Mrs. Trollope may make a licentious book, of which the heroes and heroines are all of the evangelical party; and it may be true, that there are scoundrels belonging to that party as to every other; but her shameful error has been in fixing upon the evangelical class as an object of satire, making them necessarily licentious and hypocritical, and charging everyone of them with the vices which belong to only a very few of all sects....
There are some books, we are told, in the libraries of Roman Catholic theologians, which, though written for the most devout purposes, are so ingeniously obscene as to render them quite dangerous for common eyes. The groom, in the old story, had never learned the art of greasing horses' teeth, to prevent their eating oats, until the confessor, in interrogating him as to his sins, asked him the question. The next time the groom came to confess, he had greased the horses' teeth. It was the holy father who taught him, by the very fact of warning him against it. By which we mean, that there are some scenes of which it is better not to speak at all.
Our fair moralist, however, has no such squeamishness. She will show up these odious evangelicals; she will expose them and chastise them, wherever they be. So have we seen, in that beautiful market in Thames Street, whither the mariners of England bring the glittering produce of their nets—so have we seen, we say, in Billingsgate, a nymph attacking another of her sisterhood. How keenly she detects and proclaims the number and enormity of her rival's faults! How eloquently she enlarges upon the gin she has drunk, the children she has confided to the parish, the watchmen whose noses she has broken, and the bridewells which she has visited in succession! No one can but admire the lady's eloquence and talent in conducting the case for the prosecution; no one will, perhaps, doubt the guilt of the hapless object on whom her wrath is vented. But, with all her rage for morality, had not that fair accused have better left the matter alone? That torrent of slang and oath, O nymph! falls ill from thy lips, which should never open but for a soft word or a smile; that accurate description of vice, sweet orator [-tress or-trix]! only shows that thou thyself art but too well acquainted with scenes which thy pure eyes should never have beheld. And when we come to the matter in dispute—a simple question of mackerel—O, Mrs. Trollope! Why, why should you abuse other people's fish, and not content yourself with selling your own....
There can be little doubt as to the cleverness of this novel, but, coming from a women's pen, it is most odiously and disgustingly indecent. As a party attack, it is an entire failure; and as a representation of a very large portion of English Christians, a shameful and wicked slander.
BULWER'S "ERNEST MALTRAVERS"
To talk of Ernest Maltravers now, is to rake up a dead man's ashes. The poor creature came into the world almost still-born, and, though he has hardly been before the public for a month, is forgotten as much as Rienzi or the Disowned. What a pity that Mr. Bulwer will not learn wisdom with age, and confine his attention to subjects at once more grateful to the public and more suitable to his own powers! He excels in the genre of Paul de Kock, and is always striving after the style of Plato; he has a keen perception of the ridiculous and, like Liston or Cruikshank, and other comic artists, persists that his real vein is the sublime. What a number of sparkling magazine-papers, what an outpouring of fun and satire, might we have had from Neddy Bulwer, had he not thought fit to turn moralist, metaphysician, politician, poet, and be Edward Lytton, Heaven—knows—what Bulwer, Esquire and M.P., a dandy, a philosopher, a spouter at Radical meetings. We speak feelingly, for we knew the youth at Trinity Hall, and have a tenderness even for his tomfooleries. He has thrown away the better part of himself—his great inclination for the LOW, namely; if he would but leave off scents for his handkerchief, and oil for his hair; if he would but confine himself to three clean shirts a week, a couple of coats in a year, a beefsteak and onions for dinner, his beaker a pewter-pot, his carpet a sanded floor, how much might be made of him even yet! An occasional pot of porter too much—a black eye, in a tap-room fight with a carman—a night in the watch-house—or a surfeit produced by Welsh-rabbit and gin and beer, might, perhaps, redden his fair face and swell his slim waist; but the mental improvement which he would acquire under such treatment— the intellectual pluck and vigour which he would attain by the stout diet—the manly sports and conversation in which he would join at the Coal-Hole, or the Widow's, are far better for him than the feeble fribble of the Reform Club (not inaptly called "The Hole in the Wall"); the windy French dinners, which, as we take it, are his usual fare; and, above all, the unwholesome Radical garbage which form the political food of himself and his clique in the House of Commons.
For here is the evil of his present artificial courses—the humbug required to keep up his position as dandy, politician, and philosopher (in neither of which latter characters the man is in earnest), must get into his heart at last; and then his trade is ruined. A little more politics and Plato, and the natural disappears altogether from Mr. Bulwer's writings: the individual man becomes as undistinguishable amidst the farrago of philosophy in which he has chosen to envelope himself, as a cutlet in the sauces of a French cook. The idiosyncracy of the mutton perishes under the effects of the adjuncts: even so the moralising, which may be compared to the mushrooms, of Mr. Bulwer's style; the poetising, which may be likened unto the flatulent turnips and carrots; and the politics, which are as the gravy, reeking of filthy garlic, greasy with rancid oil;—even so, we say, pursuing this savoury simile to its fullest extent, the natural qualities of young Pelham—the wholesome and juicy mutton of the mind, is shrunk and stewed away.
Or, to continue in this charming vein of parable, the author of Pelham may be likened to Beau Tibbs. Tibbs, as we all remember, would pass for a pink of fashion, and had a wife whom he presented to the world as a paragon of virtue and ton, and who was but the cast-off mistress of a lord. Mr. Bulwer's philosophy is his Mrs. Tibbs; he thrusts her forward into the company of her betters, as if her rank and reputation never admitted of a question. To all his literary undertakings this goddess of his accompanies him; what a cracked, battered truly she is! with a person and morals that would suit Vinegar yard, and a chastity that would be hooted in Drury Lane.
The morality which Mr. Bulwer has acquired in his researches, political and metaphysical, is of the most extraordinary nature. For one who is always preaching of Truth of Beauty, the dulness of his moral sense is perfectly ludicrous. He cannot see that the hero into whose mouth he places his favourite metaphysical gabble—his dissertations about the stars, the passions, the Greek plays, and what not—his eternal whine about what he calls the good and the beautiful—is a fellow as mean and paltry as can be well imagined; a man of rant, and not of action; foolishly infirm of purpose, and strong only in desire; whose beautiful is a tawdry strumpet, and whose good would be crime in the eyes of an honest man. So much for the portrait of Ernest Maltravers: as for the artist, we cannot conceive a man to have failed more completely. He wishes to paint an amiable man, and he succeeds in drawing a scoundrel: he says he will give us the likeness of a genius, and it is only the picture of a humbug.
Ernest Maltravers is an eccentric and enthusiastic young man, to whom we are introduced upon his return from a German university. Fond of wild adventure and solitary rambles, we find him upon a heath, wandering alone, tired, and benighted. The two first chapters of the book are in Mr. Bulwer's very best manner; the description of the lone hut to which the lad comes—the ruffian who inhabits it—the designs which he has upon the life of his new guest, and the manner in which his daughter defeats them, are told with admirable liveliness and effect. The young man escapes, and with him the girl who had prevented his murder. Both are young, interesting, and tender hearted; she loves but him, and would die of starvation without him. Ernest Maltravers cannot resist the claim of so unprotected a creature; he hires a cottage for her, and a writing-master. He is a young man of genius, and generous dispositions; he is a Christian, and instructs the ignorant Alice in the awful truth of his religion; moreover he is deep in poetry, philosophy, and the German metaphysics. How should such a Christian instruct an innocent and beautiful child, his pupil? What should such a philosopher do? Why seduce her, to be sure! After a deal of namby-pamby Platonism, the girl, as Mr. Bulwer says, "goes to the deuce." The expression is as charming as the morality, and appears amidst a quantity of the very finest writing about the good and the beautiful, youth, love, passion, nature and so forth. It is curious how rapidly one turns from good to bad in this book. How clever the descriptions are! how neatly some of the minor events and personalities are hit off! and yet, how astonishingly vile and contemptible the chief part of it is!—that part, we mean, which contains the adventures of the hero, and, of course, the choice reflections of the author.
The declamations about virtue are endless, as soon as Maltravers appears upon the scene; and yet we find him committing the agreeable little faux pas of which we have just spoken. In one place, we have him making violent love to another man's wife; in another place, raging for blood like a tiger and swearing for revenge....
It is curious and painful to read Mr. Bulwer's [philosophy], and to mark the easy vanity with which virtue is assumed here, self-knowledge arrogated, and a number of windy sentences, which really possess no meaning, are gravely delivered with all the emphasis of truth and the air of profound conviction.
"I have learned," cries our precious philosopher, "to lean on my own soul, and not look eleswhere [Transcriber's note: sic] for the reeds that a wind can break!" And what has he learned by leaning on his own soul? Is it to be happier than others? or to be better? Not he!—he is as wretched and wicked a dog as any unhung. He "leans on his own soul," and makes love to the Countess and seduces Alice Darvell. A ploughboy is a better philosopher and moralist than this mouthing Maltravers, with his boasted love of mankind (which reduces itself to a very coarse love of womankind), and his scorn of "the false gods and miserable creeds" of the world, and his soul "lifting its crest to heaven!" A Catholic whipping himself before a stone-image, a Brahmin dangling on a hook, or standing on one leg for a year, has a higher notion of God than this ranting fool, who is always prating about his own perfections and his divine nature; the one is humble, at least, though blind; the other is proud of his very imperfections and glories in his folly. What does this creature know of virtue, who finds it by leaning on his own soul, forsooth? What does he know of God, who, in looking for him, can see but himself, steeped in sin, bloated and swollen with monstrous pride, and strutting before the world and the creator as a maker of systems, a layer down of morals, and a preacher of beauty and truth?...
[Some of the] characters are excellently drawn; how much better than "their lips spake of sentiment, and their eyes applied it!" How soon these philosophers begin ogling! how charmingly their unceasing gabble about beauty and virtue is exemplified in their actions! Mr. Bulwer's philosophy is like a French palace—it is tawdry, shady, splendid; but, gare aux nez sensibles! one is always reminded of the sewer. "Their lips spoke sentiment, and their eyes applied it." O you naughty, naughty Mr. Bulwer!
WILLIAM JOHN FOX
The dedicatory inscription in the volume of The Monthly Repository, in which the following review appears, will indicate—in a few words—the motives inspiring the editor, W. J. Fox, in his journalistic career:— "To the Working People of Great Britain and Ireland; who, whether they produce the means of physical support and enjoyment, or aid the progress of moral, political, and social reform and improvement, are fellow-labourers for the well-being of the entire community."
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Pauline was published, when Browning was 21, at his aunt's expense. It secured only one favourable notice, here printed; while the author and his sister deliberately destroyed the unsold copies.
W. J. FOX ON BROWNING
[From The Monthly Repository, 1833]
Pauline; A Fragment of a Confession. London, Saunders & Otley. 1833
The most deeply interesting adventures, the wildest vicissitudes, the most daring explorations, the mightiest magic, the fiercest conflicts, the brightest triumphs, and the most affecting catastrophes, are those of the spiritual world....
The knowledge of mind is the first of sciences; the records of its formation and workings are the most important of histories; and it is eminently a subject for poetical exhibition. The annals of a poet's mind are poetry. Nor has there ever been a genuine bard, who was not himself more poetical than any of his productions. They are emanations of his essence. He himself is, or has been, all that he truly and touchingly, i.e., poetically, describes. Wordsworth, indeed, never carried a pedlar's pack, nor did Byron ever command a pirate ship, or Coleridge shoot an albatross; but there were times and moods in which their thoughts intently realised, and identified themselves with the reflective wanderer, the impetuous Corsair, and the ancient mariner. They felt their feelings, thought their thoughts, burned with their passions, dreamed their dreams, and lived their lives, or died their deaths. In relation to his creations, the poet is the omnific spirit in whom they have their being. All their vitality must exist in his life. He only, in them, displays to us fragments of himself. The poem, in which a great poet should reveal the whole of himself to mankind would be a study, a delight, and a power, for which there is yet no parallel; and around which the noblest creations of the noblest writers would range themselves as subsidiary luminaries.
These thoughts have been suggested by the work before us, which, though evidently a hasty and imperfect sketch, has truth and life in it, which gave us the thrill, and laid hold of us with the power, the sensation of which has never yet failed us as a test of genius. Whoever the anonymous author may be, he is a poet. A pretender to science cannot always be safely judged of by a brief publication, for the knowledge of some facts does not imply the knowledge of other facts; but the claimant of poetic honours may generally be appreciated by a few pages, often by a few lines, for if they be poetry, he is a poet. We cannot judge of the house by the brick, but we can judge of the statue of Hercules by its foot. We felt certain of Tennyson, before we saw the book, by a few verses which had straggled into a newspaper; we are not less certain of the author of Pauline.
Pauline is the recipient of the confessions: the hero is as anonymous as the author, and this is no matter, for poet is the title both of the one and the other. The confessions have nothing in them which needs names: the external world is only reflected in them in its faintest shades; its influences are only described after they have penetrated into the intellect. We have never read anything more purely confessional. The whole composition is of the spirit, spiritual. The scenery is in the chambers of thought: the agencies are powers and passions; the events are transitions from one state of spiritual existence to another. And yet the composition is not dreamy; there is on it a deep stamp of reality. Still less is it characterised by coldness. It has visions that we love to look upon, and tones that touch the inmost heart till it responds.
The poet's confessions are introduced with an analysis of his spiritual constitution, in which he is described as having an intense consciousness of individuality, combined with a sense of power, a self-supremacy, and a "principle of restlessness which would be all, have, see, know, taste, feel all"; of this essential self, imagination is described as the characteristic quality; an imagination, steady and unfailing in its power. A "yearning after God," or supreme and universal good, unconsciously cherished through the earlier stages of the history, keeps this mind from utterly dissipating itself; and, which seems to us the only point in which the coherence fails, there is added an unaptness for love, a mere perception of the beautiful, the perception being felt more precious than its object....
And now when he has run the whole toilsome yet giddy round and arrived at the goal, there arises, even though that goal be religion, or because it is religion, a yearning after human sympathies and affections, which would not have assorted with any state or moment of the previous experience; he could not have loved before; at one time it would have been only a fancy, a cold, and yet perhaps extravagant imagining; at another, a low and selfish passion. Some souls are purified by love, others are purified for love. Othello needed not Desdemona to listen to his tale of disastrous chances; they were only external perils, rapid by elevated station; but the mind that has gone through more than his vicissitudes, been in deeper dangers, and deadlier struggles, even when it rests at last in a far higher repose and dignity, yearns for some one who will "seriously incline" to listen to the "strange eventful history," one who will sympathise and soothe, who will receive the confession, and give the absolution of heaven its best earthly ratification, that of a pure and loving heart. The poem is addressed to Pauline; with her it begins, and ends; and her presence is felt throughout, as that of a second conscience, wounded by evil, but never stern, and incorporate in a form of beauty, which blends and softens the strong contrasts of different portions of the poem, so that all might be murmured by the breath of affection.
The author cannot expect such a poem as this to be popular, to make a "hit," to produce a "sensation." The public are but slow in recognising the claims of Tennyson whom in some respects he resembles; and the common eye scarcely yet discerns among the laurel-crowned, the form of Shelley, who seems (how justly, we stop not now to discuss), to have been the god of his early idolatory. Whatever inspiration may have been upon him from that deity, the mysticism of the original oracles has been happily avoided. And whatever resemblance he may bear to Tennyson (a fellow worshipper probably at the same shrine) he owes nothing of the perhaps inferior melody of his verse to an employment of archaisms which it is difficult to defend from the charge of affectation. But he has not given himself the chance for popularity which Tennyson did, and which it is evident that he easily might have done. His poem stands alone, with none of those light but taking accompaniments, songs that sing themselves, sketches that everybody knows, light little lyrics, floating about like humming birds, around the trunk and foliage of the poem itself; and which would attract so many eyes, and delight so many ears, that will be slow to perceive the higher beauty of that composition, and to whom a sycamore is no sycamore, unless it be "musical with bees."
THOMAS DE QUINCEY
De Quincey has been said to have "taken his place in our literature as the author of about 150 magazine articles," and, though chiefly remembered by his Confessions of an Opium Eater and by his wonderful experiments in "impassioned prose," there can be no question that his critical work occupied much of his attention, and was nearly always original. In many respects his point of view was perverse, and towards his contemporaries occasionally spiteful; while his tendency to dwell upon disputed points was apt to obscure the general impression.
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It is interesting to compare his unmeasured condemnation of Pope with Kingsley's eulogy: since both were, more or less, directly inspired by the contrast of eighteenth century correctness to the poetical gospel of the Lake Poets. From the two articles we can obtain a fair and emphatic statement of "both sides of the case."
DE QUINCEY ON POPE
[From Tait's Edinburgh Magazine, May, 1851]
Whom shall we pronounce a fit writer to be laid before an auditory of working-men, as a model of what is just in composition—fit either for conciliating their regard to literature at first or afterwards for sustaining it? The qualifications for such a writer are apparently these two; first, that he should deal chiefly with the elder and elementary affections of man, and under those relations which concern man's grandest capacities; secondly, that he should treat his subject with solemnity, and not with sneer—with earnestness, as one under a prophet's burden of impassioned truth, and not with the levity of a girl hunting a chance-started caprice. I admire Pope in the very highest degree; but I admire him as a pyrotechnic artist for producing brilliant and evanescent effects out of elements that have hardly a moment's life within them. There is a flash and a startling explosion, then there is a dazzling coruscation, all purple and gold; the eye aches under the suddenness of a display that, springing like a burning arrow out of darkness, rushes back into the darkness with arrowy speed, and in a moment is all over. Like festal shows, or the hurrying music of such shows—
It was, and it is not.
Untruly, therefore, was it ever fancied of Pope, that he belonged by his classification to the family of the Drydens. Dryden had within him a principle of continuity which was not satisfied without lingering upon his own thoughts, brooding over them, and oftentimes pursuing them through their unlinkings with the sequaciousness (pardon a Coleridgian word) that belongs to some process of creative nature, such as the unfolding of a flower. But Pope was all jets and tongues of flame; all showers of scintillation and sparkle. Dryden followed, genially, an impulse of his healthy nature. Pope obeyed, spasmodically, an overmastering febrile paroxysm. Even in these constitutional differences between the two are written and are legible the corresponding necessities of "utter falsehood in Pope, and of loyalty to truth in Dryden." Strange it is to recall this one striking fact, that if once in his life Dryden might reasonably have been suspected of falsehood, it was in the capital matter of religion. He ratted from his Protestant faith; and according to the literal origin of that figure he ratted; for he abjured it as rats abjure a ship in which their instinct of divination has deciphered a destiny of ruin, and at the very moment when Popery wore the promise of a triumph that might, at any rate, have lasted his time. Dryden was a papist by apostacy; and perhaps, not to speak uncharitably, upon some bias from self-interest. Pope, on the other hand, was a Papist by birth, and by a tie of honour; and he resisted all temptations to desert his afflicted faith, which temptations lay in bribes of great magnitude prospectively, and in persecutions for the present that were painfully humiliating. How base a time-server does Dryden appear on the one side! on the other, how much of a martyr should we be disposed to pronounce Pope! And yet, for all that, such is the overruling force of a nature originally sincere, the apostate Dryden wore upon his brow the grace of sincerity, whilst the pseudo-martyr Pope, in the midst of actual fidelity to his church, was at his heart a traitor—in the very oath of his allegiance to his spiritual mistress had a lie upon his lips, scoffed at her while kneeling in homage to her pretensions, and secretly forswore her doctrines while suffering insults in her service.
The differences as to truth and falsehood lay exactly where by all the external symptoms they ought not to have lain. But the reason for this anomaly was that to Dryden sincerity had been a perpetual necessity of his intellectual nature, whilst Pope, distracted by his own activities of mind, living in an irreligious generation, and beset by infidel friends, had early lost his anchorage of traditional belief; and yet, upon honourable scruple of fidelity to the suffering Church of his fathers, he sought often to dissemble the fact of his own scepticism, which often he thirsted ostentatiously to parade. Through a motive of truthfulness he became false. And in this particular instance he would, at any rate, have become false, whatever had been the native constitution of his mind. It was a mere impossibility to reconcile any real allegiance to his church with his known irreverence to religion. But upon far more subjects than this Pope was habitually false to the quality of his thoughts, always insincere, never by any accident in earnest, and consequently many times caught in ruinous self-contradiction. Is that the sort of writer to furnish an advantageous study for the precious leisure, precious as rubies, of the toil-worn artisan.
The root and pledge of this falseness in Pope lay in a disease of his mind, which he (like the Roman poet Horace) mistook for a feature of praeter-natural strength; and this disease was the incapacity of self-determination towards any paramount or abiding principles. Horace, in a well-known passage, had congratulated himself upon this disease as upon a trophy of philosophical emancipation:
Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri, Quo me cunque rapit tempestas, deferor hospes:
which words Pope translates, and applies to himself in his English adaptation of this epistle—
But ask not to what doctors I apply— Sworn to no master, of no sect am I. As drives the storm, at any door I knock; And house with Montaigne now, and now with Locke.
That is, neither one poet nor the other having, as regarded philosophy, any internal principle of gravitation or determining impulse to draw him in one direction rather than another, was left to the random control of momentary taste, accident, or caprice; and this indetermination of pure, unballasted levity both Pope and Horace mistook for a special privilege of philosophic strength. Others, it seems, were chained and coerced by certain fixed aspects of truth, and their efforts were over-ruled accordingly in one uniform line of direction. But they, the two brilliant poets, fluttered on butterfly wings to the right and the left, obeying no guidance but that of some instant and fugitive sensibility to some momentary phasis of beauty. In this dream of drunken eclecticism, and in the original possibility of such an eclecticism, lay the ground of that enormous falsehood which Pope practised from youth to age. An eclectic philosopher already, in the very title which he assumes, proclaims his self-complacency in the large liberty of error purchased by the renunciation of all controlling principles. Having served the towing-line which connected him with any external force of guiding and compulsory truth, he is free to go astray in any one of ten thousand false radiations from the true centre of rest. By his own choice he is wandering in a forest all but pathless,
—ubi passim Pallantes error recto de tramite pellit;
and a forest not of sixty days' journey, like that old Hercynian forest of Caesar's time, but a forest which sixty generations have not availed to traverse or familiarise in any one direction....
Here would be the most advantageous and remunerative station to take for one who should undertake a formal exposure of Pope's hollow-heartedness; that is, it would most commensurately reward the pains and difficulties of such an investigation. But it would be too long a task for this situation, and it would be too polemic. It would move through a jungle of controversies.... Instead of this I prefer, as more amusing, as less elaborate, and as briefer, to expose a few of Pope's personal falsehoods, and falsehoods as to the notorieties of fact. Truth speculative often-times, drives its roots into depth, so dark that the falsifications to which it is liable, though detected, cannot always be exposed to the light of day—the result is known, but not therefore seen. Truth personal, on the other hand, may easily be made to confront its falsifier, not with reputation only, but with the visible shame of refutation. Such shame would settle upon every page of Pope's satires and moral epistles, oftentimes upon every couplet, if any censor, armed with an adequate knowledge of the facts, were to prosecute the inquest. And the general impression from such an inquest would be, that Pope never delineated a character, nor uttered a sentiment, nor breathed an aspiration, which he would not willingly have recast, have retracted, have abjured or trampled underfoot with the curses assigned to heresy, if by such an act he could have added a hue of brilliancy to his colouring or a new depth to his shadows. There is nothing he would not have sacrificed, not the most solemn of his opinions, nor the most pathetic memorial from his personal experience, in return for a sufficient consideration, which consideration meant always with him poetic effect. It is not, as too commonly is believed, that he was reckless of other people's feelings; so far from that, he had a morbid facility in his kindness; and in cases where he had no reason to suspect any lurking hostility, he showed even a paralytic benignity. But, simply and constitutionally, he was incapable of a sincere thought or a sincere emotion. Nothing that ever he uttered, were it even a prayer to God, but he had a fancy for reading it backwards. And he was evermore false, not as loving or preferring falsehood, but as one who could not in his heart perceive much real difference between what people affected to call falsehood, and what they affected to call truth.