mr. Minns and his
Cousin' — dropped stealthily one evening at twilight, with fear
and trembling, into a dark letter-box, in a dark office, up a dark
court in Fleet-street — appeared in all the glory of print ; on
which occasion I walked down to Westminster Hall, and turned
into it for half an hour, because my eyes were so dimmed with
joy and pride, that they could not bear the street, and were not
fit to be seen there. I told my visitor of the coincidence, which
we both hailed as a good omen, and so fell to business. The
idea propounded to me was, that the monthly something should
be a vehicle for certain plates to be executed by Mr. Seymour ;
and there was a notion, either on the part of that admirable
humorous artist, or of my visitor, that a ' Nimrod Club,' the
members of which were to go out shooting, fishing, and so forth,
and getting themselves into difficulties through their want of
dexterity, would be the best means of introducing these. I



MR. CHARLES DICKENS. 7

objected, on consideration, that, although born and partly bred
in the country, I was no great sportsman, except in regard of
all kinds of locomotion ; that the idea Was not novel, and had
been already much used ; that it would be infinitely better for
the plates to arise naturally out of the text ; and that I would
like to take my own way, with a freer range of English scenes
and people, and was afraid I should ultimately do so in any
case, whatever course I might prescribe to myself at starting.
My views being deferred to, I thought of Mr. Pickwick, and
wrote the first number, from the proof-sheets of which Mr.
Seymour made his drawing of the club, and his happy portrait
of its founder — the latter on Mr. Edward Chapman's descrip-
tion of the dress and bearing of a real personage whom he had
often seen. I connected Mr. Pickwick with a club, because of
the original suggestion, and I put in Mr. Winkle expressly for
the use of Mr. Seymour. We started with a number of twc-nty-
four pages instead of thirty-two, and four illustrations in lieu of
a couple. Mr. Seymour's sudden and lamented death before
the second number was published, brought about a quick de-
cision upon a point already in agitation ; the number became
one of thirty-two pages, with only two illustrations, and re-
mained so to the end. ' Boz,' my signature in the Mortiing
Chronicle and in the Old Monthly Magazine, appended to the
monthly cover of this book, and retained long afterwards, was
the nickname of a pet child, a younger brother, whom I had
dubbed Moses, in honour of the Vicar of Wakefield, which, being
facetiously pronounced through the nose, became Boses, and, being
shortened, became Boz. Boz was a very familiar household word
to me long before I was an author, and so I came to adopt it."

This account has been questioned, and Mr.
Dickens has told us that " Mr. Seymour never
originated an incident, a phrase, nor a word in the
book; that Mr. Seymour died when only twenty-
four pages of the book were published ; that he
(Dickens) only saw Seymour once in his life, the



8 MODERN MEN OF LETTERS.

night before his death, and that then he offered no
suggestion whatever."

In effect, the artist, overburdened with work, in
a fit of derangement, committed suicide ; and, very
luckily for Dickens, Mr. Hablot Browne, a young
artist who, by a drawing of John Gilpin, had won
an academy medal, was called in to do his w^ork.
He threw himself with ardour into the task. Mr.
Dickens named himself " Boz," H. K. Browne
called himself "Phiz;" the character of the work
was altered, two illustrations were given instead of
four, and thirty-two pages of letter press instead of
twenty-four. For some time the work was not very
successful, but at last it hit the public, and the
success was immense. The publishers presented
the author with some silver punch-ladles, which, like
apostles' spoons, bore the chief characters in little
gilt and modelled figures on the handles, and gave
him a very handsome addition to the honorarium ;
it is said that the firm made ^^20,000 by the volume !

Bymost people " Pickwick" isacceptedas Dickens's
Magnum Opus. It certainly is a t3'pical one, but
while the whole book is farcical in the extreme,
while character degenerates to caricature, and fun
to pantomimic romp and " rally," there are now and
then touches of very clever shrewd observation,
most admirable sketches of character — Sergeant
Buzfuz and the trial scene are evidently quite true



MR. CHARLES DICKENS. 9

to nature, and pathos of the genial easy and or-
dinary kind in which the author delighted. But as
a novel of nature and of plot and character compared
to Fielding, " Pickwick " is very small. Who ever
met with man, woman, or child, who could sit down
by a wdnter fire and tell the " plot " of " Pickwick ? "
Had it come out as a whole book, it would have
failed to find readers, it would, like Hudibras, have
palled on the taste ; it is too full of incident, scene
succeeds scene, and adventure, adventure. The
novel is crowded with persons, and each person is —
how different from real life and Mr. Trollope — not
cut to pattern, but a character. There is the fat,
bland, benevolent, silly, vulgar tradesman, Mr.
Pickwick, a man with a good heart and a soft head,
with his unequalled servant, Mr. Sam Weller, who
one of the editors of the Spectator says, is superior to
Falstaff. There are the volatile Jingle, the cheat,
and the rascal, and his servant Job, the canting
hypocrite, drawn as pendants to the honest master


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Online LibraryJ. Hain (James Hain) FriswellModern men of letters honestly criticised → online text (page 1 of 21)