« AnteriorContinuar »
for us, that he might give them back in due time as thought-ours and his in perfect likeness.
He was born at Portsmouth, England, August 14th, 1838. After graduating from Christ College, Cambridge, he was for seven years senior professor in the Royal College at Mauritius. When he returned to London, it was with a determination to adopt literature as a profession, and although it is said that he burned his first novel because a publisher rejected it, he was successful from the beginning. His studies of French poetry and his essays on «The French Humorists » show his superiority to the style and to the literary tra.. dition of the English Critical Review. e polo the myte and to the near than
They are unmistakably literature in their own right and not mere commentaries on it. The partnership as a novelist formed with James Rice in 1871 resulted in «Ready-Money Mortiboy,» « The Golden Butterfly," and other novels which at once attained international popularity. Rice died in 1882, and in the same year appeared the first of Besant's independent novels, “All Sorts and Conditions of Men,” one result of which was the building of the People's Palace in East London.
In 1884 he was elected first president of the English Society of Authors, and in 1887 was again elected, serving until 1892. In 1895 he was knighted and in 1900 became a member of the Advisory Council of the World's Best Essays,- of which in his own right and as the special representative of England, he is honorary chairman. He has been active in promoting closer relations between England and America, and has taken special pains to promote the convenience and pleasure of Americans visiting London.
W. V. B.
WITH THE WITS OF THE 'THIRTIES
The ten years of the 'Thirties are a period concerning whose 1 literary history the ordinary reader knows next to nothing.
Yet a good deal that has survived for fifty years, and promises to live longer, was accomplished in that period. Dickens, for example, began his career in the year 1837 with his “ Sketches by (Boz) » and the «Pickwick Papers.” Lord Lytton, then Mr. Lytton Bulwer, had already before that year published five novels, including “Paul Clifford ” and “The Last Days of Pompeii.” Tennyson had already issued the « Poems by Two Brothers and «Poems, Chiefly Lyrical.” Disraeli had written «The Young Duke,” « Vivian Grey," and «Venetia.” Browning had published “Paracelsus” and “Strafford.” Marryat began in 1834. Carlyle pub. lished the “Sartor Resartus » in 1832. But one must not estimate a period by its beginners. All these writers belong to the fol. lowing thirty years of the century. If we look for those who were flourishing, – that is, those who were producing their best work, it will be found that this decade was singularly poor. The principal name is that of Hood. There were also Hartley Coleridge, Douglas Jerrold, Proctor, Sir Archibald Alison, Theodore Hook, G. P. R. James, Charles Knight, Sir Henry Taylor, Milman, Ebenezer Elliott, Harriet Martineau, James Montgomery, Talfourd, Henry Brougham, Lady Blessington, Harrison Ainsworth, and some others of lesser note. This is not a very imposing array. On the other hand, nearly all the great writers whom we associate with the first thirty years of the century were living, though their best work was done. After sixty, I take it, the hand of the master may still work with the old cunning, but his designs will be no longer new or bold. Wordsworth was sixty in 1830, and, though he lived for twenty years longer, and published the “Yarrow Revisited,” and, I think, some of his “Sonnets,” he hardly added to his fame. Southey was four years younger. He published his « Doctor” and “Essays” in this decade, but his best work was done already. Scott died in 1832, Coleridge died in 1834; Byron was already dead; James Hogg died in 1835; Felicia Hemans in the same year; Tom Moore was a gay young fellow of fifty in 1830, the year in which his « Life of Lord Byron" appeared. He did very little afterwards. Campbell was two years older than Moore, and he, too, had exhausted himself. Rogers, older than any of them, had entirely concluded his poetic career. It is wonderful to think that he began to write in 1783 and died in 1855. Beckford, whose «Vathek » appeared in 1786, was living until 1844. Among others who were still living in 1837 were James and Horace Smith, Wilson Croker, Miss Edgeworth, Mrs. Trollope, Lucy Aiken, Miss Opie (who lived to be eighty-five), Jane Porter (prematurely cut off at seventy-four), and Harriet Lee (whose immortal work, the “Errors of Innocence," appeared in 1786, when she was already thirty), lived on till 1852, when she was ninety-six. Bowles, that excellent man, was not yet seventy, and meant to live for twenty years longer. De Quincey was fifty-two in 1837; Christopher North was in full vigor; Thomas Love Peacock, who published his first novel in 1810, was destined to produce a last, equally good, in 1860; Landor, born in 1775, was not to die until 1864; Leigh Hunt, who in 1873 was fifty-three years of age, belongs to the time of Byron. John Keble, whose « Christian Year » was published in 1827. was forty-four in 1837; "L. E. L.” died in 1838. In America, Washington Irving, Emerson, Channing, Bryant, Whittier, and Longfellow, make a good group. In France, Châteaubriand, Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Béranger, Alfred de Musset, Scribe, and Dumas were all writing, a group much stronger than our English team.
It is difficult to understand, at first, that between the time of Scott, Wordsworth, Byron, and Keats, and that of Dickens, Thack. eray, Marryat, Lever, Tennyson, Browning, and Carlyle, there existed this generation of wits, most of them almost forgotten. Those, however, who consider the men and women of the Thirties have to deal for the most part with a literature that is third rate. This kind becomes dreadfully flat and stale when it has been out for fifty years; the dullest, flattest, dreariest reading that can be found on the shelves is the sprightly novel of society, written in the Thirties.
A blight had fallen upon novels and their writers. The enormous success that Scott had achieved tempted hundreds to follow in his path, if that were possible. It was not possible; but this they could not know, because nothing seems so easy to write as a novel, and no man of those destined to fail can understand in what respects his own work falls short of Scott's. That is the chief reason why he fails. Scott's success, however, produced another effect. It greatly enlarged the number of novel readers, and caused them to buy up eagerly anything new, in the hope of finding another Scott. Thus, about the year 1826, there were produced as many as 250 three- and four-voluine novels a year, – that is to say, about as many as were published in 1886, when the area of readers has been multiplied by ten. We are also told that nearly all these novels could command a sale of 750 to 1,000 each, while anything above the average would have a sale of 1,500 to 2,000. The usual price given for these novels was, we are also told, from £200 to £300. In that case the publishers must have had a happy and prosperous time, netting splendid hauls. But I think that we must take these figures with considerable deductions. There were as yet no circulating libraries of any importance; their place was supplied by book clubs, to which the publishers chiefly looked for the purchase of their books. But one cannot believe that the book clubs would take copies of all the rubbish that came out. Some of these novels I have read; some of them actually stand on my shelves; and I declare that any. thing more dreary and unprofitable it is difficult to imagine. At last there was a revolt; the public would stand this kind of stuff no longer. Down dropped the circulation of the novels. Instead of 2,000 copies subscribed, the dismayed publishers read 50, and the whole host of novelists vanished like a swarm of midges. At the same time poetry went down too. The drop in poetry was even more terrible than that of novels. Suddenly, and without any warning, the people of Great Britain left off reading poetry. To be sure, they had been flooded with a prodigious quantity of trash. One anonymous “popular poet," whose name will never now be recovered, received £100 for his last poem from a publisher who thought, no doubt, that the “boom” was going to last. Of this popular poet's work he sold exactly fifty copies. Another, a “humorous" bard, who also received a large sum for his immortal poem, showed in the unhappy publisher's books no more than eighteen copies sold. This was too ridiculous, and from that day to this the trade side of poetry has remained under a cloud. That of novelist has, fortunately for some, been redeemed from contempt by the enormous success of Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, and by the solid, though substantial, success of the lesser lights. Poets have now to pay for the publication of their own works, but novelists — some of them - command a price; those, namely, who do not have to pay for the production of their works.
From "Fifty Years Ago.» Harper Brothers.
MONTAIGNE'S METHOD AS AN ESSAYIST
MONTAIGNE took the man of whom he knew most, himself, the
creature which was to him the most interesting object in
the world; and then began to group around this central figure all thoughts, influences, events, accidents, and habits which had accumulated during his lifetime. The man stands before us forever contemplating an immense pile of these things, his own. Suppose you had spread out before you all the things you had bought, possessed, or imagined, in the course of your life; suppose there were the toys and games of childhood, the follies of youth, the disappointments, the projects, the successes of a long career, would not the mere description of these things make an interesting volume? But Montaigne does more. He gives us not only these things, but the things he has learned from them. Montaigne's «Essays ” owe their greatest charm to the fact that they reveal not only the secrets of a soul, but of a soul not much raised above the commonplace, and like our own. Such influences as acted upon his spirit act upon ours. He goes about the world among his fellows, plays the fool among the boys, and is sober when he grows older; has posts of honor and dignity; associates sometimes with great people; is himself a gentleman of some learning; is a married man, and a père de famille. There is nothing which is not entirely commonplace, ordinary, and of mere routine in his life; everything which should make him entirely fitted for the task he undertook. The Pleiad poets, for instance, with their scholarship, seclusion, and pedantry — if these should attempt to do what Montaigne succeeded in doing, what sort of man would they produce ? Consider what ordinary people talk about; listen to them at their tables, in the streets, in railway carriages; as they talk, Montaigne's people talked. It is not of politics, nor is it of literature, nor is it of art. They talk of their own habits first, their little dodges to keep off sickness and defer death; then, their likings and dislikings; then, any amusements that are going on; then, money-making; then, the topic of the day, on which they have a decided opinion. That is how Montaigne talked, that is how he wrote. Nothing clearer than the portraits of himself, got from his “Essays”; nothing less likely to excite enthusiasm.
He used to write in a large circular room, with an adjoining square cabinet. The rafters are bare, and covered with inscriptions, cut by the direction of Montaigne, such as the following:
« Things do not torment a man so much as the opinion he has of things.”
“Every argument has its contrary.”
The sides of the square cabinet were covered with fresco paintings, «Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan,” and such refreshing subjects, to which the philosopher might turn when wearied by working at his certain verses of Virgil.” The circular room, in which was his library of a thousand volumes, no contemptible collection for the time, is sixteen paces in diameter.