Without a shilling and without a friend.
Thus the great deed of self-conquest is accomplished; Jane has passed through the fire of temptation from without and from within; her character is stamped from that day; we need therefore follow her no further into wanderings and sufferings which, though not unmixed with plunder from Minerva-lane, occupy some of, on the whole, the most striking chapters in the book. Virtue of course finds her reward. The maniac wife sets fire to Thornfield Hall, and perishes herself in the flames. Mr. Rochester, in endeavouring to save her, loses the sight of his eyes. Jane rejoins her blind master; they are married, after which of course the happy man recovers his sight.
Such is the outline of a tale in which, combined with great materials for power and feeling, the reader may trace gross inconsistencies and improbabilities, and chief and foremost that highest moral offence a novel writer can commit, that of making an unworthy character interesting in the eyes of the reader. Mr. Rochester is a man who deliberately and secretly seeks to violate the laws both of God and man, and yet we will be bound half our lady readers are enchanted with him for a model of generosity and honour. We would have thought that such a hero had had no chance, in the purer taste of the present day; but the popularity of Jane Eyre is a proof how deeply the love for illegitimate romance is implanted in our nature. Not that the author is strictly responsible for this. Mr. Rochester's character is tolerably consistent. He is made as coarse and as brutal as can in all conscience be required to keep our sympathies at a distance. In point of literary consistency the hero is at all events impugnable, though we cannot say as much for the heroine.
As to Jane's character—there is none of that harmonious unity about it which made little Becky so grateful a subject of analysis—nor are the discrepancies of that kind which have their excuse and their response in our nature. The inconsistencies of Jane's character lie mainly not in her own imperfections, though of course she has her share, but in the author's. There is that confusion in the relations between cause and effect, which is not so much untrue to human nature as to human art. The error in Jane Eyre is, not that her character is this or that, but that she is made one thing in the eyes of her imaginary companions, and another in that of the actual reader. There is a perpetual disparity between the account she herself gives of the effect she produces, and the means shown us by which she brings that effect about. We hear nothing but self-eulogiums on the perfect tact and wondrous penetration with which she is gifted, and yet almost every word she utters offends us, not only with the absence of these qualities, but with the positive contrasts of them, in either her pedantry, stupidity, or gross vulgarity. She is one of those ladies who puts us in the unpleasant predicament of undervaluing their very virtues for dislike of the person in whom they are represented. One feels provoked as Jane Eyre stands before us—for in the wonderful reality of her thoughts and descriptions, she seems accountable for all done in her name—with principles you must approve in the main, and yet with language and manners that offend you in every particular. Even in that chef-d'oeuvre of brilliant retrospective sketching, the description of her early life, it is the childhood and not the child that interests you. The little Jane, with her sharp eyes and dogmatic speeches, is a being you neither could fondle nor love. There is a hardness in her infantine earnestness, and a spiteful precocity in her reasoning, which repulses all our sympathy. One sees that she is of a nature to dwell upon and treasure up every slight and unkindness, real or fancied, and such natures we know are surer than any others to meet with plenty of this sort of thing. As the child, so also the woman—an uninteresting, sententious, pedantic thing; with no experience of the world, and yet with no simplicity or freshness in its stead. What are her first answers to Mr. Rochester but such as would have quenched all interest, even for a prettier woman, in any man of common knowledge of what was nature—and especially in a blase monster like him?
* * * * *
But the crowning scene is the offer—governesses are said to be sly on such occasions, but Jane out-governesses them all—little Becky would have blushed for her. They are sitting together at the foot of the old chestnut tree, as we have already mentioned, towards the close of evening, and Mr. Rochester is informing her, with his usual delicacy of language, that he is engaged to Miss Ingram—"a strapper! Jane, a real strapper!"—and that as soon as he brings home his bride to Thornfield, she, the governess, must "trot forthwith"—but that he shall make it his duty to look out for employment and an asylum for her—indeed, that he has already heard of a charming situation in the depths of Ireland—all with a brutal jocoseness which most women of spirit, unless grievously despairing of any other lover, would have resented, and any woman of sense would have seen through. But Jane, that profound reader of the human heart, and especially of Mr. Rochester's, does neither. She meekly hopes she may be allowed to stay where she is till she has found another shelter to betake herself to—she does not fancy going to Ireland—Why?
"It is a long way off, Sir." "No matter—a girl of your sense will not object to the voyage or the distance." "Not the voyage, but the distance, Sir; and then the sea is a barrier—" "From what, Jane?" "From England, and from Thornfield; and—" "Well?" "From you, Sir." —vol. ii, p. 205.
and then the lady bursts into tears in the most approved fashion.
Although so clever in giving hints, how wonderfully slow she is in taking them! Even when, tired of his cat's play, Mr. Rochester proceeds to rather indubitable demonstrations of affection—"enclosing me in his arms, gathering me to his breast, pressing his lips on my lips"—Jane has no idea what he can mean. Some ladies would have thought it high time to leave the Squire alone with his chestnut tree; or, at all events, unnecessary to keep up that tone of high-souled feminine obtusity which they are quite justified in adopting if gentlemen will not speak out—but Jane again does neither. Not that we say she was wrong, but quite the reverse, considering the circumstances of the case— Mr. Rochester was her master, and "Duchess or nothing" was her first duty—only she was not quite so artless as the author would have us suppose.
But if the manner in which she secures the prize be not inadmissible according to the rules of the art, that in which she manages it when caught, is quite without authority or precedent, except perhaps in the servants' hall. Most lover's play is wearisome and nonsensical to the lookers on—but the part Jane assumes is one which could only be efficiently sustained by the substitution of Sam for her master. Coarse as Mr. Rochester is, one winces for him under the infliction of this housemaid beau ideal of the arts of coquetry. A little more, and we should have flung the book aside to lie for ever among the trumpery with which such scenes ally it; but it were a pity to have halted here, for wonderful things lie beyond—scenes of suppressed feeling, more fearful to witness than the most violent tornados of passion—struggles with such intense sorrow and suffering as it is sufficient misery to know that any one should have conceived, far less passed through; and yet with that stamp of truth which takes precedence in the human heart before actual experience. The flippant, fifth-rate, plebeian actress has vanished, and only a noble, high-souled woman, bound to us by the reality of her sorrow, and yet raised above us by the strength of her will, stands in actual life before us. If this be Jane Eyre, the author has done her injustice hitherto, not we.
* * * * *
We have said that this was the picture of a natural heart. This, to our view, is the great and crying mischief of the book. Jane Eyre is throughout the personification of an unregenerate and undisciplined spirit, and more dangerous to exhibit from that prestige of principle and self-control which is liable to dazzle the eye too much for it to observe the inefficient and unsound foundation on which it rests. It is true Jane does right, and exerts great moral strength, but it is the strength of a mere heathen mind which is a law unto itself. No Christian grace is perceptible upon her. She has inherited in fullest measure the worst sin of our fallen nature—the sin of pride. Jane Eyre is proud, and therefore she is ungrateful too. It pleased God to make her an orphan, friendless, and penniless—yet she thanks nobody, and least of all Him, for the food and raiment, the friends, companions, and instructors of her helpless youth—for the care and education vouchsafed to her till she was capable in mind as fitted in years to provide for herself. On the contrary, she looks upon all that has been done for her not only as her undoubted right, but as falling far short of it. The doctrine of humility is not more foreign to her mind than it is repudiated by her heart. It is by her own talents, virtues, and courage that she is made to attain the summit of human happiness, and, as far as Jane Eyre's own statement is concerned, no one would think that she owed anything either to God above or to man below. She flees from Mr. Rochester, and has not a being to turn to. Why was this? The excellence of the present institution at Casterton, which succeeded that of Cowan Bridge near Kirkby Lonsdale—these being distinctly, as we hear, the original and the reformed Lowoods of the book—is pretty generally known. Jane had lived there for eight years with 110 girls and fifteen teachers. Why had she formed no friendships among them? Other orphans have left the same and similar institutions, furnished with friends for life, and puzzled with homes to choose from. How comes it that Jane had acquired neither? Among that number of associates there were surely some exceptions to what she so presumptuously stigmatises as "the society of inferior minds." Of course it suited the author's end to represent the heroine as utterly destitute of the common means of assistance, in order to exhibit both her trials and her powers of self-support—the whole book rests on this assumption—but it is one which, under the circumstances, is very unnatural and very unjust.
Altogether the auto-biography of Jane Eyre is pre-eminently an anti-Christian composition. There is throughout it a murmuring against the comforts of the rich and against the privations of the poor, which, as far as each individual is concerned, is a murmuring against God's appointment—there is a proud and perpetual assertion of the rights of man, for which we find no authority either in God's word or in God's providence—there is that pervading tone of ungodly discontent which is at once the most prominent and the most subtle evil which the law and the pulpit, which all civilized society in fact has at the present day to contend with. We do not hesitate to say that the tone of mind and thought which has overthrown authority and violated every code human and divine abroad, and fostered Chartism and rebellion at home, is the same which has also written Jane Eyre.
Still we say again this is a very remarkable book. We are painfully alive to the moral, religious, and literary deficiencies of the picture, and such passages of beauty and power as we have quoted cannot redeem it, but it is impossible not to be spell-bound with the freedom of the touch. It would be mere hackneyed courtesy to call it "fine writing." It bears no impress of being written at all, but is poured out rather in the heat and hurry of an instinct, which flows ungovernably on to its object, indifferent by what means it reaches it, and unconscious too. As regards the author's chief object, however, it is a failure—that, namely, of making a plain, odd woman, destitute of all the conventional features of feminine attraction, interesting in our sight. We deny that he has succeeded in this. Jane Eyre, in spite of some grand things about her, is a being totally uncongenial to our feelings from beginning to end. We acknowledge her firmness—we respect her determination—we feel for her struggles; but, for all that, and setting aside higher considerations, the impression she leaves on our mind is that of a decidedly vulgar-minded woman—one whom we should not care for as an acquaintance, whom we should not seek as a friend, whom we should not desire for a relation, and whom we should scrupulously avoid for a governess.
There seems to have arisen in the novel-reading world some doubts as to who really wrote this book; and various rumours, more or less romantic, have been current in Mayfair, the metropolis of gossip, as to the authorship. For example, Jane Eyre is sentimentally assumed to have proceeded from the pen of Mr. Thackeray's governess, whom he had himself chosen as his model of Becky, and who, in mingled love and revenge, personified him in return as Mr. Rochester. In this case, it is evident that the author of "Vanity Fair," whose own pencil makes him grey-haired, has had the best of it, though his children may have had the worst, having, at all events, succeeded in hitting the vulnerable point in the Becky bosom, which it is our firm belief no man born of woman, from her Soho to her Ostend days, had ever so much as grazed. To this ingenious rumour the coincidence of the second edition of Jane Eyre being dedicated to Mr. Thackeray has probably given rise. For our parts, we see no great interest in the question at all. The first edition of Jane Eyre purports to be edited by Currer Bell, one of a trio of brothers, or sisters, or cousins, by names Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell, already known as the joint-authors of a volume of poems. The second edition the same—dedicated, however, "by the author," to Mr. Thackeray; and the dedication (itself an indubitable chip of Jane Eyre) signed Currer Bell. Author and editor therefore are one, and we are as much satisfied to accept this double individual under the name of "Currer Bell," as under any other, more or less euphonious. Whoever it be, it is a person who, with great mental powers, combines a total ignorance of the habits of society, a great coarseness of taste, and a heathenish doctrine of religion. And as these characteristics appear more or less in the writings of all three, Currer, Acton, and Ellis alike, for their poems differ less in degree of power than in kind, we are ready to accept the fact of their identity or of their relationship with equal satisfaction. At all events there can be no interest attached to the writer of "Wuthering Heights "—a novel succeeding "Jane Eyre," and purporting to be written by Ellis Bell—unless it were for the sake of more individual reprobation. For though there is a decided family likeness between the two, yet the aspect of the Jane and Rochester animals in their native state, as Catherine and Heathfield [Transcriber's note: sic], is too odiously and abominably pagan to be palatable even to the most vitiated class of English readers. With all the unscrupulousness of the French school of novels it combines that repulsive vulgarity in the choice of its vice which supplies its own antidote. The question of authorship, therefore, can deserve a moment's curiosity only as far as "Jane Eyre" is concerned, and though we cannot pronounce that it appertains to a real Mr. Currer Bell and to no other, yet that it appertains to a man, and not, as many assert, to a woman, we are strongly inclined to affirm. Without entering into the question whether the power of the writing be above her, or the vulgarity below her, there are, we believe, minutiae of circumstantial evidence which at once acquit the feminine hand. No woman—a lady friend, whom we are always happy to consult, assures us—makes mistakes in her own metier— no woman trusses game and garnishes dessert-dishes with the same hands, or talks of so doing in the same breath. Above all, no woman attires another in such fancy dresses as Jane's ladies assume—Miss Ingram coming down, irresistible, "in a morning robe of sky-blue crape, a gauze azure scarf twisted in her hair!!" No lady, we understand, when suddenly roused in the night, would think of hurrying on "a frock." They have garments more convenient for such occasions, and more becoming too. This evidence seems incontrovertible. Even granting that these incongruities were purposely assumed, for the sake of disguising the female pen, there is nothing gained; for if we ascribe the book to a woman at all, we have no alternative but to ascribe it to one who has, for some sufficient reason, long forfeited the society of her own sex.
ON GEORGE ELIOT
[From The Quarterly Review, October, 1860]
1. Scenes of Clerical Life [containing The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton; Mr. Gilfil's Love Story; and Janet's Repentance]. By GEORGE ELIOT. Second Edition. 2 vols. Edinburgh and London, 1859.
2. Adam Bede. By GEORGE ELIOT. Sixth Edition, 2 vols. 1859.
3. The Mill on the Floss. By GEORGE ELIOT. 3 vols. 1860.
We frequently hear the remark, that in the present day everything is tending to uniformity—that all minds are taught to think alike, that the days of novelty have departed. To us, however, it appears that the age abounds in new and abnormal modes of thought—we had almost said, forms of being. What could be so new and so unlikely as that the young and irreproachable maiden daughter of a clergyman should have produced so extraordinary a work as "Jane Eyre,"—a work of which we were compelled to express the opinion that the unknown and mysterious "Currer Bell" held "a heathenish doctrine of religion"; that the ignorance which the book displayed as to the proprieties of female dress was hardly compatible with the idea of its having been written by a woman; but that, if a woman at all, the writer must be "one who had, for some sufficient reason, long forfeited the society of her own sex."
In attempting to guess at the character and circumstances of the writer, a reviewer could only choose among such types of men and women as he had known, or heard, or read of. An early European settler in Australia, in conjecturing whether his garden had been ravaged by a bird or by a quadruped, would not light readily on the conception of an ornithorhynchus; and assuredly no one accustomed only to ordinary men and women could have divined the character, the training, and the position of Charlotte Bronte, as they have been made known to us by her biographer's unsparing revelations. It was not to be expected that any one should have imagined the life of Howorth [Trasncriber's note: sic] parsonage; the gifted, wayward, and unhappy sisterhood in their cheerless home; the rudeness of the only society which was within their reach; while their views of anything beyond their own immediate circle, and certain unpleasing forms of school-life which they had known, were drawn from the representations of a brother whose abilities they regarded with awe, but who in other respects appears to have been an utterly worthless debauchee; lying and slandering, bragging not only of the sins which he had committed, but of many which he had not committed; thoroughly depraved himself, and tainting the thoughts of all within his sphere. There was, therefore, in "Jane Eyre," as the reviewer supposed, the influence of a corrupt male mind, although this influence had been exerted through an unsuspected medium. We now know how it was that a clergyman's daughter, herself innocent, and honourably devoted to the discharge of many a painful duty, could have written such a book as "Jane Eyre" but without such explanations as Mrs. Gaskell has placed (perhaps somewhat too unreservedly) before the world, the thing would have been inconceivable. Indeed there is very sufficient evidence that the Quarterly reviewer was by no means alone in entertaining the opinions we have referred to: for the book was most vehemently cried up— the society of the authoress, when she became known, was most eagerly courted—assiduous attempts were made (greatly to her annoyance) to enlist her, to exhibit her, to trade on her fame—by the very persons who would have been most ready to welcome her if she had been such as the reviewer supposed her to be. And it is clear that the gentleman who introduced himself to her acquaintance on the ground that each of them had "written a naughty book" must have drawn pretty much the same conclusions from the tone of Miss Bronte's first novel as the writer in this Review.
In like manner a great and remarkable departure from ordinary forms and conditions has caused extreme uncertainty and many mistaken guesses as to the new novelist who writes under the name of George Eliot. One critic of considerable pretensions, for instance, declared his belief that "George Eliot" was "a gentleman of high-church tendencies"; next came the strange mystification which ascribed the "Eliot" tales to one Mr. Joseph Liggins; and finally, the public learnt on authority that the "gentleman of high church tendencies" was a lady; and that this lady was the same who had given a remarkable proof of mastery over both the German language and her own, but had certainly not established a reputation for orthodoxy, by a translation of Strauss's "Life of Jesus."
It is now too late to claim credit for having discovered the female authorship before this disclosure of the fact. But it seems to us impossible, when once the idea has been suggested, to read through these books without finding confirmation of it in almost every page. There is, indeed, power such as is rarely given to woman (or to man either); there are traces of knowledge which is not usual among women (although some of the classical quotations might at least have been more correctly printed); there is a good deal of coarseness, which it is unpleasant to think of as the work of a woman; and, as we shall have occasion to observe more fully hereafter, the influence which these novels are likely to exercise over the public taste is not altogether such as a woman should aim at. But, with all this, the tone and atmosphere of the books are unquestionably feminine. The men are a woman's men—the women are a woman's women; the points on which the descriptions dwell in persons of each sex are those which a woman would choose. In matters of dress we are assured that "George Eliot" avoids the errors of "Jane Eyre"; for no doubt she has had better opportunities of study than those which were afforded by the Sunday finery of Howorth church. The sketches of nature, of character, of life and manners, show female observation; penetrating where it alone could penetrate, and usually stopping at the boundaries beyond which it does not advance....
On looking at these very slight sketches we cannot but be struck by the uniformly melancholy ending of the tales. The first culminates in the death of the heroine (a word which in relation to these stories must be very loosely interpreted), Mrs. Barton; the second, in the death of the heroine, Mrs. Gilfil; the third, in the death of the hero, Mr. Tryan; the fourth, in the death of one of the heroines, Hetty Sorrel; the fifth, in the simultaneous death of the heroine and her brother, who is, we suppose, to be regarded as the chief hero. Surely this is an exaggerated representation of the proportion which sorrow bears to happiness in human life; and the fact that a popular writer has (whether consciously or not) brought every one of the five stories which she has published to a tragical end gives a very uncomfortable idea of the tone of our present literature. And other such symptoms are only too plentiful—the announcement of a novel with the title of "Why Paul Freeoll Killed his Wife" being one of the latest. With all respect for the talents of the lady who offers us the solution of this question, we must honestly profess that we would rather not know, and that we regret such an employment of her pen.
And in "George Eliot's" writings there is very much of this kind to regret. She delights in unpleasant subjects—in the representation of things which are repulsive, coarse, and degrading. Thus, in "Mr. Gilfil's Story," Tina is only prevented from committing murder by the opportune death of her intended victim. In "Janet's Repentance," a drunken husband beats his beautiful but drunken wife, turns her out of doors at midnight in her night-dress, and dies of "delirium tremens and meningitis." ...
So, in "Adam Bede" we have all the circumstances of Hetty's seduction and the birth and murder of her illegitimate child; and in the "Mill on the Floss" there are the almost indecent details of mere animal passion in the loves of Stephen and Maggie. If these are, as the writer's more thorough-going admirers would tell us, the depths of human nature, we do not see what good can be expected from raking them up,—not for the benefit of those whom the warnings may concern (for these are not likely to heed any warnings which may be presented in such a form), but for the amusement of ordinary readers in hours of idleness and relaxation. Compare "Adam Bede" with that one of Scott's novels which has something in common with it as to story—the "Heart of Midlothian." In each a beautiful young woman of the peasant class is tried and condemned for child-murder; but, although condemned on circumstancial evidence under a law of peculiar severity, Effie Deans is really innocent, whereas Hetty Sorrel is guilty. In the novel of the last generation we see little of Effie, and our attention is chiefly drawn to the simple heroism of her sister Jeanie. In the novel of the present day, everything about Hetty is most elaborately described: her thoughts throughout the whole course of the seduction, her misery on discovering that there is evidence of her frailty, her sufferings on the journey to Windsor and back (for it is the Edie and not the Jeanie of this tale that makes a long solitary journey to the south), her despairing hardness in the prison, her confession, her behaviour on the way to the gallows. That all this is represented with extraordinary force we need not say; and doubtless the partisans of "George Eliot" would tell us that Scott could not have written the chapters in question. We do not think it necessary to discuss that point, but we are sure that in any case he would not have written them, because his healthy judgment would have rejected such matters as unfit for the novelist's art.
The boldness with which George Eliot chooses her subjects is very remarkable. It is not that, like other writers, she fails in the attempt to represent people as agreeable and interesting, but she knowingly forces disagreeable people on us, and insists that we shall be interested in their story by the skill with which it is told. Mr. Amos Barton, for instance, is as uninteresting a person as can well be imagined: a dull, obtuse curate, whose poverty gives him no fair claim to pity; for he has entered the ministry of the English Church without any particular conviction of its superiority to other religious bodies; without any special fitness for its ministry; without anything of the ability which might reasonably entitle him to expect to rise; and without the private means which are necessary for the support of most married men in a profession which, if it is not (as it is sometimes called) a lottery, has very great inequalities of income, and to the vast majority of those who follow it gives very little indeed. Mr. Barton is not a gentleman—a defect which the farmers and tradespeople of his parish are not slow to discover, and for which they despise him. He is without any misgivings as to himself or suspicion of his deficiencies in any way, and his conduct is correctly described in a lisping speech of the "secondary squire" of his parish, "What an ath Barton makth of himthelf!" Yet for this stupid man our sympathy is bespoken, merely because he has a wife so much too good for him that we are almost inclined to be angry with her for her devotion to him.
Tina is an undisciplined, abnormal little creature, without good looks or any attractive quality except a talent for music, and with a temper capable of the most furious excesses. Although Janet is described as handsome, amiable, and cultivated, all these good properties are overwhelmed in our thoughts of her by the degrading vice of which she is to be cured; while her prophet, Mr. Tryan, although very zealous in his work, is avowedly a narrow Calvinist, wanting in intellectual culture, very irritable, not a little bitter and uncharitable, excessively fond of applause without being very critical as to the quarter from which it comes, and strongly possessed with the love of domination. Tom Tulliver is hard, close, unimaginative, self-confident, repelling, with a stern rectitude of a certain kind, but with no understanding of or toleration for any character different from his own. Philip Wakem is a personage as little pleasant as picturesque. Maggie, as a child—although in her father's opinion "too clever for a gell"—is foolish, vain, self-willed, and always in some silly scrape or other; and when grown up, her behaviour is such, even before the climax of the affair with Stephen Guest, that the dislike of the St. Ogg's ladies for her might have been very sufficiently accounted for even if they had not had reason to envy her superior beauty.
But of all the characters for whom our authoress has been pleased to bespeak our interest, Hetty Sorrel is the most remarkable for unamiable qualities. She is represented as "distractingly pretty," and we hear a great deal about her "kitten-like beauty," and her graceful movements, looks, and attitudes. But this is all that can be said for her. Her mind has no room for anything but looks and dress; she has no feeling for anybody but her little self; and is only too truly declared by Mrs. Poyser to be "no better than a peacock, as 'ud strut about on the wall, and spread its tail when the sun shone, if all the folks i' the parish was dying"—"no better nor a cherry, wi' a hard stone inside it." Over and over this view of Hetty's character is enforced on us, from the time when, early in the first volume, we are told that hers "was a springtide beauty; it was the beauty of young frisking things, round-limbed, gambolling, circumventing you by a false air of innocence. ..."
 "Adam Bede," i. 228; ii. 75.  ibid., i. 119.
Her conduct throughout is such as to offend and disgust; and the authoress does not seem to be sufficiently aware that, while the descriptions of the little coquette's beauty leave that to be imagined, her follies and faults and crimes are set before us as matters of hard, unmistakeable fact, so that the reader is in no danger of being blinded by the charms which blinded Adam Bede, and Hetty consequently appears as little else than contemptible when she is not odious. Yet it is on this silly, heartless, and wicked little thing that the interest of the story is made to rest. Her agonies, as we have already said, are depicted with very great power; yet, if they touch our hearts, it is merely because they are agonies, and our feeling is unmixed with any regard for the sufferer herself.
This habit of representing her characters without any concealment of their faults is, no doubt, connected with that faculty which enables the authoress to give them so remarkable an air of reality. There are, indeed, exceptions to this, as there are in almost every work of fiction. Thus, Sir Christopher and Lady Cheverel strike us as old acquaintances whom we have known not in real life, but in books. We are not altogether sure of stately old Mrs. Irwine, and are sceptical as to Dinah Morris, notwithstanding the very great pains which the authoress has evidently bestowed on her—perhaps because she is utterly unlike such female Methodists as have fallen within our own (happily, small) experience; and Bob Jakin is a grotesque caricature, which would have been far better done by Mr. Dickens, who is undeniably great in the production of grotesques, although we do not remember that throughout the whole of his voluminous works he has ever succeeded in embodying a single natural and lifelike character. But, with a very few exceptions, "George Eliot's" personages have that appearance of reality in which those of Mr. Dickens are so conspicuously wanting. And while Mr. Dickens's views of English life and society are about as far from the truth as those of the French dramatists and romancers, "George Eliot" is able to represent the social circumstances in which her action is laid with the strongest appearance of verisimilitude. We may not ourselves have known Shepperton, or Hayslope, or St. Ogg's; but we feel as much at home in them as if we had....
Tulliver may be cited as another well-imagined and well-executed character, with his downright impetuous honesty, his hatred of "raskills," and his disposition to see rascality everywhere; his resolution to stand on his rights, his good-natured contempt for his wife, his very justifiable dislike of her sisters, his love for his children, and his determination that they shall have a good education, cost what it may,—the benefits of education having been impressed on his mind by his own inability to "wrap up things in words as aren't actionable," and by the consequent perception that "it's an uncommon fine thing, that is, when we can let a man know what you think of him without paying for it." His love of litigation is reconciled with his belief that "the law is meant to take care o' raskills," and that "Old Harry made the lawyers" by the principle that the cause which has the "biggest raskill" for attorney has the best chance of success; so that honesty need not despair if it can only secure the professional assistance of accomplished roguery. And when, notwithstanding this, the law and Mr. Wakem have been too much for him, great skill is shown in the description of poor Tulliver's latter days; his prostration and partial recovery; the concentration of his feelings on the desire to wipe out the dishonour of insolvency, and to avenge himself on the hostile attorney. Indeed, we confess that, notwithstanding his somewhat unedifying end, Tulliver is the only person in "The Mill on the Floss" for whom we can bring ourselves to care much.
 "The Mill on the Floss," i. 32.
The reality of which we have been speaking is connected with a peculiar sort of consciousness in the authoress, as if she had actually witnessed all that she describes, and were resolved to describe it without any attempt to refine beyond the naked truth. Thus, the most serious characters make their most solemn and most pathetic speeches in provincial dialect and ungrammatical constructions, although it must be allowed that the authoress has not ventured so far in this way as to play with the use and abuse of the aspirate. And her dialect appears to be very carefully studied, although we may doubt whether the Staffordshire provincialisms of "Clerical Life" and "Adam Bede" are sufficiently varied when the scene is shifted in the latest book to the Lincolnshire side of the Humber. But where a greater variation than that between one midland dialect and another is required, "George Eliot's" conscientiousness is very curiously shown. There is in "Mr. Gilfil's Story" a gardener of the name of Bates, who is described as a Yorkshireman, and in "Adam Bede" there is another gardener, Mr. Craig, whose name would naturally indicate a Scotchman. Each of these horticulturists is introduced into the dialogue, and of course the reader would expect the one to talk Yorkshire and the other to talk some variety of Scotch. But the authoress, apparently, did not feel herself mistress of either Scotch or Yorkshire to such a degree as would have warranted her in attempting them, and therefore, before her characters are allowed to open their mouths, she, in each case, is careful to tell us that we must moderate our expectations: "Mr. Bates's lips were of a peculiar cut, and I fancy this had something to do with the peculiarity of his dialect, which, as we shall see, was individual rather than provincial."
 "Scenes of Clerical Life," i. 191.
"I think it was Mr. Craig's pedigree only that had the advantage of being Scotch, and not his 'bringing up'; for, except that he had a stronger burr in his accent, his speech differed little from that of the Loamshire people around him." In short, except that lucifer matches are twice introduced as familiar things in days when the tinder-box was the only resource in general use for obtaining a light, we have not observed anything in which the authoress could be "caught out."
 "Adam Bede," i. 302.  "Adam Bede," i. 219, 362.
But this conscientious fidelity has very serious drawbacks. It seems as if the authoress felt herself under an obligation to give everything literally as it took place; to shut out nothing which is superfluous; to suppress nothing which is unfit for a work of fiction (for not only have we a report of Dinah Morris's sermons, but the very words of the prayer which she put up for Hetty in the prison); to abridge nothing which is tiresome. People and incidents are described at length, although they have little or nothing to do with the story. We may mention as instances the detailed history and character which are given of Tom Tulliver's tutor, the Reverend Walter Stelling, and the account of Mr. Poyser's harvest-home, which, however good in itself, is utterly out of place between the crisis and the conclusion of the story. But most especially we complain of the fondness which the authoress shows for exhibiting uninteresting and tiresome people in all their interminable tediousness; and if the morbid tone which we have already mentioned reminds us of a French school of novelists, her passion for photographing the minutest details of dullness reminds us painfully of those American ladies who contribute so largely to the literature of our railway-stalls, by flooding their boundless prairies of dingy paper with inexhaustible masses of blotchy type. We quite admit the naturalness of the tradespeople and other small folks whom this writer has perhaps explored more deeply than any earlier novelist; but surely we have far too much of them. It has indeed been said that we are spoiled by the activity of the present day for enjoying the faithful picture of what life was in country parishes and in little country towns fifty years ago; but we really cannot admit the justice of this attempt to throw the blame on ourselves. Dullness, we may be sure, has not died out within the last half century, but is yet to be found in plenty; and, if times were dull fifty or a hundred years ago, the novelists of those days—Scott and Fielding, and Smollett, and even Goldsmith in his simple tale—did not make their readers groan under their dullness....
But are we likely to feel more kindly towards such people as those of whom we are now complaining, because all their triviality, and smallness, and tediousness are displayed at wearisome length on paper? If some Dutch painters bestowed their skill on homely old women and boozy boors, there is no evidence that they were capable of better things, and their choice of subjects is no justification for one who certainly can do better. Nor do we complain that we have an old woman or a coarse merrymaking occasionally, but that such things in their monotonous meanness fill whole rooms of "George Eliot's" gallery; and, in truth, the real parallel to her is not to be found in the old Dutchmen who honestly painted what was before their eyes, but rather in the perverseness of our modern "pre-Raphaelites." It is of these gentlemen—who, by the way, in their reactionary affectations are the most entire opposites of the simple, unaffected, and forward-striving artists who really lived before Raphael—it is of these gentlemen, with their choice of disagreeable subjects, uncomely models, and uncouth attitudes, their bestowal of superfluous labour on trifling details, and the consequent obtrusiveness of subordinate things so as to mar the general effect of the work, that "George Eliot" too often reminds us.
How very wearisome is the conversation of the clique of inferior women who worship Mr. Tryan! how dismally twaddling is that respectable old congregationalist, Mr. Jerome, with his tidy little garden and his "littel chacenut hoss"! We feel for Mr. Tryan when in the society of such people, although to him it was mitigated by the belief that he was doing good by associating with them, and that by love of incense from any quarter which is described as part of his character. But why should it be inflicted in such fearful doses on us, who have done nothing to deserve it, who have no "mission" to encounter it, and are entirely without Mr. Tryan's consolations under the endurance of it?
Adam Bede's mother is another sore trial of the reader's patience—with her endless fretful chatter, and all the details of her urging her sons, one after the other, to refresh themselves with cold potatoes: nay, we are not reconciled to these vegetables even by the fact that on one occasion they are recommended as "taters wi' the gravy in 'em." But it is in "The Mill on the Floss" that the plague of tedious conversation reaches its height. Mrs. Tulliver is one of four married sisters, whose maiden name had been Dodson, and in these sisters there is a studious combination of family likeness with individual varieties of character. Mrs. Tulliver herself—whose "blond" complexion is generally associated by our authoress with imbecility of mind and character—belongs to that class of minds of which Mrs. Quickly may be considered as the chief intellectual type. Mrs. Pullet—the wife of a gentleman farmer, whose great characteristic is a habit of sucking lozenges, and whom Tom Tulliver most justly sets down as a "nincompoop"—is almost sillier than Mrs. Tulliver. She has the gift of tears ever ready to flow, and sheds them profusely on the anticipation of imaginary and ridiculous woes. Her favourite vanity consists in drawing dismal pictures of the future and in priding herself on the bodily sufferings of her neighbours; that one had "been tapped no end o' times, and the water—they say you might ha' swum in it if you'd liked"; that another's "breath was short to that degree as you could hear him two rooms off"; and her highest religion— the loftiest exercise of her faith and self-denial—is the accumulation of superfluous clothes and linen, in the hope that they may make a creditable display after her death. Mrs. Deane is "a thin-lipped woman, who made small well-considered speeches on peculiar occasions, repeating them afterwards to her husband, and asking him if she had not spoken very properly"; and of her we see but little. But of the eldest of the four, Mrs. Glegg, we see so much that we are really made quite uncomfortable by her; for she is a very formidable person indeed,— utterly without kindness, bullying everybody within her reach (her husband included), holding herself up as a model to everybody, and shaming all other families—especially those into which she and her sisters had married—by odious comparisons with the Dodsons. All this we grant is very cleverly done. The grim Mrs. Glegg and the fatuous Mrs. Tulliver and Mrs. Pullet talk admirably in their respective kinds; and we can quite believe that there are people who are not unfairly represented by the Dodsons—with, the narrow limitation of their thoughts to their own little circle—the extravagantly high opinion of their own vulgar family, with the corresponding depreciation of all in and about their own rank who do not belong to it—their perfect conviction that their own family traditions (such as the copious eating of salt in their broth) are the standard of all that is good—their consecration of all their most elevated feelings to the worship of furniture, and clothes, and table-linen, and silver spoons—their utter alienation from all that, in the opinion of educated people, can make life fit to be enjoyed. The humour of Mrs. Glegg's determination that no ill desert of a relation shall interfere with the disposal of her property by will on the most rigidly Dodsonian principles of justice, according to the several degrees of Dodsonship, is excellent; and so is the change in her behaviour towards Maggie, whom, after having always bullied her, she takes up for the sake of Dodsondom's credit when everybody else has turned against her....
 "Adam Bede," i. 54.
The writer does not seem to be aware that the fools and bores of a book, while they bore the other characters, ought not to bore but to amuse the reader, and that they will become seriously wearisome to him if there be too much of them. Shakespeare has contented himself with showing us his Dogberry and Verges, his Shallow and Slender, and Silence, to such a degree as may sufficiently display their humours; but he has not filled whole acts with them, and, even if he had, a five-act play is a small field for the display of prolix foolishness as compared with a three-volume novel. Lord Macaulay has been supposed to speak sarcastically in saying that he "would not advise any person who reads for amusement to venture on a certain jeu d'esprit of Mr. Sadler's as long as he can procure a volume of the Statutes at Large"; but we are afraid that we should not be believed if we were to mention the books to which we have had recourse by way of occasional relief from the task of perusing "George Eliot's" tales.
 "Miscellaneous Writings," ii. 68.
In the case of "these emmet-like Dodsons and Tullivers," the authoress again defends her principle. "I share with you," she says, "the sense of oppressive narrowness; but it is necessary that we should feel it, if we care to understand how it acted on the lives of Tom and Maggie." We must confess that we care very little for Tom and Maggie, who, although the inscription on their tombstone and the motto on the title-page of the book tell us that "in their death they were not divided," do not strike us as having been "lovely and pleasant in their lives." We do not think the development of the brother and the sister a matter of any great interest; and, if it were, we believe that a sufficient ground might have been laid for our understanding it without so severely trying our patience by the details of the "sordid life" amid which their early years were spent.
 "The Mill on the Floss," ii. 150.
Another mistake, as it appears to us, is the too didactic strain into which the authoress occasionally falls—writing as if for the purpose of forcing lessons on children or the poor, rather than for grown-up and educated readers. The story of "Janet's Repentance" might, with the omission of a few passages such as the satirical flings at Mr. Tryan's female worshippers, be made into a very edifying little tract for some "evangelical" society. Mr. Tryan's opponents are all represented as brutes and monsters, drunkards and unclean, enemies of all goodness; while, with the usual unscrupulousness of party tract-writers, we are required to choose between an alliance with such infamous company and unreserved adhesion to the Calvanistic curate, without being allowed any possibility of a third course. And, in addition to Mr. Tryan's victory, there is the conversion of Mrs. Dempster, not only from drunkenness to teetotalism (which might form the text for a set of illustrations by Mr. Cruikshank, in the moral style of his later days), but from hatred to love of the Gospel according to Mr. Tryan. In its place we should not care to object to such a story, or to a great deal of the needless talk which it contains both of sinners and of saints; but we do object to it in a book which is intended for the lighter reading of educated people, and the more so because we know that it comes from a writer who can feel nothing of the bitter but conscientious bigotry which the composition of such a story in good faith implies....
In reading of Maggie's early indiscretions, we—hardened, grey-headed reviewers as we are—feel something like a renewal of the shame and mortification with which, long decades of years ago, we read of the weaknesses of Frank and Rosamond,—as if we ourselves were the little girl who made the mistake of choosing the big, bright-coloured bottle from the chemist's window, or the little boy who allowed himself to be deceived by the flattery of the lady in the draper's shop. In order that her hair may have no chance of appearing in curls on a great occasion (according to her mother's wish), Maggie plunges her head into a basin of water. On getting an old dress and a bonnet from her unloved aunt Glegg, she bastes the frock along with the roast beef on the following Sunday, and souses the bonnet under the pump. In consequence of the continual remarks of her mother and aunts, about the un-Dodsonlike colour of her hair, she cuts it all off. She makes the most deplorable exhibition of her literary vanity at every turn. Out of spite she pushes her cousin Lucy, when arrayed in the prettiest of dresses, into the "cow-trodden mud," and thereupon she runs off to a gang of gipsies, with the intention of becoming their queen,—an adventure from which we are glad that she is allowed to escape with less of suffering than Miss Edgeworth might perhaps have felt it a matter of duty to inflict on her. For the Toms and Maggies, the Franks and Rosamonds, of real life, such monitory anecdotes as these may be very good and useful; but it seems to us that they are out of place in a book intended for readers who have got beyond the early domestic schoolroom.
We cannot praise the construction of these tales. The plots are very slight; the narrative drags painfully in some parts, and in other parts the authoress has recourse to very violent expedients, as where she brings in the "startling Adelphi stage-effect" of the flood to drown Tom and Maggie, in order to escape from the unmanageable complication of her story. Both in "Adam Bede" and in "The Mill on the Floss" the chief interest is over long before the tale comes to an end; and in looking at the whole series together we see something of repetition. Thus, both Tina and Hetty set their hearts on a young man above their own position, and turn a deaf ear to a longer-known, more suitable, and worthier suitor. Each disappears at a critical time, and each, after a disappointment in the higher quarter, falls back on a marriage with the humbler admirer; with the difference, however, that, as Hetty had committed murder, and as Tina had just been saved from doing so, the marriage in the first case never actually takes place, and in the second it ends after a few months. And as a smaller instance of repetition, we may compare the bedroom visit of the seraphic Dinah Morris to the earthly Hetty with that of the pattern Lucy Deane to the tempestuous Maggie Tulliver.
There is less of affectation in these books than in most of our recent novels, yet there is by far too much. Among the portions which are most infected by this sin we may mention the description of scenery,—thanks, doubtless, in no small measure, to the influence of that very dangerous model Mr. Ruskin....
Before concluding our article we must notice the authoress's views on two important subjects which enter largely into her stories—love and religion. That ladies, of their own accord and uninvited, fall in love with gentlemen is a common circumstance in novels written by ladies; and we are very much obliged to Madame D'Arblay, Miss Austen, and the other writers of the softer sex, who have let us into the knowledge of the important fact that such is the way in real life. But the peculiarity of "George Eliot," among English novelists, is that in her books everybody falls in love with the wrong person. She seems to be continually on the point of showing us, with the author of "The Rovers"—
How two swains one nymph her vows may give, And how two damsels with one lover live.
Love is represented as a passion conceived without any ground of reasonable preference, and as entirely irresistible in its sway. Tina bestows her affections on Captain Wybrow, while the Captain, without caring for anybody but himself, is paying his addresses to Miss Assher; and Mr. Gilfil is pining for Tina, whom, if he had any discernment at all, he could not but see to be quite unfitted for him. Adam Bede is in love with the utterly undeserving Hetty, while Dinah Morris and Mary Burge are both in love with Adam, Hetty with Arthur Donnithorne, and Seth Bede with Dinah. At last, Hetty is got out of the way, Dinah comes to a clearer understanding of her feelings towards Adam, and Adam, on being made aware of this, is set on by his mother to make a successful proposal; but "quiet Mary Burge" subsides into a bridesmaid, and Seth, the "poor wool-gatherin' Methodist," is left without any other consolation than that of worshipping his sister-in-law.
But it is in "The Mill on the Floss" that the unwholesome view which we have mentioned finds its most startling development. Maggie is in love with Philip, and Philip with Maggie; Stephen Guest is in love with Lucy Deane, and Lucy with Stephen, while at the same time she has an undeclared admirer in Tom Tulliver. But as soon as Maggie and Stephen become acquainted with each other, they exercise a powerful mutual attraction, and the mischief of love (as the passion is represented by our authoress) breaks loose in terrible force. The reproach which Tom Tulliver had coarsely thrown in Philip's teeth, that he had taken advantage of Maggie's inexperience to secure her affections before she had had any opportunity of comparing him with other men, turns out to be entirely just. Stephen is a mere underbred coxcomb, and is intended to appear as such (for we do not think that the authoress has failed in any attempt to make him a gentleman); his only merit, in so far as we can discover, is a foolish talent for singing, and, except as to person, he is infinitely inferior to Philip. But for this mere physical superiority the lofty-souled Maggie prefers him to the lover whom she had before loved for his deformity; and the passion is represented as one which no considerations of moral or religious principle, no regard to the claims of others, no training derived from the hardships of her former life or from the ascetic system to which she had at one time been devoted, can withstand. Here is a delicate scene, which is described as having taken place in a conservatory, to which the pair had withdrawn on the night of a ball:—
Maggie bent her arm a little upward towards the large half-opened rose that had attracted her. Who has not felt the beauty of a woman's arm? —the unspeakable suggestions of tenderness that lie in the dimpled elbow, and the varied gently-lessening curves down to the delicate wrist, with its tiniest, almost imperceptible nicks in the firm softness?
A mad impulse seized on Stephen; he darted towards the arm and showered kisses on it, clasping the wrist.
But the next moment Maggie snatched it from him, and glanced at him like a wounded war-goddess, quivering with rage and humiliation.
"How dare you?" she spoke in a deeply-shaken, half-smothered voice: "what right have I given you to insult me?"
She darted from him into the adjoining room, and threw herself on the sofa panting and trembling.
 iii. 156.
We should not have blamed the young lady if, like one of Mr. Trollope's heroines, she had made her admirer feel not only "the beauty of a woman's arm," but its weight. But, unwarned by the grossness of his behaviour on this occasion, she is represented as admitting Stephen to further intercourse; and, although she rescues herself at last, it is not until after having occasioned irreparable scandal. A good-natured ordinary novelist might have found an easy solution for the difficulties of the case at an earlier stage by marrying Stephen to Maggie, and handing over Lucy (who is far too amiable to object to such a transfer) to her admiring cousin Tom; while Philip, left in celibacy, might either have been invested with a pathetic interest, or represented as justly punished for the offence of forestalling. But George Eliot has higher aims than ordinary novelists, and to her the transfer which we have suggested would appear as a profanation. Her characters, therefore, plunge into all manner of sacrifices of reputation and happiness; and it is not until Maggie and Tom have been drowned, and Philip's whole life embittered, that we catch a final view of Mr. Stephen Guest visiting the grave of the brother and sister in company with the amiable wife, nee Lucy Deane. If we are to accept the natural moral of this story, it shows how coarse and immoral a very fastidious and ultra-refined morality may become.
It is with reluctance that we go on to notice the religion of these books; but since religion appears so largely in them, we must not decline the task. To us, at least, the theory of the writer's "High-Church tendencies" could never have appeared plausible; for even in the "Scenes of Clerical Life" the chief religious personage is the "evangelical" curate Mr. Tryan, and whatever good there is in his parish is confined to the circle of his partisans and converts; while in "Adam Bede" the Methodess preacheress, Dinah Morris, is intended to shine with spotless and incomparable lustre. Yet, although the highest characters, in a religious view, are drawn from "evangelicism" and Methodism, we find that neither of these systems is set forth as enough to secure the perfection of everybody who may choose to profess it....
Mr. Parry, although agreeing with Mr. Tryan in opinion, is represented as no less unpopular and inefficient than Mr. Tryan was the reverse; and the Reverend Amos Barton is a hopeless specimen of that variety of "evangelical" clergymen to which the late Mr. Conybeare gave the name of "low and slow,"—a variety which, we believe, flourishes chiefly in the midland counties. On the other hand, Mr. Gilfil and Mr. Irwine, clergymen of the "old school," are held up as objects for our respect and love; and Mr. Irwine is not only vindicated by Adam Bede in his old age, in comparison with his evangelical successor Mr. Ryde, but the question between high and low church, as represented by these two, is triumphantly settled by a quotation which Adam brings from our old friend Mrs. Poyser:—
Mrs. Poyser used to say—you know she would have her word about everything—she said Mr. Irwine was like a good meal o' victual, you were the better for him without thinking on it; and Mr. Ryde was like a dose o' physic, he griped and worrited you, and after all he left you much the same.
 "Adam Bede," i. 269.
In "The Mill on the Floss," too, the "brazen" Mr. Stelling is represented as "evangelical," in so far as he is anything; while Dr. Kenn, a very high Anglican, is spoken of with all veneration; although, perhaps, "George Eliot's" opinion as to the efficiency of the high Anglican clergy may be gathered from the circumstance that when the Doctor interferes for the benefit of Maggie Tulliver, he not only fails to be of any use, but exposes himself to something like the same kind of gossip which had arisen from Mr. Amos Barton's hospitality to Madame Czerlaski. As to Methodism, again, the reader need hardly be reminded of the sayings which we have quoted from Mrs. Poyser. And while the feeble and "wool-gathering" Seth Bede becomes a convert, the strong-minded Adam holds out, even although he is so tolerant as to marry a female Methodist preacher, and to let her enjoy her "liberty of prophesying" until stopped by a general order of the Wesleyan Conference.
From all these things the natural inference would seem to be that the authoress is neither High-Church nor Low-Church nor Dissenter, but a tolerant member of what is styled the Broad-Church party—a party in which we are obliged to say that breadth and toleration are by no means universal. It would seem that, instead of being exclusively devoted to any one of the religious types which she has embodied in the persons of her tales (for as yet she has not presented us with a clergyman of any liberal school), she regards each of them as containing an element of pure Christianity, which, although in any one of them it may be alloyed by its adjuncts and by the faults of individuals, is in itself of inestimable value, and may be held alike by persons who differ widely from each other as to the forms of religious polity and as to details of Christian doctrine.
But what is to be thought of the fact that the authoress of these tales is also the translator of Strauss's notorious book? Is the Gospel which she has represented in so many attractive lights nothing better to her, after all, than "fabula ista de Christo"? Are the various forms under which she has exhibited it no more for her than the Mahometan and Hindoo systems were for the poet of Thalaba and Kehama? Has she been carrying out in these novels the precepts of that chapter in which Dr. Strauss teaches his disciples how, while believing the New Testament narrative to be merely mythical, they may yet discharge the functions of the Christian preacher without exposing themselves by their language to any imputation of unsoundness? But, even apart from this distressing question, there is much to interfere with the hope and the interest with which we should wish to look forward to the future career of a writer so powerful and so popular as the authoress of these books—much to awaken very serious apprehensions as to the probable effect of her influence. No one who has looked at all into our late fictitious literature can have failed to be struck with the fondness of many of the writers of the day for subjects which at an earlier time would not have been thought of, or would have been carefully avoided. The idea that fiction should contain something to soothe, to elevate, or to purify seems to be extinct. In its stead there is a love for exploring what would be better left in obscurity; for portraying the wildness of passion and the harrowing miseries of mental conflict; for dark pictures of sin and remorse and punishment; for the discussion of questions which it is painful and revolting to think of. By some writers such themes are treated with a power which fascinates even those who most disapprove the manner in which it is exercised; by others with a feebleness which shows that the infection has spread even to the most incapable of the contributors to our circulating libraries. To us the influence of the "Jack Shepherd" school of literature is really far less alarming than that of a class of books which is more likely to find its way into the circles of cultivated readers, and, most especially, to familiarize the minds of our young women in the middle and higher ranks with matters on which their fathers and brothers would never venture to speak in their presence. It is really frightful to think of the interest which we have ourselves heard such readers express in criminals like Paul Ferroll, and in sensual ruffians like Mr. Rochester: and there is much in the writings of "George Eliot" which, on like grounds, we feel ourselves bound most earnestly to condemn. Let all honour be paid to those who in our time have laboured to search out and to make known such evils of our social condition as Christian sympathy may in some degree relieve or cure. But we do not believe that any good end is to be effected by fictions which fill the mind with details of imaginary vice and distress and crime, or which teach it—instead of endeavouring after the fulfilment of simple and ordinary duty—to aim at the assurance of superiority by creating for itself fanciful and incomprehensible perplexities. Rather we believe that the effect of such fictions must be to render those who fall under their influence unfit for practical exertion; while they most assuredly do grievous harm in many cases, by intruding on minds which ought to be guarded from impurity the unnecessary knowledge of evil.
In the early days of the nineteenth century Edinburgh certainly aspired to prouder eminence as a centre of light and learning than it has continued to maintain. Tory energy, provoked by the arrogance of Jeffrey, had found its earliest expression in London, but the northern capital evidently determined not to be left behind in the game of unprincipled vituperation. Blackwood, unlike its rivals in infancy, was issued monthly, and its closely printed double columns add something to the impression of heaviness in its satire.
JOHN WILSON (1785-1854)
There is admittedly something incongruous in any association between the genial and laughter-loving Christopher North and the reputation incurred by the periodical with which he was long so intimately associated. He had contributed—as few of his confederates would have been permitted— to the Edinburgh; but he was Literary Editor to Blackwood from October, 1817, to September, 1852. Originally a disciple of the Lake School, at whom he was frequently girding, he migrated to Edinburgh (where he became Professor of Moral Philosophy in 1820), and attracted to himself many brilliant men of letters, including De Quincey.
The "mountain-looking fellow," as Dickens called him, the patron of "cock-fighting, wrestling, pugilistic contests, boat-racing, and horse-racing" left his mark on his generation for a unique combination of boisterous joviality and hardhitting. Well known in the houses of the poor; more than one observer has said that he reminded them of the "first man, Adam." He "swept away all hearts, withersoever he would." "Thor and Balder in one," "very Goth," "a Norse Demigod," "hair of the true Sicambrian yellow"; Carlyle describes him as "fond of all stimulating things; from tragic poetry down to whiskey-punch. He snuffed and smoked cigars and drank liqueurs, and talked in the most indescribable style.... He is a broad sincere man of six feet, with long dishevelled flax-coloured hair, and two blue eyes keen as an eagle's ... a being all split into precipitous chasms and the wildest volcanic tumults ... a noble, loyal, and religious nature, not strong enough to vanquish the perverse element it is born into."
The foundation of Wilson's criticism, unlike most of his contemporaries, was generous and wide-minded appreciation, yet he "hacked about him, distributing blows right and left, delivered sometimes for fun, though sometimes with the most extraordinary impulse of perversity, in the impetus of his career." With all a boy's love of a good fight, he shared with youth its thoughtless indifference to the consequences.
His not altogether unfriendly criticisms inspired one of Tennyson's lightest effusions—
You did late review my lays, Crusty Christopher; You did mingle blame and praise Rusty Christopher. When I learnt from whence it came, I forgave you all the blame, Musty Christopher; I could not forgive the praise Fusty Christopher.
The Noctes Ambrosianae is certainly a unique production. Though ostensibly a dialogue mainly between himself, Tickler (i.e., Lockhart), and Hogg the Ettrick Shepherd—with other occasional dramatis personae; the main bulk of them (including everything here quoted) was written by Wilson himself—in this form, to produce an original effect. The conversations are, for the most part, thoroughly dramatic, and cover every conceivable subject from politics and literature to the beauty of scenery, dress, cookery, and the various sports beloved of Christopher. There is much boisterous interruption for eating, drinking, and personal chaff.
Of the longer quotations selected we would particularly draw attention to the humorous and epigrammatic parody of Wordsworth, on whom Wilson elsewhere bestows generous enthusiasm; and the broad-minded outlook which can appreciate the contrasted virility of Byron and Dr. Johnson. But it would be impossible to give an approximately fair impression of the Noctes, without many examples of those paragraph criticisms scattered broadcast on every page, which we have presented as "Crumbs" from the feast. The magnificent recantation to Leigh Hunt—on whom Blackwood had bestowed even more than its share of abuse—has passed into a proverb.
As in the case of the Quarterly these untraced effusions may be assigned, with fair confidence, to the principal originators of the magazine: Wilson himself, Lockhart, and William Maginn (1793-1842), a thriftless Irishman who helped to start Fraser's Magazine in 1830, and stood for Captain Shandon in Pendennis; author of Bob Burke's Duel with Ensign Brady, "perhaps the raciest Irish story ever written."
They almost certainly combined in the heated attack on "The Cockney School," of which Leigh Hunt's generous, but not always judicious, advertisement was an obvious temptation to satire, embittered by political bias. Coleridge, also, provided easy material for scorn from vigorous manhood; and Shelley, as Wilson remarks elsewhere, was "the greatest sinner of the oracular school—because the only true poet."
CHRISTOPHER NORTH ON POPE  A Discussion of the Edition by Bowles.
[From Noctes Ambrosianae, March, 1825]
Tickler. Pope was one of the most amiable men that ever lived. Fine and delicate as were the temper and temperament of his genius, he had a heart capable of the warmest human affection. He was indeed a loving creature.
North. Come, come, Timothy, you know you were sorely cut an hour or two ago—so do not attempt characteristics. But, after all, Bowles does not say that Pope was unamiable.
Tickler. Yes, he does—that is to say, no man can read, even now, all that he has written about Pope, without thinking on the whole, somewhat indifferently of the man Pope. It is for this I abuse our friend Bowles.
Shepherd. Ay, ay—I recollect now some of the havers o' Boll's about the Blounts,—Martha and Theresa, I think you call them. Puir wee bit hunched-backed, windle-strae-legged, gleg-eed, clever, acute, ingenious, sateerical, weel-informed, warm-hearted, real philosophical, and maist poetical creature, wi' his sounding translation o' a' Homer's works, that reads just like an original War-Yepic,—His Yessay on Man that, in spite o' what a set o' ignoramuses o' theological critics say about Bolingbroke and Croussass, and heterodoxy and atheism, and like haven, is just-ane o' the best moral discourses that ever I heard in or out o' the poupit,—His yepistles about the Passions, and sic like, in the whilk he goes baith deep and high, far deeper and higher baith than mony a modern poet, who must needs be either in a diving-bell or a balloon,— His Rape o' the Lock o' Hair, wi' a' these Sylphs floating about in the machinery o' the Rosicrucian Philosophism, just perfectly yelegant and gracefu', and as gude, in their way, as onything o' my ain about fairies, either in the Queen's Wake or Queen Hynde,—His Louisa to Abelard is, as I said before, coorse in the subject-matter, but, O sirs! powerfu' and pathetic in execution—and sic a perfect spate o' versification! His unfortunate lady, who sticked hersel for love wi' a drawn sword, and was afterwards seen as a ghost, dim-beckoning through the shade—a verra poetical thocht surely, and full both of terror and pity....
North. Pope's poetry is full of nature, at least of what I have been in the constant habit of accounting nature for the last threescore and ten years. But (thank you, James, that snuff is really delicious) leaving nature and art, and all that sort of thing, I wish to ask a single question: what poet of this age, with the exception, perhaps, of Byron, can be justly said, when put in comparison with Pope, to have written the English language at all....
Tickler. What would become of Bowles himself, with all his elegance, pathos, and true feeling? Oh! dear me, James, what a dull, dozing, disjointed, dawdling, dowdy of a drawe would be his muse, in her very best voice and tune, when called upon to get up and sing a solo after the sweet and strong singer of Twickenham!
North. Or Wordsworth—with his eternal—Here we go up, and up, and up, and here we go down, down, and here we go roundabout, roundabout!—Look at the nerveless laxity of his Excursion!—What interminable prosing!— The language is out of condition:—fat and fozy, thick-winded, purfled and plethoric. Can he be compared with Pope?—Fie on't! no, no, no!— Pugh, pugh!
North. No; not one of them. They are all eloquent, diffusive, rich, lavish, generous, prodigal of their words. But so are they all deficient in sense, muscle, sinew, thews, ribs, spine. Pope, as an artist, beats them hollow. Catch him twaddling.
Tickler. It is a bad sign of the intellect of an age to depreciate the genius of a country's classics. But the attempt covers such critics with shame, and undying ridicule pursues them and their abettors. The Lake Poets began this senseless clamour against the genius of Pope.
[From Noctes Ambrosianae, October, 1825]
North. People say, James, that Byron's tragedies are failures. Fools! Is Cain, the dark, dim, disturbed, insane, hell-haunted Cain, a failure? Is Sardanapalus, the passionate, princely, philosophical, joy-cheated, throne-wearied voluptuary, a failure? Is Heaven and Earth, that magnificent confusion of two worlds, in which mortal beings mingle in love and hate, joy and despair, with immortal—the children of the dust claiming alliance with the radiant progeny of the skies, till man and angel seem to partake of one divine being, and to be essences eternal in bliss or bale—is Heaven and Earth, I ask you, James, a failure? If so, then Appollo has stopt payment—promising a dividend of one shilling in the pound—and all concerned in that house are bankrupts.
Tickler. You have nobly—gloriously vindicated Byron, North, and in doing so, have vindicated the moral and intellectual character of our country. Miserable and pernicious creed, that holds possible the lasting and intimate union of the first, purest, highest, noblest, and most celestial powers of soul and spirit, with confirmed appetencies, foul and degrading lust, cowardice, cruelty, meanness, hypocrisy, avarice, and impiety! You,—in a strong attempt made to hold up to execration the nature of Byron as deformed by all these hideous vices,—you, my friend, reverently unveiled the countenance of the mighty dead, and the lineaments struck remorse into the heart of every asperser.
ON DR. JOHNSON
[From Noctes Ambrosianae, April, 1829]
North. I forgot old Sam—a jewel rough set, yet shining like a star, and though sand-blind by nature, and bigoted by Education, one of the truly great men of England, and "her men are of men the chief," alike in the dominions of the understanding, the reason, the passions, and the imagination. No prig shall ever persuade me that Rasselas is not a noble performance—in design and execution. Never were the expenses of a mother's funeral more gloriously defrayed by son, than the funeral of Samuel Johnson's mother by the price of Rasselas, written for the pious purpose of laying her head decently and honourably in the dust.
Shepherd. Ay, that was pittin' literature and genius to a glorious purpose indeed; and therefore nature and religion smiled on the wark, and have stamped it with immortality.
North. Samuel was seventy years old when he wrote the Lives of the Poets.
Shepherd. What a fine old buck! No unlike yoursel'.
North. Would it were so! He had his prejudicies, and his partialities, and his bigotries, and his blindnesses,—but on the same fruit-tree you see shrivelled pears or apples on the same branch with jargonelles or golden pippins worthy of paradise. Which would ye show to the Horticultural Society as a fair specimen of the tree?
Shepherd. Good, kit, good—philosophically picturesque. (Mimicking the old man's voice and manner.)
North. Show me the critique that beats his on Pope, and on Dryden— nay, even on Milton; and hang me if you may not read his essay on Shakespeare even after having read Charles Lamb, or heard Coleridge, with increased admiration of the powers of all three, and of their insight, through different avenues, and as it might seem almost with different bodily and mental organs, into Shakespeare's "old exhausted," and his "new imagined worlds." He was a critic and a moralist who would have been wholly wise, had he not been partly—constitutionally insane. For there is blood in the brain, James—even in the organ—the vital principle of all our "eagle-winged raptures"; and there was a taint of the black drop of melancholy in his.
Shepherd. Wheesht—wheesht—let us keep aff that subject. All men ever I knew are mad; and but for that law o' natur, never, never, in this warld had there been a Noctes Ambrosianae.
CRUMBS FROM THE "NOCTES"
North. Miss Mitford has not in my opinion either the pathos or humour of Washington Irving; but she excels him in vigorous conception of character, and in the truth of her pictures of English life and manners. Her writings breathe a sound, pure, and healthy morality, and are pervaded by a genuine rural spirit—the spirit of merry England. Every line bespeaks the lady.
Shepherd. I admire Miss Mitford just excessively. I dinna wunner at her being able to write sae weel as she does about drawing-rooms wi' sofas and settees, and about the fine folk in them seeing themsels in lookin-glasses frae tap to tae; but what puzzles the like o' me, is her pictures o' poachers, and tinklers, and pottery-trampers, and ither neerdoweels, and o' huts and hovels without riggin' by the wayside, and the cottages o' honest puir men, and byres, and barns, and stackyards, and merry-makins at winter ingles, and courtship aneath trees, and at the gable-end of farm houses, 'tween lads and lasses as laigh in life as the servants in her father's ha'. That's the puzzle, and that's the praise. But ae word explains a'—Genius—Genius, wull a' the metafhizzians in the warld ever expound that mysterious monosyllable.— Nov, 1826.
Shepherd.. He had a curious power that Hazlitt, as he was ca'd, o' simulatin' sowl. You could hae taen your Bible oath sometimes, when you were readin him, that he had a sowl—a human sowl—a sowl to be saved— but then, heaven preserve us! in the verra middle aiblins o' a paragraph, he grew transformed afore your verra face into something bestial,—you heard a grunt that made ye grue, and there was an ill smell in the room, as frae a pluff o' sulphur.—April, 1827.
Shepherd. Wordsworth tells the world, in ane of his prefaces, that he is a water-drinker—and its weel seen on him.—There was a sair want of speerit through the haill o' yon lang "Excursion." If he had just made the paragraphs about ae half shorter, and at the end of every ane taen a caulker, like ony ither man engaged in geyan sair and heavy wark, think na ye that his "Excursion" would hae been far less fatiguesome?—April, 1827.
North. I confess that the "Excursion" is the worst poem, of any character, in the English language. It contains about two hundred sonorous lines, some of which appear to be fine, even in the sense, as well as sound. The remaining seven thousand three hundred are quite ineffectual. Then, what labour the builder of that lofty rhyme must have undergone! It is, in its own way, a small tower of Babel, and all built by a single man.—Sept., 1825.
North. James, you don't know S.T. Coleridge—do you? He writes but indifferent books, begging his pardon: witness his "Friend," his "Lay Sermons," and, latterly, his "Aids to Reflection"; but he becomes inspired by the sound of his own silver voice, and pours out wisdom like a sea. Had he a domestic Gurney, he might publish a Moral Essay, or a Theological Discourse, or a Metaphysical Disquisition, or a Political Harangue, every morning throughout the year during his lifetime.
Tickler. Mr. Coleridge does not seem to be aware that he cannot write a book, but opines that he absolutely has written several, and set many questions at rest. There's a want of some kind or another in his mind; but perhaps when he awakes out of his dream, he may get rational and sober-witted, like other men, who are not always asleep.
Shepherd. The author o' "Christabel," and "The Ancient Mariner," had better just continue to see visions, and dream dreams—for he's no fit for the wakin' world.—April, 1827.
North. James, I wish you would review for Maga all those fashionable novels—Novels of High Life; such as Pelham—the Disowned.
Shepherd. I've read thae twa, and they're baith gude. But the mair I think on't, the profounder is my conviction that the strength o' human nature lies either in the highest or lowest estate of life. Characters in books should either be kings, and princes, and nobles, and on a level with them, like heroes; or peasants, shepherds, farmers, and the like, includin' a' orders amaist o' our ain working population. The intermediate class—that is, leddies and gentlemen in general—are no worth the Muse's while; for their life is made up chiefly o' mainners,— mainners,—mainners;—you canna see the human creters for their claes; and should ane o' them commit suicide in despair, in lookin' on the dead body, you are mair taen up wi' its dress than its decease.—March, 1829.
Shepherd. What sort o' vols., sir, are the Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry [W. Carleton], published by Curry in Dublin.
North. Admirable. Truly, intensely Irish. The whole book has the brogue—never were the outrageous whimsicalities of that strange, wild, imaginative people so characteristically displayed; nor, in the midst of all the fun, frolic, and folly, is there any dearth of poetry, pathos, and passion. The author's a jewel, and he will be reviewed next number. —May, 1830.
Shepherd. I shanna say ony o' mine's [songs] are as gude as some sax or aucht o' Burns's—for about that number o' Robbie's are o' inimitable perfection. It was heaven's wull that in them he should transcend a' the minnesingers o' this warld. But they're too perfeckly beautifu' to be envied by mortal man—therefore let his memory in them be hallowed for evermair.—August, 1834.
Shepherd. I was wrang in ever hintin ae word in disparagement o' Burn's Cottar's Saturday Night. But the truth is, you see, that the subjeck's sae heeped up wi' happiness, and sae charged wi' a' sort o' sanctity—sae national and sae Scottish—that beautifu' as the poem is— and really, after a', naething can be mair beautifu'—there's nae satisfying either paesant or shepherd by ony delineation o't, though drawn in lines o' licht, and shinin' equally w' genius and wi' piety.— Nov., 1834.
Shepherd. Leigh Hunt truly loved Shelley.
North. And Shelley truly loved Leigh Hunt. Their friendship was honourable to them both, for it was as disinterested as sincere; and I hope Gurney will let a certain person in the City understand that I treat his offer of a reviewal of Mr. Hunt's London Journal with disdain. If he has anything to say against us or against that gentleman, either conjunctly or severally, let him out with it in some other channel, and I promise him a touch and taste of the Crutch. He talks to me of Maga's desertion of principle; but if he were a Christian—nay, a man—his heart and head too would tell him that the Animosities are mortal, but the Humanities live for ever—and that Leigh Hunt has more talent in his little finger than the puling prig, who has taken upon himself to lecture Christopher North in a scrawl crawling with forgotten falsehoods. Mr. Hunt's London Journal, may dear James, is not only beyond all comparison, but out of all sight, the most entertaining and instructive of all the cheap periodicals; and when laid, as it duly is once a week, on my breakfast table, it lies there—but is not permitted to lie long—like a spot of sunshine dazzling the snow.—Aug., 1834.