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One of these is from Charles Reade's masterpiece, “The Cloister and the Hearth":
“Gerard ran back to his tree and climbed it swiftly. Buty while his legs were dangling some eight feet from the ground, the bear came rearing and struck with her fore-paw, and out flew a piece of bloody cloth from Gerard's hose. He climbed and climbed ; and presently he heard, as it were in the air, a voice say, 'Go out on the bough!' He looked, and there was a long, massive branch before him, shooting upwards at a slight angle; he threw his body across it, and by a series of convulsive efforts worked up it to the end.
“ Then he looked round, panting.
“The bear was mounting the tree on the other side. He heard her claws scrape, and saw her bulge on both sides of the massive tree. Her eye not being very quick, she reached the fork and passed it, mounting the main stem. Gerard drew breath more freely. The bear either heard him, or found by scent she was wrong: she paused; presently she caught sight of him. She eyed him steadily, then quietly descended to the fork.
“ Slowly and cautiously she stretched out a paw and tried the bough. It was a stiff oak branch, sound as iron. Instinct taught the creature this; it crawled carefully out on the bough, growling savagely as it came.
“ Gerard looked wildly down. He was forty feet from the ground. Death below. Death moving slow but sure on him in a still more horrible form. His hair bristled. The sweat poured from him. He sat helpless, fascinated, tongue-tied.
“ As the fearful monster crawled growling towards him, incongruous thoughts coursed through his mind. Margaret, — the Vulgate, where it speaks of the rage of a she-bear robbed of her whelps, - Rome, - Eternity.
“ The bear crawled on. And now the stupor of death fell on the doomed man; he saw the opened jaws and bloodshot eyes coming, but in a mist.
“ As in a mist he heard a twang; he glanced down; Denys, white and silent as death, was shooting up at the bear. The þear snarled at the twang, but crawled on. Again the cross-bow twanged; and the bear snarled and came nearer. Again the cross-bow twanged, and the next moment the bear was close upon Gerard, where he sat, with hair standing stiff on end and eyes starting from their sockets, palsied. The bear opened her jaws like a grave; and hot blood spouted from them upon Gerard as from a pump. The bough rocked. The wounded monster was reeling; it clung, it stuck its sickles of claws deep into the wood ; it toppled; its claws held firm, but its body rolled off, and the sudden shock to the branch shook Gerard forward on his stomach with his face on one of the bear's straining paws. At this, by a convulsive effort she raised her head up, up, till he felt her hot, fetid breath. Then huge teeth snapped together loudly close below him in the air, with a last effort of baffled hate. The ponderous carcase rent the claws out of the bough, then pounded the earth with a tremendous thump. There was a shout of triumph below, and the very next instant a cry of dismay; for Gerard had swooned, and, without an attempt to save himself, rolled headlong from the perilous height." 1
In sharp contrast with this straightforward narrative is Captain Mayne Reid's account of a similar adventure:
“. See l'exclaimed Ivan, whose eyes had been lifted from the trail, and bent impatiently forward ; - see! by the great Peter! yonder 's a hole, under the root of that tree. Why might it not be his cave ?'
“• It looks like enough. Hush ! let us keep to the trail, and go up to it with caution not a word l'
“ All three, now scarce breathing – lest the sound should be heard - stole silently along the trail. The fresh-fallen snow, still soft as eider-down, enabled them to proceed without making the slightest noise; and without making any, they crept up, till within half a dozen paces of the tree.
“ Ivan's conjecture was likely to prove correct. There was a line of tracks leading up the bank; and around the orifice of the cavity 2 the snow was considerably trampled down - as if the bear had turned himself two or three times before entering. That he had entered, the hunters did not entertain a doubt: there were no return tracks visible in the snow - only the single line that led up
i Charles Reade: The Cloister and the Hearth, chap. XXIV.
to the mouth of the cave, and this seemed to prove conclusively that Bruin was at home.'»
Here the writer stops, and begins a new chapter as follows:
“ As already stated, it is the custom of the brown bear, as well as of several other species, to go to sleep for a period of several months every winter, – in other words, to hybernate.” 1
Then follow four pages on the hibernation of bears, at the end of which Captain Reid goes back to the story about the hunters' attempts to stir up the bear. Three pages later the patient reader learns that the bear is not in the cave at all, but in a tree directly over the mouth of the cave.
In a long narrative, whether of real or of fictitious events, pages of reflection, of analysis, of comment, may properly be introduced if they clear the way for the story, intensify interest in it, or assist in its development; but if they obstruct the story or divert it from its natural course, they cannot but injure it as a narrative.
“There should,” says Trollope, “ be no episodes in a novel. . . . Such episodes distract the attention of the reader, and always do so disagreeably. Who has not felt this to be the case even with The Curious Impertinent and with the History of the Man of the Hill. And if it be so with Cervantes and Fielding, who can hope to succeed? Though the novel which you have to write must be long, let it be all one. And this exclusion of episodes should be carried down into the smallest details. Every sentence and every word used should tend to the telling of the story.”
If the sole aim of a novel were to tell a story, Trollope would be right in saying that there should be no “episodes” in it; but the story is only a small part of some great novels. Compare “Henry Esmond” with “Les Trois Mousquetaires.” In “Les Trois Mousquetaires,” Dumas never drops the thread of his story. In “Henry Esmond,”
1 Captain Mayne Reid: Bruin, The Grand Bear Hunt, chaps. viii. ix 2 Anthony Trollope: An Autobiography, chap. xii.
Thackeray drops his thread very often; but he does so in order to make observations on life, — observations that sometimes have not a very close connection with either the main incidents or the principal characters, but that are to some readers more interesting than the narrative itself. Dumas, as Thackeray would have been the first to admit, is the better story-teller; but Thackeray, in the judgment of many, is the greater novelist. The question of comparative merit between Jane Austen and George Eliot is a more difficult one. Of Miss Austen's superiority as a narrator there can be no doubt: the action in her novels is quite as rapid as the provincial life they record, and it is never retarded by descriptions or reflections. George Eliot's novels – especially the later ones — move with unnecessary slowness, and often stop by the way for an analysis of character or the elucidation of a principle; but it is these parts of her work that many of her readers value most highly.
When, however, inferior writers try to follow the example of Thackeray or of George Eliot, the result is deplorable. Readers lose their interest in a story on which the writer himself sets so slight a value that he is easily diverted from it, and they find no compensating pleasure in trite remarks.
METHOD IN MOVEMENT.
It is not enough that a narrative should move; it should move forward, it should have METHOD. In some kinds of composition method, important as it generally Meaning and is, is not essential to success. A philosopher method in may contribute detached sayings (aphorisms)
to the general stock of wisdom; an essayist may be charming as he rambles in pleasant fields of thought and gossips with his readers; but a narrator fails as a narrator in so far as he does not go straight on from the beginning to the end. A story-teller who runs this way anà that in pursuit of something which is entirely aside from his narrative, and who returns to his subject as if by accident, is perhaps the most vexatious of all who try to communicate by language with their fellow-beings.
To secure method in movement, a writer should keep one point of view until he has good reason to change it. One point of
When he adopts another point of view, he
should in some way apprise the reader that he has done so. In the following account of a boat-race, there is no change in point of view:
“ Few things in this vale of tears are more worthy a pen of fire than an English boat-race is, as seen by the runners; of whom I have often been one. But this race I am bound to indicate, not describe; I mean, to show how it appeared to two ladies seated on
Ι the Henley side of the Thames, nearly opposite the winning-post. These fair novices then looked all down the river, and could just discern two whitish streaks on the water, one on each side the little fairy isle; and a great black patch on the Berkshire bank. The threatening streaks were the two racing boats: the black patch was about a hundred Cambridge and Oxford men, ready to run and hallo with the boats all the way.
“ There was a long uneasy suspense.
“ At last a puff of smoke issued from a pistol down at the island; two oars seemed to splash into the water from each white streak; and the black patch was moving; so were the threatening st ks. Presently was heard a faint, continuous, distant murmur, and the streaks began to get larger, and larger, and larger; and the eight splashing oars looked four instead of two.
“ Every head was now turned down the river. Groups hung craning over it like nodding bulrushes.
“ Next the runners were swelled by the stragglers they picked