Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

till night till paralysis came upon him, and he broke down in the struggle, not, however, till he had accomplished the object of his honorable determination. His ambition had been very different in his prosperous days, to found another great territorial family of Scotts; but he labored for the five years that his powers lasted with even greater energy to redeem his name from the fancied disgrace of a debt that was not of his own contracting. You know also that he did not avow the authorship of the Waverley Novels till this misfortune overtook him.

At first he was afraid of his reputation as a poet, and afterward he kept up the disguise from no definite reason, but simply because he liked it. He did not like to appear in society as a literary lion, and he delighted in having a secret all to himself, and in being the centre of a mystery. Carlyle's fierce criticism of the novels was that they were not profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for edification, for building up or elevating in any shape. Scott, as Carlyle said, certainly gave by his novels immense pleasure to indolent and languid readers, but he also brought all classes of leaders together by his sympathetic delineations of characters in humble life. No novelist in any century has exercised a more healthy and beneficial influence,

Professor Masson has collected some curious statistics showing the enormous impulse given to novel-writing by the success of the Waverley Novels. In 1820, when they were at the height of their popularity, the number published, or received at the British Museum, was 26, an average of 1 every fortnight. Ten years later, when the series was nearly finished, in 1830, the number received was 101, nearly an average of 2 a week. And it would appear from the British Museum Catalogue that the average has been pretty steadily maintained since. I doubt, however, whether the authorities of the Museum bave always been careful to avail them

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

CURIOUS STATISTICS ANENT NOVEL-WRITING

289

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

selves of their rights, for in several cases, having occasion to see if possible the first editions of various novels, I have found, rather to my surprise, that a novel is represented there by an edition issued years after its first appearance.

Among the host of novel-writers who made their first appearance in the ten years after the date of “ Waverley" the three of most marked originality and distinction were women-Miss Ferrier, Mrs. Shelley, and Miss Mitford. Even after Scott, Miss Ferrier found something fresh in the humorous observation of Scottish character. We have seen how he compared his own bow-wow style with the more realistic modern art of Miss Austen, and envied her power of entering into the humor of ordinary respectable characters. Miss Ferrier bad the gift which he lacked, and exercised it with great felicity in her novels of “ Marriage” and “ The Inheritance.”

Mrs. Shelley, the daughter of William Godwin, himself a novelist of considerable repute at the end of the eighteenth century, wrote only one novel, but the conception was so original and unique that it is not likely to be soon forgotten. This was “Frankenstein.” It appeared in 1818, and had the honor of being reviewed by Scott, who found time for all sorts of miscellaneous literary work even when his greatest novels were on the anvil. Mrs. Shelley boldly accepted Horace Walpole's idea of taking the utmost license as regarded probability of incident, concentrating her power upon imagining how her hero felt and acted in his supernatural circumstances. The hero was a German student who had by unwearied vigils discovered the secret of imparting life to inanimate matter, and who constructed a gigantic monster and was terribly persecuted by his own creation.

Very different in character was the work of Miss Mitford, one of the most delightful and natural and genially humorous writers in the language. Her sketches

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

of life in “Our Village," of the “Talking Lady," the “ Talking Gentlemen," of poachers, seamstresses, domestic servants, young men and old men of local note, remain, after half a century of imitations, as fresh as if they had been written yesterday. No human being ever had a cheerier or more sympathetic outlook on the world. Her sympathies, with a certain waywardness, turned rather toward characters that the respectable world frowns upon, with lawless, good-hearted characters and coquettish beauties. She liked to show the good side of such beings to the world. Like Miss Edgeworth, she had a father, but a very different father from the energetic, inventive, philanthropic, restless squire of Edgeworthstown. Dr. Mitford was an “awful dad," a scapegrace who spent his wife's fortune in a few years, ran rapidly through a lottery prize which bis little girl had the good fortune to draw, and in his old age subsisted on the small remnant of his fortune and the proceeds of his daughter's literary industry. Yet his daughter adored him, and took infinite delight in his “friskings," as she called his little eccentricities, living in a small house that was a lesson in condensation, refusing all holiday invitations from her wealthy relations, never stopping in her literary work except to read the sporting newspaper to the graceless companion who called her his “mamma," and was the stay, support, and admiration of all the loafers in the neighborhood. Miss Mitford's early ambition was to be “the greatest Eng. lish poetess,” and when she was little more than twenty her metrical tales were praised by Scott in the Quarterly, while some' years later tragedies from her pen were highly successful at Covent Garden. The short tales and sketches collected under the title of “ Our Vil. lage” were written originally for a magazine, purely for the supply of the household, and yet they brought her more enduring fame than her poetry. They had an influence on the early manner of Dickens, and may almost

07

It h

RISE OF THE FASHIONABLE NOVEL

291

be said to have founded a school of periodical sketch. writing

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

a

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

The natural result of the interest created in authorship by Scott and Byron in fashionable society was the rise of a school of fashionable novelists. This was the chief literary phenomenon of the last five years of the reign of George IV., the last five years of our period. of the fashionable novels then in fresh repute only two are now much remembered, Disraeli's “ Vivian Grey” and Bulwer Lytton's “Pelham.” But there was large cluster of them, all with something of the same character, and that something new.

The authors were men moving in the society which they attempted to describe. Up to that time fashionable life had been described by women; now the young dandies,--sucking diplomatists, politicians, and statesmen,-seized upon the novel as a dramatic vehicle for conveying their views on the manners of society and the affairs of the State. It is an interesting thing for the historian to have had the inner life of political society so copiously described before the Reform Bill, which produced such a change in the political power of the upper hundreds ; we have vividly depicted in the pages of these novels the old state of things, and we are brought into immediate contact with the ardent, fiery spirit of the young ambitions that were awakened by the prospect of change. “ Vivian Grey” and “Pelham” have been kept alive by the subsequent reputation of their authors; but there were three other authors who fairly shared with them the applause of contemporaries. Mr. Plumer Ward's

Tremaine, or, The Man of Refinement,” was the first of the series ; then followed Mr. Lister's “Granby "; then side by side Disraeli and Bulwer and Lord Normanby.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

SHELLEY-VARIOUS CONCEPTIONS OF THE POET-CHARACTER-
KEATS—THE REVIEWERS-CHARACTERISTICS OF HIS POETRY-

ENDYMION AND HYPERION

bu vit TI

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

to

20

ON

be tha

pe:

In

the

W

The common judgment of Shelley, at least as expressed in literary organs, has undergone a complete revolution since he was a living man. Nobody now would venture to publish an article about Shelley without copious protestations of admiration for the poet, whatever the opinion might be expressed about his conduct as a man. To acknowledge indifference to his poetry would be to set one's self against an overwhelming weight of authoritative opinion. To deny him equal rank with any poet of his generation would be heresy. Enjoyment of Shelley is often put forward as a test of poetic sensibility; if Shelley does not delight you, you are set down as not being capable of knowing what poetry is. He is now par excellence the poet's poet.

But it was otherwise when his poems first appeared. He received hardly a word of cordial recognition from any critical organ of authority, except from his friend Leigh Hunt's journal, the Examiner. The potentates and powers of criticism—the Quarterly, the Edinburgh Review, Blackroood's, and Literary Gazette,-were unanimous in derision and denunciation. That such stuff as

Alastor” and “The Revolt of Islam” should pretend to be poetry was hailed as one of the most ludicrous pretensions in an age fertile in ludicrous literary pretensions. It was a mere incoherent farce of meaningless imagery, a collection of lines pretty

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« EdellinenJatka »