The best, indeed, of Hazlitt's criticisms—if the word may be so far extended—are his criticisms of living men. The criticism of contemporary portraits called the 'Spirit of the Age' is one of the first of those series which have now become popular, as it is certainly one of the very best. The descriptions of Bentham, and Godwin, and Coleridge, and Horne Tooke are masterpieces in their way. They are, of course, unfair; but that is part of their charm. One would no more take for granted Hazlitt's valuation of Wordsworth than Timon's judgment of Alcibiades. Hazlitt sees through coloured glasses, but his vision is not the less penetrating. The vulgar satirist is such a one as Hazlitt somewhere mentioned who called Wordsworth a dunce. Hazlitt was quite incapable of such a solecism. He knew, nobody better, that a telling caricature must be a good likeness. If he darkens the shades, and here and there exaggerates an ungainly feature, we still know that the shade exists and that the feature is not symmetrical. De Quincey reports the saying of some admiring friend of Hazlitt, who confessed to a shudder whenever Hazlitt used his habitual gesture of placing his hand within his waistcoat. The hand might emerge armed with a dagger. Whenever, said the same friend (Heaven preserve us from our friends!), Hazlitt had been distracted for a moment from the general conversation, he looked round with a mingled air of suspicion and defiance, as though some objectionable phrase might have evaded his censure in the interval. The traits recur to us when we read Hazlitt's descriptions of the men he had known. We seem to see the dark sardonic man, watching the faces and gestures of his friends, ready to take sudden offence at any affront to his cherished prejudices, and yet hampered by a kind of nervous timidity which makes him unpleasantly conscious of his own awkwardness. He remains silent, till somebody unwittingly contradicts his unspoken thoughts—the most irritating kind of contradiction to some people!—and perhaps heaps indiscriminating praise on an old friend, a term nearly synonymous with an old enemy. Then the dagger suddenly flashes out, and Hazlitt strikes two or three rapid blows, aimed with unerring accuracy at the weak points of the armour which he knows so well. And then, as he strikes, a relenting comes over him; he remembers old days with a sudden gush of fondness, and puts in a touch of scorn for his allies or himself. Coleridge may deserve a blow, but the applause of Coleridge's enemies awakes his self-reproach. His invective turns into panegyric, and he warms for a time into hearty admiration, which proves that his irritation arises from an excess, not from a defect, of sensibility; but finding that he has gone a little too far, he lets his praise slide into equivocal description, and, with some parting epigram, he relapses into silence. The portraits thus drawn are never wanting in piquancy nor in fidelity. Brooding over his injuries and his desertions, Hazlitt has pondered almost with the eagerness of a lover upon the qualities of his intimates. Suspicion, unjust it may be, has given keenness to his investigation. He has interpreted in his own fashion every mood and gesture. He has watched his friends as a courtier watches a royal favourite. He has stored in his memory, as we fancy, the good retorts which his shyness or unreadiness smothered at the propitious moment, and brings them out in the shape of a personal description. When such a man sits at our tables, silent and apparently self-absorbed, and yet shrewd and sensitive, we may well be afraid of the dagger, though it may not be drawn till after our death, and may write memoirs instead of piercing flesh. And yet Hazlitt is no mean assassin of reputations; nor is his enmity as a rule more than the seamy side of friendship. Gifford, indeed, and Croker, 'the talking potato,' are treated as outside the pale of human rights.
Excellent as Hazlitt can be as a dispenser of praise and blame, he seems to me to be at his best in a different capacity. The first of his performances which attracted much attention was the Round Table, designed by Leigh Hunt (who contributed a few papers), on the old 'Spectator' model. In the essays afterwards collected in the volumes called 'Table Talk' and the 'Plain Speaker,' he is still better, because more certain of his position. It would, indeed, be difficult to name any writer, from the days of Addison to those of Lamb, who has equalled Hazlitt's best performances of this kind. Addison is too unlike to justify a comparison; and, to say the truth, though he has rather more in common with Lamb, the contrast is much more obvious than the resemblance. Each wants the other's most characteristic vein; Hazlitt has hardly a touch of humour, and Lamb is incapable of Hazlitt's caustic scorn for the world and himself. They have indeed in common, besides certain superficial tastes, a love of pathetic brooding over the past. But the sentiment exerted is radically different. Lamb forgets himself when brooding over an old author or summing up the 'old familiar faces.' His melancholy and his mirth cast delightful cross-lights upon the topics of which he converses, and we do not know, until we pause to reflect, that it is not the intrinsic merit of the objects, but Lamb's own character, which has caused our pleasure. They would be dull, that is, in other hands; but the feeling is embodied in the object described, and not made itself the source of our interest. With Hazlitt, it is the opposite. He is never more present than when he is dwelling upon the past. Even in criticising a book or a man, his favourite mode is to tell us how he came to love or to hate him; and in the non-critical Essays he is always appealing to us, directly or indirectly, for sympathy with his own personal emotions. He tells us how passionately he is yearning for the days of his youth; he is trying to escape from his pressing annoyances; wrapping himself in sacred associations against the fret and worry of surrounding cares; repaying himself for the scorn of women or Quarterly Reviewers by retreating into some imaginary hermitage; and it is the delight of dreaming upon which he dwells more than upon the beauty of the visions revealed to his inward eye. The force with which this sentiment is presented gives a curious fascination to some of his essays. Take, for example, the essay in 'Table Talk,' 'On Living to One's self,'—an essay written, as he is careful to tell us, on a mild January day in the country, whilst the fire is blazing on the hearth and a partridge getting ready for his supper. There he expatiates in happy isolation on the enjoyments of living as 'a silent spectator of the mighty scheme of things;' as being in the world, and not of it; watching the clouds and the stars, poring over a book, or gazing at a picture without a thought of becoming an author or an artist. He has drifted into a quiet little backwater, and congratulates himself in all sincerity on his escape from the turbulent stream outside. He drinks in the delight of rest at every pore; reduces himself for the time to the state of a polyp drifting on the warm ocean stream, and becomes a voluptuous hermit. He calls up the old days when he acted up to his principles, and found pleasure enough in endless meditation and quiet observation of nature. He preaches most edifyingly on the disappointments, the excitements, the rough impacts of hard facts upon sensitive natures, which haunt the world outside, and declares, in all sincerity, 'this sort of dreaming existence is the best; he who quits it to go in search of realities generally barters repose for repeated disappointments and vain regrets.' He is sincere, and therefore eloquent; and we need not, unless we please, add the remark that he enjoys rest because it is a relief from toil; and that he will curse the country as heartily as any man if doomed to entire rest. This meditation on the phenomena of his own sensations leads him often into interesting reflections of a psychological kind. He analyses his own feelings with constant eagerness, as he analyses the character of his enemies. A good specimen is the essay 'On Antiquity' in the 'Plain Speaker,' which begins with some striking remarks on the apparently arbitrary mode in which some objects and periods seem older to us than others, in defiance of chronology. The monuments of the Middle Ages seem more antique than the Greek statues and temples with their immortal youth. 'It is not the full-grown, articulated, thoroughly accomplished periods of the world that we regard with the pity or reverence due to age, so much as those imperfect, unformed, uncertain periods which seem to totter on the verge of non-existence, to shrink from the grasp of our feeble imagination, as they crawl out of, or retire into the womb of time, of which our utmost assurance is to doubt whether they ever were or not.' And then, as usual, he passes to his own experience, and meditates on the changed aspect of the world in youth and maturer life. The petty, personal emotions pass away, whilst the grand and ideal 'remains with us unimpaired in its lofty abstraction from age to age.' Therefore, though the inference is not quite clear, he can never forget the first time he saw Mrs. Siddons act, or the appearance of Burke's 'Letter to a Noble Lord.' And then, in a passage worthy of Sir Thomas Browne, he describes the change produced as our minds are stereotyped, as our most striking thoughts become truisms, and we lose the faculty of admiration. In our youth 'art woos us; science tempts us with her intricate labyrinths; each step presents unlooked-for vistas, and closes upon us our backward path. Our onward road is strange, obscure, and infinite. We are bewildered in a shadow, lost in a dream. Our perceptions have the brightness and indistinctness of a trance. Our continuity of consciousness is broken, crumbles, and falls to pieces. We go on learning and forgetting every hour. Our feelings are chaotic, confused, strange to each other and ourselves.' But in time we learn by rote the lessons which we had to spell out in our youth. 'A very short period (from 15 to 25 or 30) includes the whole map and table of contents of human life. From that time we may be said to live our lives over again, repeat ourselves—the same thoughts return at stated intervals, like the tunes of a barrel-organ; and the volume of the universe is no more than a form of words, a book of reference.'
From such musings Hazlitt can turn to describe any fresh impression which has interested him, in spite of his occasional weariness, with a freshness and vivacity which proves that his eye had not grown dim, nor his temperament incapable of enjoyment. He fell in love with Miss Sarah Wilson at the tolerably ripe age of 43; and his desire to live in the past is not to be taken more seriously than his contempt for his literary reputation. It lasts only till some vivid sensation occurs in the present. In congenial company he could take a lively share in conversation, as is proved not only by external evidence, but by his very amusing book of conversations with Northcote—an old cynic out of whom it does not seem that anybody else could strike many sparks,—or from the essay, partly historical, it is to be supposed, in which he records his celebrated discussion with Lamb, on persons whom one would wish to have seen. But perhaps some of his most characteristic performances in this line are those in which he anticipates the modern taste for muscularity. His wayward disposition to depreciate ostensibly his own department of action, leads him to write upon the 'disadvantages of intellectual superiority,' and to maintain the thesis that the glory of the Indian jugglers is more desirable than that of a statesman. And perhaps the same sentiment, mingled with sheer artistic love of the physically beautiful, prompts his eloquence upon the game of fives—in which he praises the great player Cavanagh as warmly, and describes his last moments as pathetically, as if he were talking of Rousseau—and still more his immortal essay on the fight between the Gasman and Bill Neate. Prize-fighting is fortunately fallen into hopeless decay, and we are pretty well ashamed of the last flicker of enthusiasm created by Sayers and Heenan. We may therefore enjoy without remorse the prose-poem in which Hazlitt kindles with genuine enthusiasm to describe the fearful glories of the great battle. Even to one who hates the most brutalising of amusements, the spirit of the writer is impressibly contagious. We condemn, but we applaud; we are half disposed for the moment to talk the old twaddle about British pluck; and when Hazlitt's companion on his way home pulls out of his pocket a volume of the 'Nouvelle Heloise,' admit for a moment that 'Love of the Fancy is,' as the historian assures us, 'compatible with a cultivation of sentiment.' If Hazlitt had thrown as much into his description of the Battle of Waterloo, and had taken the English side, he would have been a popular writer. But even Hazlitt cannot quite embalm the memories of Cribb, Belcher, and Gully.
It is time, however, to stop. More might be said by a qualified writer of Hazlitt's merits as a judge of pictures or of the stage. The same literary qualities mark all his writings. De Quincey, of course, condemns Hazlitt, as he does Lamb, for a want of 'continuity.' 'No man can be eloquent,' he says, 'whose thoughts are abrupt, insulated, capricious, and nonsequacious.' But then De Quincey will hardly allow that any man is eloquent except Jeremy Taylor, Sir Thomas Browne, and Thomas De Quincey. Hazlitt certainly does not belong to their school; nor, on the other hand, has he the plain homespun force of Swift and Cobbett. And yet readers who do not insist upon measuring all prose by the same standard, will probably agree that if Hazlitt is not a great rhetorician, if he aims at no gorgeous effects of complex harmony, he has yet an eloquence of his own. It is indeed an eloquence which does not imply quick sympathy with many moods of feeling, or an intellectual vision at once penetrating and comprehensive. It is the eloquence characteristic of a proud and sensitive nature, which expresses a very keen if narrow range of feeling, and implies a powerful grasp of one, if only one side of the truth. Hazlitt harps a good deal upon one string; but that string vibrates forcibly. His best passages are generally an accumulation of short, pithy sentences, shaped in strong feeling, and coloured by picturesque association; but repeating, rather than corroborating, each other. The last blow goes home, but each falls on the same place. He varies the phrase more than the thought; and sometimes he becomes obscure, because he is so absorbed in his own feelings that he forgets the very existence of strangers who require explanation. Read through Hazlitt, and this monotony becomes a little tiresome; but dip into him at intervals, and you will often be astonished that so vigorous a writer has not left some more enduring monument of his remarkable powers.
 In the excellent Essay prefixed to 'Hazlitt's Literary Remains.'
It is a commonplace with men of literary eminence to extol the man of deeds above the man of words. Scott was half ashamed of scribbling novels whilst Wellington was winning battles; and, if Carlyle be a true prophet, the most brilliant writer is scarcely worthy to unloose the shoe's latchet of the silent heroes of action. Perhaps it is graceful in masters of the art to depreciate their own peculiar function. People who have less personal interest in the matter need not be so modest. I will confess, at any rate, to preferring the men who have sown some new seed of thought above the heroes whose names mark epochs in history. I would rather make the nation's ballads than give its laws, dictate principles than carry them into execution, and leaven a country with new ideas than translate them into facts, inevitably mangling and distorting them in the process. And therefore I would rather have written 'Hamlet' than defeated the Spanish Armada; or 'Paradise Lost,' than have turned out the Long Parliament; or 'Gray's Elegy,' than have stormed the heights of Abram; or the Waverley Novels, than have won Waterloo or even Trafalgar. I would rather have been Voltaire or Goethe than Frederick or Napoleon; and I suspect that when the poor historian of the nineteenth century begins his superhuman work, he will, as a thorough philosopher, attribute more importance to two or three recent English writers than to all the English statesmen who have been strutting and fretting their little hour at Westminster. And therefore, too, I wish that Disraeli could have stuck to his novels instead of rising to be Prime Minister of England. This opinion is, of course, entirely independent of any judgment which may be passed upon Disraeli's political career. Granting that his cause has always been the right one, granting that he has rendered it essential services, I should still wish that his brilliant literary ability had been allowed to ripen undisturbed by all the worries and distractions of parliamentary existence. Persons who think the creation of a majority in the House of Commons a worthy reward for the labours of a lifetime will, of course, differ from this conclusion. Disraeli, at any rate, ought to have agreed. No satirist has ever struck off happier portraits of the ordinary British legislator, or been more alive to the stupefying influences of a parliamentary career. We have gone through a peaceful revolution since Disraeli first sketched Rigby and Taper and Tadpole from the life; but the influences which they embodied are still as powerful, and a parliamentary atmosphere as little propitious to the pure intellect, as ever. Coningsby, if he still survives, must have lost many illusions; he must have herded with the Tapers and Tadpoles, and prompted Rigby to write slashing articles on his behalf in the quarterlies. He must have felt that his intellect was cruelly wasted in talking claptrap and platitude to suit the thick comprehensions of his party; and the huge dead weight of the invincible impenetrability to ideas of ordinary mankind must have lain heavy upon his soul. How many Tadpoles, one would like to know, still haunt the Carlton Club, or throng the ministerial benches, and how many Rigbys have forced their way into the Cabinet? That is one of the state secrets which will hardly be divulged by the only competent observer. But at any rate it is sad that the critic, who applied the lash so skilfully, should have been so unequally yoked with the objects of his contempt. Disraeli's talents for entertaining fiction may not indeed have been altogether wasted in his official career; but he at least may pardon admirers of his writing, who regret that he should have squandered powers of imagination, capable of true creative work, upon that alternation of truckling and blustering which is called governing the country.
The qualities which are of rather equivocal value in a minister of state may be admirable in the domain of literature. It is hardly desirable that the followers of a political leader should be haunted by an ever-recurring doubt as to whether his philosophical utterances express deep convictions, or the extemporised combinations of a fertile fancy, and be uncertain whether he is really putting their clumsy thoughts into clearer phrases, or foisting showy nonsense upon them for his own purposes, or simply laughing at them in his sleeve. But, in a purely literary sense, this ambiguous hovering between two meanings, this oscillation between the ironical and the serious, is always amusing, and sometimes delightful. Some simple-minded people are revolted, even in literature, by the ironical method; and tell the humorist, with an air of moral disapproval, that they never know whether he is in jest or in earnest. To such matter-of-fact persons Disraeli's novels must be a standing offence; for it is his most characteristic peculiarity that the passage from one phase to the other is imperceptible. He has moments of obvious seriousness; at frequent intervals comes a flash of downright sarcasm, as unmistakable in its meaning as the cut of a whip across your face; and elsewhere we have passages which aim unmistakably, and sometimes with unmistakable success, at rhetorical excellence. But, between the two, there is a wide field where we may interpret his meaning as we please. The philosophical theory may imply a genuine belief, or may be a mere bit of conventional filling in, or perhaps a parody of his friends or himself. The gorgeous passages may be intentionally over-coloured, or may really represent his most sincere taste. His homage may be genuine or a biting mockery. His extravagances are kept precisely at such a pitch that it is equally fair to argue that a satirist must have meant them to be absurd, or to argue only that he would have seen their absurdity in anybody else. The unfortunate critic feels himself in a position analogous to that of the suitors in the 'Merchant of Venice.' He may blunder grievously, whatever alternative he selects. If he pronounces a passage to be pure gold, it may turn out to be merely the mask of a bitter sneer; or he may declare it to be ingenious burlesque when put forward in the most serious earnest; or may ridicule it as overstrained bombast, and find that it was never meant to be anything else. It is wiser to admit that perhaps the author was not very clear himself, or possibly enjoyed that ambiguous attitude which might be interpreted according to the taste of his readers and the development of events. A man who deals in oracular utterances acquires instinctively a mode of speech which may shift its colour with every change of light. The texture of Disraeli's writings is so ingeniously shot with irony and serious sentiment that each tint may predominate by turns. It is impossible to suppose that the weaver of so cunning a web should never have intended the effects which he produces; but frequently, too, they must be the spontaneous and partly unconscious results of a peculiar intellectual temperament. Delight in blending the pathetic with the ludicrous is the characteristic of the true humorist. Disraeli is not exactly a humorist, but something for which the rough nomenclature of critics has not yet provided a distinctive name. His pathos is not sufficiently tender, nor his laughter quite genial enough. The quality which results is homologous to, though not identical with, genuine humour: for the smile we must substitute a sneer, and the element which enters into combination with the satire is something more distantly allied to poetical unction than to glittering rhetoric. The Disraelian irony thus compounded is hitherto a unique product of intellectual chemistry.
Most of Disraeli's novels are intended to set forth what, for want of a better name, must be called a religious or political creed. To grasp its precise meaning, or to determine the precise amount of earnestness with which it is set forth, is of course hopeless. Its essence is to be mysterious, and half the preacher's delight is in tantalising his disciples. At moments he cannot quite suppress the amusement with which he mocks their hopeless bewilderment. When Coningsby is on the point of entering public life, he reads a speech of one of the initiated, 'denouncing the Venetian constitution, to the amazement of several thousand persons, apparently not a little terrified by this unknown danger, now first introduced to their notice.' What more amusing than suddenly to reveal to good easy citizens that what they took for wholesome food is deadly poison, and to watch their hopeless incapacity to understand whether you are really announcing a truth or launching an epigram!
Disraeli, undoubtedly, has certain fixed beliefs which underlie and which, indeed, explain the superficial versatility of his teaching. Amongst the various doctrines with which he plays more or less seriously, two at least are deeply rooted in his mind. He holds, with a fervour in every way honourable, a belief in the marvellous endowments of his race, and connected with this belief is an almost romantic admiration for every manifestation of intellectual power. Vivian Grey, in a bit of characteristic bombast, describes himself as 'one who has worshipped the empire of the intellect;' and his career is simply an attempt to act out the principle that the world belongs of right to the cleverest. Of Sidonia, after every superlative in the language has been lavished upon his marvellous acquirements, we are told that 'the only human quality that interested him was intellect.' Intellect is equally, if not quite as exclusively, interesting to the creator of Sidonia. He admires it in all its forms—in a Jesuit or a leader of the International, in a charlatan or a statesman, or perhaps even more in one who combines the two characters; but the most interesting of all objects to Disraeli, if one may judge from his books, is a precocious youth, whose delight in the sudden consciousness of great abilities has not yet been dashed by experience. In some other writers we may learn the age of the author by the age of his hero. A novelist who adopts the common practice of painting from himself naturally finds out the merits of middle age in his later works. But in every one of Disraeli's works, from 'Vivian Grey' to 'Lothair,' the central figure is a youth, who is frequently a statesman at school, and astonishes the world before he has reached his majority. The change in the author's position is, indeed, equally marked in a different way. The youthful heroes of Disraeli's early novels are creative; in his later they become chiefly receptive. Vivian Grey and Contarini Fleming show their genius by insubordination; Coningsby and Tancred learn wisdom by sitting at the feet of Sidonia; and Lothair reduces himself so completely to a mere 'passive bucket' to be pumped into by every variety of teacher, that he is unpleasantly like a fool. Disraeli still loves ingenuous youth; but he has gained quite a new perception of the value of docility. Here and there, of course, there is a gentle gibe at juvenile vanity. 'My opinions are already formed on every subject,' says Lothair; 'that is, on every subject of importance; and, what is more, they will never change.' But such vanity has nothing offensive. The audacity with which a lad of twenty solves all the problems of the universe, excites in Disraeli genuine and really generous sympathy. Sidonia converts the sentiment into a theory. Experience, he says, is less than nothing to a creative mind. 'Almost everything that is great has been done by youth.' The greatest captains, the greatest poets, artists, statesmen, and religious reformers of the world, have done their best work by middle life. All theories upon all subjects can be proved from history; and the great Sidonia is not to be pinned down by too literal an interpretation. But at least he is expressing Disraeli's admiration for intellect which has the fervour, rapidity, and reckless audacity of youth, which trusts its intuitions instead of its calculations, and takes its crudest guesses for flashes of inspiration. The exuberant buoyancy of his youthful heroes gives a certain contagious charm to Disraeli's pages, which is attractive even when verging upon extravagance. Our popular novelists have learned to associate high spirits with muscularity; their youthful heroes are either athletes destined to put on flesh in later days, or premature prigs with serious convictions and a tendency to sermons and blue-books. After a course of such books, Disraeli's genuine love of talent is refreshing. He dwells fondly upon the effervescence of genius which drives men to kick over the traces of respectability and strike out short cuts to fame. If at bottom his heroes are rather eccentric than original, they have at least a righteous hatred of all bores and Philistines, and despise orthodoxy, political economy, and sound information generally. They can provide you with new theories of politics and history, as easily as Mercutio could pour out a string of similes; and we have scarcely the heart to ask whether this vivacious ebullition implies the process of fermentation by which a powerful mind clears its crude ideas, or only an imitation of the process by which superlative cleverness apes true genius. Intellect, as it becomes sobered by middle age and by scholastic training, is no longer so charming. When its guesses ossify into fixed opinions, and its arrogance takes the airs of scientific dogmatism, it is always a tiresome and may be a dangerous quality. Some indication of what Disraeli means by intellect may be found in the preface to 'Lothair.' Speaking of the conflict between science and the old religions, he says that it is a most flagrant fallacy to suppose that modern ages have a monopoly of scientific discovery. The greatest discoveries are not those of modern ages. 'No one for a moment can pretend that printing is so great a discovery as writing, or algebra, or language. What are the most brilliant of our chemical discoveries compared with the invention of fire and the metals?' Hipparchus ranks with the Keplers and Newtons; and Copernicus was but the champion of Pythagoras. To say nothing of the characteristic assumption that somebody 'discovered' language and fire in the same sense as modern chemists discovered spectrum analysis, the argument is substantially that, because Hipparchus was as great a genius as Newton, the views of the ancients upon religious or historical questions deserve just as much respect as those of the moderns. In other words, the accumulated knowledge of ages has taught us nothing. 'What is conveniently called progress' is merely a polite name for change; and one clever man's guess is as good as another, whatever the period at which he lived. This theory is the correlative of Sidonia's assertion, that experience is useless to the man of genius. The experience of the race is just as valueless. Modern criticism is nothing but an intellectual revolt of the Teutonic races against the Semitic revelation, as the French revolution was a political revolt of the Celtic races. The disturbance will pass away; and we shall find that Abraham and Moses knew more about the universe than Hegel or Comte. The prophets of the sacred race were divinely endowed with an esoteric knowledge concealed from the vulgar behind mystic symbols and ceremonies. If the old oracles are dumb, some gleams of the same power still remain, and in the language of mere mortals are called genius. We find it in perfection only amongst the Semites, whose finer organisation, indicated by their musical supremacy, enables them to catch the still small voice inaudible to our grosser ears. The Aryans, indeed, have some touches of a cognate power, but it is dulled by a more sensuous temperament. They can enter the court of the Gentiles; but their mortal vesture is too muddy for admission into the holy of holies. If ever they catch a glimpse of the truth, it is in their brilliant youth, when, still uncorrupted by worldly politics, they can induce some Sidonia partly to draw aside the veil.
The intellect, then, as Disraeli conceives it, is not the faculty denounced by theologians, which delights in systematic logical inquiry, and hopes to attain truth by the unrestricted conflict of innumerable minds. It is an abnormal power of piercing mysteries granted only to a few distinguished seers. It does not lead to an earthly science, expressible in definite formulas, and capable of being taught in Sunday schools. The knowledge cannot be fully communicated to the profane, and is at most to be shadowed forth in dim oracular utterances. Disraeli's instinctive affinity for some kind of mystic teaching is indicated by Vivian Grey's first request to his father. 'I wish,' he exclaims, 'to make myself master of the latter Platonists. I want Plotinus and Porphyry, and Iamblichus, and Syrianus, and Mosanius Tyrius, and Pericles, and Hierocles, and Sallustius, and Damasenis!' But Vivian Grey, as we know, wanted also to conquer the Marquis of Carabas; and the odd combination between a mystic philosopher and a mere political charlatan displays Disraeli's peculiar irony. Intellect with him is a double-edged weapon: it is at once the faculty which reads the dark riddle of the universe, and the faculty which makes use of Tapers and Tadpoles. Our modern Daniel is also a shrewd electioneering agent. Cynics, indeed, have learned in these later days to regard mystery as too often synonymous with nonsense. The difficulty of interpreting esoteric doctrines to the vulgar generally consists in this—that the doctrines are mere collections of big words which collapse, instead of becoming lucid, when put into plain English. The mystagogue is but too closely allied to the charlatan. He may be straining to utter some secret too deep for human utterance, or he is looking wise to conceal absolute vacuity of thought. And at other times he must surely be laughing at the youthful audacity which fancies that speculation is to be carried on by a series of sudden inspirations, instead of laborious accumulation of rigorously-tested reasonings.
The three novels, 'Coningsby,' 'Sybil,' and 'Tancred,' published from 1844 to 1847, form, as their author has told us, a trilogy intended to set forth his views of political, social, and religious problems. Each of them exhibits, in one form or other, this peculiar train of thought. 'Coningsby,' if I am not mistaken, is by far the ablest, and probably owes its pre-eminence to the simple fact that it deals with the topics in which its author felt the keenest interest. The social speculations of 'Sybil' savour too much of the politician getting up a telling case; and the religious speculations of 'Tancred' are pushed to the extreme verge of the grotesque. But 'Coningsby' wants little but a greater absence of purpose to be a first-rate novel. If Disraeli had confined himself to the merely artistic point of view, he might have drawn a picture of political society worthy of comparison with 'Vanity Fair.' Lord Monmouth is evidently related to the Marquis of Steyne; and Rigby is a masterpiece, though perhaps rather too suggestive of a direct study from nature. Lord Monmouth is the ideal type of the 'Venetian' aristocracy; and Rigby, like his historical namesake, of the corrupt wire-pullers who flourished under their shade. The consistent Epicureanism of the noble, in whom a sense of duty is only represented by a vague instinct that he ought to preserve his political influence as part of his personal splendour, and as an insurance against possible incendiarism, is admirably contrasted by the coarser selfishness of Rigby, who relieves his patron of all dirty work on consideration of feathering his own nest, and fancying himself to be a statesman. The whole background, in short, is painted with inimitable spirit and fidelity. The one decided failure amongst the subsidiary characters is Lucian Grey, the professional parasite, who earns his dinners by his witty buffoonery. Somehow, his fun is terribly dreary on paper; perhaps because, as a parasite, he is not allowed to indulge in the cutting irony which animates all Disraeli's best sayings. The simple buffoonery of exuberant animal spirits is not in Disraeli's line. When he can neither be bitter nor rhetorical, he is apt to drop into mere mechanical flatness. But nobody has described more vigorously all the meaner forms of selfishness, stupidity, and sycophancy engendered under 'that fatal drollery,' as Tancred describes it, 'called a parliamentary government.' The pompous dulness which affects philosophical gravity, the appetite for the mere dry husks and bran of musty constitutional platitude which takes the airs of political wisdom, the pettifogging cunning which supposes the gossips of lobbies and smoking-rooms to be the embodiment of statesmanship, the selfishness which degrades political warfare into a branch of stock-jobbing, and takes a great principle to be useful in suggesting electioneering cries, as Telford thought that navigable rivers were created to feed canals,—these and other tendencies favoured by party government are hit off to the life. 'The man they called Dizzy' can despise a miserable creature having the honour to be as heartily as Carlyle himself, and, if his theories are serious, sometimes took our blessed Constitution to be a mere shelter for such vermin as the Tapers and Tadpoles. Two centuries of a parliamentary monarchy and a parliamentary Church, says Coningsby, have made government detested, and religion disbelieved. 'Political compromises,' says the omniscient Sidonia, 'are not to be tolerated except at periods of rude transition. An educated nation recoils from the imperfect vicariat of what is called representative government. Your House of Commons, that has absorbed all other powers in the State, will in all probability fall more rapidly than it rose.' In short, the press will take its place. This is one of those impromptu theories of history which are not to be taken too literally. Indeed, the satirical background is intended to throw into clearer relief a band of men of genius to whom has been granted some insight into the great political mystery. Who, then, are the true antithesis to the Tapers and Tadpoles? Should we compare them with a Cromwell, who has a creed as well as a political platform; and contrast 'our young Queen and our old institutions' with some new version of the old war cry, 'The sword of the Lord and of Gideon'? Or may we at least have a glimpse of a Chatham, wakening the national spirit to sweep aside the Newcastles and Bubb Dodingtons of the present day? Or, if Cromwells and Chathams be too old-fashioned, and translate the Semitic principle into a narrow English Protestantism, may we not have some genuine revolutionary fanatic, a Cimourdain or a Gauvain, to burn up all this dry chaff of mouldy politics with the fire of a genuine human passion? Such a contrast, however effective, would have been a little awkward in the year 1844. Young England had an ideal standard of its own, and Disraeli must be the high priest of its peculiar hero-worship. Whether, in this case, political trammels injured his artistic sense, or whether his peculiar artistic tendencies injured his political career, is a question rather for the historian than the critic.
Certain it is, at any rate, that the cenacle of politicians, whose interests are to be thrown in relief against this mass of grovelling corruption, forms but a feeble contrast, even in the purely artistic sense. We have no right to doubt that Disraeli thought that Coningsby and his friends represented the true solution of the difficulty; yet if anybody had wished to demonstrate that a genuine belief might sometimes make a man more contemptible than hypocritical selfishness, he could scarcely have defended the paradox more ingeniously. 'Unconscious cerebration' has become a popular explanation of many phenomena; and it would hardly be fanciful to assume that one lobe of Disraeli's brain is in the habit of secreting bitter satire unknown to himself, and cunningly inserting it behind the thin veil of sentiment unconsciously elaborated by the other. We are prepared, indeed, to accept the new doctrine, as cleverly as Balzac could have inoculated us with a provisional belief in animal magnetism, to heighten our interest in a thrilling story of wonder. We have judicious hints of esoteric political doctrine, which has been partially understood by great men at various periods of our history. The whole theory is carefully worked out in the opening pages of 'Sybil.' The most remarkable thing about our popular history, so Disraeli tells us, is, that it is 'a complete mystification;' many of the principal characters never appear, as, for example, Major Wildman, who was 'the soul of English politics from 1640 to 1688.' It is not surprising, therefore, that two of our three chief statesmen in later times should be systematically depreciated. The younger Pitt, indeed, has been extolled, though on wrong grounds. But Bolingbroke and Shelburne, our two finest political geniuses, are passed over with contempt by ordinary historians. A historian might amuse himself by tracing the curious analogy between the most showy representatives of the old race of statesmen and the modern successor who delights to sing his praises. The Patriot King is really to some extent an anticipation of Disraeli's peculiar democratic Toryism. But the chief merit of Shelburne would seem to be that the qualities which earned for him the nickname of Malagrida made him convenient as a hypothetical depository of some esoteric scheme of politics. For the purposes of fiction, at any rate, we may believe that English politics are a riddle of which only three men have guessed the true solution since the 'financial' revolution of 1688. Pitt was only sound so far as he was the pupil of Shelburne; but Bolingbroke, Shelburne, and Disraeli possessed the true key, and fully understood, for example, that Charles I. was the 'holocaust of direct taxation.' But frankly to expound this theory would be to destroy its charm, and to cast pearls before political economists. And, therefore, its existence is dimly adumbrated rather than its meaning revealed; and we have hints that there are wheels within wheels, and that in the lowest deep of mystery there is a yet deeper mystery. Coningsby and his associates, the brilliant Buckhurst and the rich Catholic country gentleman, Eustace Lyle, are but unripe neophytes, feeling after the true doctrine, but not yet fully initiated. The superlative Sidonia, the man who by thirty has exhausted all the sources of human knowledge, become master of the learning of every nation, of all tongues, dead or living, and of every literature, western and oriental; who has pursued all the speculations of science to their last term; who has lived in all orders of society, and observed man in every phase of civilisation; who has a penetrative intellect which enables him to follow as by intuition the most profound of all questions, and a power of communicating with precision the most abstruse ideas; whose wealth would make Monte Cristo seem a pauper; who is so far above his race that woman seems to him a toy, and man a machine,—this thrice miraculous Sidonia, who can yet stoop from his elevation to win a steeplechase from the Gentiles, or return their hospitality by an exquisite dinner, is the fitting depository of the precious secret. No one can ever accuse Disraeli of a want of audacity. He does not, like weaker men, shrink from introducing men of genius because he is afraid that he will not be able to make them talk in character; and when, in 'Venetia,' he introduces Byron and Shelley, he is kind enough to write poetry for them, which produces as great an effect as the original.
And now having a true prophet, having surrounded him with a band of disciples, so that the transmitted rays of wisdom may be bearable to our mortal eyes, we expect some result worthy of this startling machinery. Let the closed casket open, and the magic light stream forth to dazzle the gazing world. We know, alas! too well that our expectation cannot be satisfied. There is not any secret doctrine in politics. Bolingbroke may have been a very clever man, but he could not see through a stone wall. The whole hypothesis is too extravagant to admit of any downright prosaic interpretation. But something might surely be done for the imagination, if not for the reason. Some mystic formula might be pronounced which might pass sufficiently well for an oracle so long as we are in the charmed world of fiction. Let Sidonia only repeat some magniloquent gnome from Greek, or Hebrew, or German philosophers, give us a scrap of Hegel, or of the Talmud, and we will willingly take it to be the real thing for imaginative purposes, as we allow ourselves to believe that some theatrical goblet really contains a fluid of magical efficacy. Unluckily, however, and the misfortune illustrates the inconvenience of combining politics with fiction, Disraeli had something to say, and still more unluckily that something was a mere nothing. It was the creed of Young England; and even greater imaginative power might have failed in the effort to instil the most temporary vitality into that flimsy collection of sham beliefs. A mere sentimentalist might possibly have introduced it in such a way as to impress us at least with his own sincerity. But how is such doctrine to be uttered by lips which are, at the same time, pouring out the shrewdest of sarcasms against politicians who, if more pachydermatous, were at least more manly? In a newfangled church, amidst incense and genuflexions and ecclesiastical millinery, one may listen patiently to a ritualist sermon; but no mortal skill could make ritualism sound plausible in regions to which the outer air of common sense is fairly admitted. The only mode of escape is by slurring over the doctrine, or by proclaiming it with an air of burlesque. Disraeli keeps most dexterously in the region of the ambiguous. He does at last produce his political wares with a certain aplomb; but a doubtful smile about his lips encourages some of the spectators to fancy that he estimates their value pretty accurately. His last book of 'Coningsby' opens with a Christmas scene worthy of an illustrated keepsake. We have buttery-hatches, and beef, and ale, and red cloaks, and a lord of misrule, and a hobby-horse, and a boar's head with a canticle.
Caput apri defero, Reddens laudes Domino,
sing the noble ladies, and we are left to wonder whether Disraeli blushed or sneered as he wrote. Certainly we find it hard to recognise the minister who proposed to put down ritualism by an Act of Parliament. He does his very best to be serious, and anticipates critics by a passing blow at the utilitarians; but we have a shrewd suspicion that the blow is mere swagger, to keep up his courage, or perhaps a covert hint that though he can at times fool his friends, he is not a man to be trifled with by his enemies. What, we must ask, would Sidonia say to this dreariest of all shams? When Coningsby meets Sidonia in the forest, and expresses a wish to see Athens, the mysterious stranger replies, 'The age of ruins is past; have you seen Manchester?' It would, indeed, be absurd to infer that Disraeli does not see the weak side of Manchester. After dilating, in 'Tancred,' upon the vitality of Damascus, he observes, 'As yet the disciples of progress have not been able exactly to match this instance; but it is said that they have great faith in the future of Birkenhead.' Perhaps the true sentiment is that the Semitic races, the unchanging depositaries of eternal principles, look with equal indifference upon the mushroom growths of Aryan civilisation, whether an Athens or a Birkenhead be the product, but admit that the living has so far an advantage over the dead. To find the moral of 'Coningsby' may be impracticable and is at any rate irrelevant. The way to enjoy it is to look at the world through the eyes of Sidonia. The world—at least the Gentile world—is a farce. Ninety-nine men out of a hundred are fools. Some are prosy and reasoning fools, and make excellent butts for stinging sarcasms; others are flighty and imaginative fools, and can best be ridiculed by burlesquing their folly. As for the hundredth man—the youthful Coningsby or Tancred—his enthusiasm is refreshing, and his talent undeniable; let us watch his game, applaud his talents, and always remember that great talent is almost as necessary for consummate folly as for consummate success. Adopting such maxims, we can enjoy 'Coningsby' throughout; for we need not care whether we are laughing at the author or with him. We may heartily enjoy his admirable flashes of wit, and, when he takes a serious tone, may oscillate agreeably between the beliefs that he is in solemn earnest, or in his bitterest humour; only we must not quite forget that the farce has a touch in it of tragedy, and that there is a real mystery somewhere. Satire, pure and simple, becomes wearisome. If a latent sense of humour is necessary to prevent a serious man from becoming a bore, it is still more true that some serious creed, however misty and indefinite, is required to raise the mere mocker into a genuine satirist. That is the use of Sidonia. He is ostensibly but a subordinate figure, and yet, if we struck him out, the whole composition would be thrown out of harmony. Looking through his eyes, we can laugh, but we laugh with that sense of dignity which arises out of the consciousness of a secret wisdom, shadowy and indefinite in the highest degree, perilously apt to sound like nonsense if cramped by a definite utterance, but yet casting over the whole picture a kind of magical colouring, which may be mere trickery or may be a genuine illumination, but which, whilst we are not too exacting, brings out pleasant and perplexing effects. The lights and shadows fluctuate, and solid forms melt provokingly into mist; but we must learn to enjoy the uncertain twilight which prevails on the border-land between romance and reality, if we would enjoy the ambiguities and the ironies and the mysteries of 'Coningsby.'
The other two parts of the trilogy show the same qualities, but in different proportions. 'Sybil' is chiefly devoted to what its author calls 'an accurate and never-exaggerated picture of a remarkable period in our social history.' We need not inquire into the accuracy. It is enough to say that in this particular department Disraeli shows himself capable of rivalling in force and vivacity the best of those novelists who have tried to turn blue-books upon the condition of the people into sparkling fiction. If he is distinctly below the few novelists of truer purpose who have put into an artistic shape a profound and first-hand impression of those social conditions which statisticians try to tabulate in blue-books,—if he does not know Yorkshiremen in the sense in which Miss Bronte knew them, and still less in the sense in which Scott knew the Borderers—he can write a disguised pamphlet upon the effects of trades' unions in Sheffield with a brilliancy which might excite the envy of Mr. Charles Reade. But in 'Tancred' we again come upon the true vein of mystery in which is Disraeli's special idiosyncrasy; and the effect is still more bewildering than in 'Coningsby.' Giving our hands to our singular guide, we are to be led into the most secret place, and be initiated into the very heart of the mystery. Tancred is Coningsby once more, but Coningsby no longer satisfied with the profound political teaching of Bolingbroke, and eager to know the very last word of that riddle which, once solved, all theological and social and political difficulties will become plain. He is exalted to the pitch of enthusiasm at which even supernatural machinery may be introduced without a sense of discord. And yet, intentionally or from the inevitable conditions of the scheme, the satire deepens with the mystery; and the more solemn become the words and gestures of our high priest, the more marked becomes his ambiguous air of irony. Good, innocent Tancred fancies that his doubts may be solved by an English bishop; and Disraeli revels in the ludicrous picture of a young man of genius taking a bishop seriously. Yet it must be admitted that Tancred's own theory sounds to the vulgar Saxon even more nonsensical than the episcopal doctrine. His notion is that 'inspiration is not only a divine but a local quality,' and that God can only speak to man upon the soil of Palestine—a theory which has afterwards to be amended by the hypothesis, that even in Palestine, God can only speak to a man of Semitic race. Lest we should fancy that this belief contains an element of irony, it is approved by the great Sidonia; but even Sidonia is not worthy of the deep mysteries before us. He intimates to Tancred that there is one from whose lips even he himself has derived the sacred knowledge. The Spanish priest, Alonzo Lara, Jewish by race, but, as a Catholic prelate, imbued with all the later learning—a member of that Church which was founded by a Hebrew, and still retains some of the 'magnetic influence'—this great man, in whom all influences thus centre, is the only worthy hierophant. And thus, after a few irresistible blows at London society, we find ourselves fairly on the road to Palestine, and listen for the great revelation. We scorn the remark of the simple Lord Milford, that there is 'absolutely no sport of any kind' near Jerusalem; and follow Tancred where his ancestors have gone before him. We bend in reverence before the empty tomb of the Divine Prince of the house of David, and fall into ecstasies in the garden of Bethany. Solace comes, but no inspiration. Though the marvellous Lara is briefly introduced, and though a beautiful young woman comes straight out of the 'Arabian Nights,' and asks the insoluble question, What would have become of the Atonement, if the Jews had not persuaded the Romans to crucify Jesus? we are still tantalised by the promised revelation, which melts before us like a mirage. Once, indeed, on the sacred mountain of Sinai, a vision greets the weary pilgrim, in which a guardian angel talks in the best style of Sidonia or Disraeli. But we are constantly distracted by our guide's irresistible propensity for a little political satire. A Syrian Vivian Grey is introduced to us, whose intrigues are as audacious and futile as those of his English parallel, but whose office seems to be the purely satirical one of interpreting Tancred's lofty dreams into political intrigues suited to a shrewd but ignorant Oriental. Once we are convinced that the promise is to be fulfilled. Tancred reaches the strange tribe of the Ansarey, shrouded in a more than Chinese seclusion. Can they be the guardians of the 'Asian mystery'? To our amazement it turns out that they are of the faith of Mr. Phoebus of 'Lothair.' They have preserved the old gods of paganism; and their hopes, which surely cannot be those of Disraeli, are that the world will again fall prostrate before Apollo (who has a striking likeness to Tancred) or Astarte. What does it all mean? or does it all mean anything? The most solemn revelation has been given by that mysterious figure which appeared in Sinai, in 'the semblance of one who, though not young, was still untouched by time; a countenance like an Oriental night, dark yet lustrous, mystical yet clear. Thought, rather than melancholy, spoke from the pensive passion of his eyes; while on his lofty forehead glittered a star that threw a solemn radiance on the repose of his majestic forehead.' After explaining that he was the Angel of Arabia, this person told Tancred to 'announce the sublime and solacing doctrine of Theocratic Equality.' But when Tancred, after his startling adventures, got back to Jerusalem, he found his anxious parents, the Duke and Duchess of Bellamont, accompanied by the triumvirate of bear-leaders which their solicitude had appointed to look after him—Colonel Brace, the Rev. Mr. Bernard, and Dr. Roby. And thus the novel ends like the address of Miss Hominy. 'Out laughs the stern philosopher,' or, shall we say, the incarnation of commonplace, 'What, ho! arrest me that wandering agency; and so, the vision fadeth.' Theocratic equality has not yet taken its place as an electioneering cry.
Has our guide been merely blowing bubbles for our infantile amusement? Surely he has been too solemn. We could have sworn that some of the passages were written, if not with tears in his eyes, at least with a genuine sensibility to the solemn and romantic elements of life. Or was he carried away for a time into real mysticism for which he seeks to apologise by adopting the tone of the man of the world? Surely his satire is too keen, even when it causes the collapse of his own fancies. Even Coningsby and Lord Marney, the heroes of the former novels, appear in 'Tancred' as shrewd politicians, and obviously Tancred will accept the family seat when he gets back to his paternal mansion. We can only solve the problem, if we are prosaic enough to insist upon a solution, by accepting the theory of a double consciousness, and resolving to pray with the mystic, and sneer with the politician, as the fit takes us. It is an equal proof of intellectual dulness to be dead to either aspect of things. Let us agree that a brief sojourn in the world of fancy or in the world of blue-books is a qualification for a keener enjoyment of the other, and not brutally attempt to sever them by fixed lines. Each is best seen in the light reflected from the other, and we had best admit the fact without asking awkward questions; but they are blended after a perfectly original fashion in the strange phantasmagoria of 'Tancred.' Let the images of crusaders and modern sportsmen, Hebrew doctors and classical artists, mediaeval monks and Anglican bishops, perform their strange antics before us, and the scenery shift from Manchester to Damascus, or Pall Mall to Bethany, in obedience to laws dictated by the fancy instead of the reason; let each of the motley actors be alternately the sham and the reality, and our moods shift as arbitrarily from grave to gay, from high-strung enthusiasm to mocking cynicism, and we shall witness a performance which is always amusing and original, and sometimes even poetical, and of which only the harshest realist will venture to whisper that, after all, it is a mere mystification.
But it is time to leave stories in which the critic, however anxious to observe the purely literary aspect, is constantly tempted to diverge into the political or theological theories suggested. The 'trilogy' was composed after Disraeli had become a force in politics, and the didactic tendency is constantly obtruding itself. In the period between 'Vivian Grey' (1826-7) and 'Coningsby' (1844) he had published several novels in which the prophet is lost, or nearly lost, in the artist. Of the 'Wondrous Tale of Alroy' it is enough to say that it is a very spirited attempt to execute an impossible task. All historical novels—except Scott's and Kingsley's—are a weariness to the flesh, and when the history is so remote from any association with modern feeling, even Mr. Disraeli's vivacity is not able to convert shadows into substances. An opposite error disturbs one's appreciation of 'Venetia.' Byron and Shelley were altogether too near to the writer to be made into heroes of fiction. The portraits are pale beside the originals; and though Lord Cadurcis and Marmion Herbert may have been happier men than their prototypes, they are certainly not so interesting. 'Henrietta Temple' and 'Contarini Fleming' may count as Mr. Disraeli's most satisfactory performances. He has worked without any secondary political purpose, and has, therefore, produced more harmonious results. The aim is ambitious, but consistent. 'Contarini Fleming' is the record of the development of a poetic nature—a theme, as we are told, 'virgin in the imaginative literature of every country.' The praises of Goethe, of Beckford, and of Heine gave a legitimate satisfaction to its author. 'Henrietta Temple' professes to be a love-story pure and simple. Love and poetry are certainly themes worthy of the highest art; and if Disraeli's art be not the highest, it is more effective when freed from the old alloy. The same intellectual temperament is indeed perceptible, though in this different field it does not produce quite the same results. One prominent tendency connects all his stories. When 'Lothair' made its appearance, critics were puzzled, not only by the old problem as to the seriousness of the writer, but by the extraordinary love of glitter. Were the palaces and priceless jewels and vast landed estates, distributed with such reckless profusion amongst the characters, intended as a covert satire upon the vulgar English worship of wealth, or did they imply a genuine instinct for the sumptuous? Disraeli would apparently parody the old epitaph, and write upon the monument of every ducal millionaire, 'Of such are the kingdom of heaven.' Vast landed estates and the Christian virtues, according to him, naturally go together; and he never dismisses a hero without giving him such a letter of credit as Sidonia bestowed upon Tancred. 'If the youth who bears this requires advances, let him have as much gold as would make the right-hand lion, on the first step of the throne of Solomon the king; and if he wants more, let him have as much as would form the lion that is on the left; and so on through every stair of the royal seat.' The theory that so keen a satirist of human follies must have been more or less ironical in his professed admiration for boundless wealth, though no doubt tempting, is probably erroneous. The simplest explanation is most likely to be the truest. Disraeli has a real, unfeigned delight in simple splendour, in 'ropes of pearls,' in priceless diamonds, gorgeous clothing, and magnificent furniture. The phenomenon is curious, but not uncommon. One may sometimes find an epicure who stills retains an infantile taste for sweetmeats, and is not afraid to avow it. Experience of the world taught Disraeli the hollowness of some objects of his early admiration, but it never so dulled his palate as to make pure splendour insipid to his taste. It is as easy to call this love of glitter vulgar, as to call his admiration for dukes snobbish; but the passion is too sincere to deserve any harsh name. Why should not a man have a taste for the society of dukes, or take a child's pleasure in bright colours for their own sake? There is nothing intrinsically virtuous in preferring a dinner of herbs to the best French cookery. So long as the taste is thoroughly genuine, and is not gratified at the cost of unworthy concessions, it ought not to be offensive.
Disraeli's pictures may be, or rather they certainly are, too gaudy in their colouring, but his lavish splendour is evidently prompted by a frank artistic impulse, and certainly implies no grovelling before the ordinary British duke. It is this love of splendour, it may be said parenthetically, combined with his admiration for the non-scientific type of intellect, which makes the Roman Catholic Church so strangely fascinating for Disraeli. His most virtuous heroes and heroines are members of old and enormously rich Catholic families. His poet, Contarini Fleming, falls prostrate before the splendid shrines of a Catholic chapel, all his senses intoxicated by solemn music and sweet incense and perfect pictures. Lothair, wanting a Sidonia, only escaped by a kind of miracle from the attractions of Rome. The sensibility to such influences has a singular effect upon Disraeli's modes of representing passion. He has frankly explained his theory. The peasant-noble of Wordsworth had learnt to know love 'in huts where poor men lie,' and a long catena of poetical authorities might be adduced in support of the principle. That is not Disraeli's view. 'Love,' he says, 'that can illumine the dark hovel and the dismal garret, that sheds a ray of enchanting light over the close and busy city, seems to mount with a lighter and more glittering pinion in an atmosphere as bright as its own plumes. Fortunate the youth, the romance of whose existence is placed in a scene befitting its fair and marvellous career; fortunate the passion that is breathed in palaces, amid the ennobling creations of surrounding art, and quits the object of its fond solicitude amidst perfumed gardens and in the shade of green and silent woods'—woods, that is, which ornament the stately parks of the aforesaid palaces. All Disraeli's passionate lovers—and they are very passionate—are provided with fitting scenery. The exquisite Sybil is allowed, by way of exception, to present herself for a moment in the graceful character of a sister of charity relieving a poor family in their garret; but we can detect at once the stamp of noble blood in every gesture, and a coronet is ready to descend upon her celestial brow. Everywhere else we make love in gilded palaces, to born princesses in gorgeous apparel; terraced gardens, with springing fountains and antique statues, are in the background; or at least an ancestral castle, with long galleries filled with the armour borne by our ancestors to the Holy Land, rises in cheery state, waiting to be restored on a scale of unprecedented magnificence by the dower of our affianced brides. And, of course, the passion is suitable to such accessories. 'There is no love but at first sight,' says Disraeli; and, indeed, love at first sight is alone natural to such beings, on whom beauty and talent have been poured out as lavishly as wealth, and who need never condescend to thoughts of their natural needs. It is the love of Romeo and Juliet amidst the gardens of Verona; or rather the love of Aladdin of the wondrous lamp for some incomparable beauty, deserving to be enshrined in a palace erected by the hands of genii. The passion of the lover must be vivid and splendid enough to stand out worthily against so gorgeous a background; and it must flash and glitter, and dazzle our commonplace intellects.
In the 'Arabian Nights' the lover repeats a passage of poetry and then faints from emotion, and Disraeli's lovers are apt to be as demonstrative and ungovernable in their behaviour. Their happy audacity makes us forget some little defects in their conduct. Take, for example, the model love-story in 'Henrietta Temple.' Told by a cold and unimaginative person, it would run to the following effect:—Ferdinand Armine was the heir of a decayed Catholic family. Going into the army, he raised great sums, like other thoughtless young men, on the strength of his expectations from his maternal grandfather, a rich nobleman. The grandfather, dying, left his property to Armine's cousin, Katherine Grandison. Armine instantly made up his mind to marry his cousin and the property, and his creditors were quieted by news of his engagement. Meanwhile he met Henrietta Temple, and fell in love with her at first sight. In spite of his judicious reticence, Miss Temple heard of his engagement to Miss Grandison, and naturally broke off the match. She fell into a consumption, and he into a brain fever. The heroes of novels are never the worse for a brain fever or two, and young Armine, though Miss Grandison becomes aware of the Temple episode, has judgment enough to hide it from everybody else, and the first engagement is not ostensibly broken off. Nay, Armine still continues to raise loans on the strength of it—a proceeding which sounds very like obtaining money on false pretences. His creditors, however, become more pressing, and at last he gets into a sponging-house. Meanwhile Miss Temple has been cured of her consumption by the heir to a dukedom, and herself becomes the greatest heiress in England by an unexpected bequest. She returns from Italy, engaged to her new lover, and hears of her old lover's misfortunes. And then a 'happy thought' occurs to the two pairs of lovers. If Miss Temple's wealth had come earlier, she might have married Armine at first: why should she not do it now? It only requires an exchange of lovers, which is instantly effected. The heir to the dukedom marries the rich Miss Grandison; the rich Miss Temple marries Ferdinand Armine; and everybody lives in the utmost splendour ever afterwards. The moral to this edifying narrative appears to be given by the waiter at the sponging-house. 'It is only poor devils nabbed for their fifties and their hundreds that are ever done up,' says this keen observer. 'A nob was never nabbed for the sum you are, sir, and never went to the wall. Trust my experience, I never knowed such a thing.'
This judicious observation, translated into the language of art, gives Disraeli's secret. His 'nobs' are so splendid in their surroundings, such a magical light of wealth, magnificence, and rhetoric is thrown upon all their doings, that we are cheated into sympathy. Who can be hard upon a young man whose behaviour to his creditors may be questionable, but who is swept away in such a torrent of gorgeous hues? The first sight of Miss Temple is enough to reveal her dazzling complexion, her violet-tinted eyes, her lofty and pellucid brow, her dark and lustrous locks. Love for such a being is the 'transcendent and surpassing offspring of sheer and unpolluted sympathy.' It is a rapture and a madness; it is to the feelings of the ordinary mortal what sunlight is to moonlight, or wine to water. What wonder that Armine, 'pale and trembling, withdrew a few paces from the overwhelming spectacle, and leant against a tree in a chaos of emotion? A delicious and maddening impulse thrilled his frame; a storm raged in his soul; a big drop quivered on his brow; and a slight foam played upon his lip.' But 'the tumult of his mind gradually subsided; the fleeting memories, the saddening thoughts, that for a moment had coursed about in such wild order, vanished and melted away, and a feeling of bright serenity succeeded—a sense of beauty and joy, and of hovering and circumambient happiness.' In short, he asked the lady in to lunch. That is the love which can only be produced in palaces. Your Burns may display some warmth of feeling about a peasant-girl, and Wordsworth cherish the domestic affections in a cottage; but for the dazzling, brilliant forms of passion we must enter the world of magic, where diamonds are as plentiful as blackberries, and all surrounding objects are turned to gold by the alchemy of an excited imagination. The only difference is that, while other men assume that the commonest things will take a splendid colour as seen through a lover's eyes, Disraeli takes care that whatever his lovers see shall have a splendid colouring.
Once more, if we consent for the time to take our author's view—and that is the necessary condition for enjoying most literature—we must admit the vivacity and, at times, the real eloquence of Disraeli's rhetoric. In 'Contarini Fleming' he takes a still more ambitious flight, and with considerable success. Fleming, the embodiment of the poetic character, is, we might almost say, to other poets what Armine is to other lovers. He has the same love of brilliant effects, and the same absence of genuine tenderness. But one other qualification must be made. We feel some doubts as to his being a poet at all. He has indeed that amazing vitality with which Disraeli endows all his favourite heroes, and in which we may recognise the effervescence of youthful genius. But his genius is so versatile that we doubt its true destination. His first literary performance is to write a version of 'Vivian Grey,' a reckless and successful satire; his most remarkable escapade is to put himself at the head of a band of students, apparently inspired by Schiller's Robbers to emulate the career of Moor; his greatest feat is a sudden stroke of diplomacy which enables him to defeat the plans of more veteran statesmen. And when he has gone through his initiation, wooed and won his marvellous beauty, and lost her in an ideal island, the final shape of his aspirations is curiously characteristic. Having become rich quite unexpectedly—for he did not know that he was to be the hero of one of Disraeli's novels—he resolved to 'create a paradise.' He bought a Palladian pile, with a large estate and beautiful gardens. In this beautiful scene he intends to erect a Saracenic palace full of the finest works of modern and ancient art; and in time he hopes to 'create a scene which may rival in beauty and variety, though not in extent, the villa of Hadrian, whom I have always considered the most accomplished and sumptuous character of antiquity.' He has already laid the foundation of a tower which is to rise to a height of at least a hundred and fifty feet, and is to equal in solidity and design the most celebrated works of antiquity. Certainly the scheme is magnificent; but it is scarcely the ambition which one might have expected from a poet. Rather it is the design of a man endowed with a genuine artistic temperament, but with a strange desire to leave some showy and tangible memorial of his labours. His ambition is not to stir men's souls with profound thought, or to soften by some new harmonies the weary complaints of suffering humanity, but to startle the world by the splendid embodiment in solid marble of the most sumptuous dreams of a cultivated imagination. Contarini Fleming, indeed, as he shows by a series of brilliant travellers' sketches, is no mean master of what may be called poetical prose. His pictures of life and scenery are vivacious, rapid, and decisive. In later years, the habit of parliamentary oratory seems to have injured Disraeli's style. In 'Lothair' there is a good deal of slipshod verbiage. But in these earlier stories the style is generally excellent till it becomes too ambitious. It has a kind of metallic glitter, brilliant, sparkling with numerous flashes of wit and fancy, and never wanting in sharpness of effect, though it may be deficient in delicacy. Yet the author, who is of necessity to be partly identified with the hero of 'Contarini Fleming,' is distinctly not a poet; and the incapacity is most evident when he endeavours to pass the inexorable limits. The distinction between poetry and rhetoric is as profound as it is undefinable. A true poet, as possessing an exquisite sensibility to the capacities of his instrument, does not try to get the effects of metre when he is writing without its restrictions and its advantages. Disraeli shows occasionally a want of this delicacy of perception by breaking into a kind of compromise between the two which can only be called Ossianesque. The effect, for example, of such a passage as the following is, to my taste at least, simply grotesque:—
'Still the courser onward rushes; still his mighty heart supports him. Season and space, the glowing soil, the burning ray, yield to the tempest of his frame, the thunder of his nerves, and lightning of his veins.
'Food or water they have none. No genial fount, no graceful tree, rise with their pleasant company. Never a beast or bird is there, in that hoary desert bare. Nothing breaks the almighty stillness. Even the jackal's felon cry might seem a soothing melody. A grey wild cat, with snowy whiskers, out of a withered bramble stealing, with a youthful snake in its ivory teeth, in the moonlight gleams with glee. This is their sole society.'
And so on. Some great writers have made prose as melodious as verse; and Disraeli can at times follow their example successfully. But one likes to know what one is reading; and the effect of this queer expression is as if, in the centre of a solemn march, were incorporated a few dancing-steps, a propos to nothing, and then subsiding into a regular pace. Milton wrote grand prose and grand verse; but you are never uncertain whether a fragment of 'Paradise Lost' may or may not have been inserted by mere accident in the 'Areopagitica.'
Not to dwell upon such minor defects, nobody can read 'Contarini Fleming' or 'Henrietta Temple' without recognising the admirable talent and exuberant vitality of the author. They have the faults of juvenile performances; they are too gaudy; the author has been tempted to turn aside too frequently in search of some brilliant epigram; he has mistaken bombast for eloquence, and mere flowery brilliance for warmth of emotion. But we might hope that longer experience and more earnest purpose might correct such defects. Alas! in the year of their publication, Disraeli first entered Parliament. His next works comprised the trilogy, where the artistic aim has become subordinate to the political or biological; and some thirty years of parliamentary labours led to 'Lothair,' of which it is easiest to assume that it is a practical joke on a large scale, or a prolonged burlesque upon Disraeli's own youthful performances. May one not lament the degradation of a promising novelist into a Prime Minister?
 Perhaps I ought to substitute 'Lord Beaconsfield' for Disraeli; but I am writing of the author of 'Coningsby,' rather than of the author of 'Endymion:' and I will therefore venture to preserve the older name.
 'He never loved that loved not at first sight,' says Marlowe, and Shakespeare after him. I cannot say whether this be an undesigned literary coincidence or an appropriation. Disraeli, we know, was skilful in the art of annexation. One or two instances may be added. Here is a clear case of borrowing. Fuller says in the character of the good sea-captain in the 'Holy State'—'Who first taught the water to imitate the creatures on land, so that the sea is the stable of horse-fishes, the stye of hog-fishes, the kennel of dog-fishes, and in all things, the sea is the ape of the land?' Essper George, in 'Vivian Grey,' says to the sea: 'O thou indifferent ape of earth, what art thou, O bully ocean, but the stable of horse-fishes, the stall of cow-fishes, the stye of hog-fishes, and the kennel of dog-fishes?' Other cases may be more doubtful. On one occasion, Disraeli spoke of the policy of his opponents as a combination of 'blundering and plundering.' The jingle was thought to be adapted from a previous epigram about 'meddling and muddling;' but here is the identical phrase: Coleridge wrote in the 'Courier:' 'The writer, whilst abroad, was once present when most bitter complaints were made of the ——government. "Government!" exclaimed a testy old captain of a Mediterranean trading-vessel, "call it blunderment or plunderment or what you like—only not a government!"'—Coleridge's 'Essays on his own Times,' p. 893. Disraeli is sometimes credited with the epigram in 'Lothair' about critics being authors who have failed. I know not who said this first; but it was certainly not Disraeli. Landor makes Porson tell Southey: 'Those who have failed as writers turn reviewers.' The classical passage is in Sainte-Beuve. Balzac, he says, said somewhere of a sculptor who had become discouraged: 'Redevenu artiste in partibus, il avait beaucoup de succes dans les salons, il etait consulte par beaucoup d'amateurs; il passa critique comme tous les impuissants qui mentent a leurs debuts.' Sainte-Beuve, naturally indignant at a phrase aimed against his craft, if not against himself, says that this may be true of a sculptor or painter who deserts his art in order to talk; 'mais, dans l'ordre de la pensee, cette parole de M. de Balzac qui revient souvent sous la plume de toute une ecole de jeunes litterateurs, est a la fois (je leur en demande pardon) une injustice et une erreur.'—'Causeries du Lundi,' vol. ii. p. 455. A very similar phrase is to be found in a book where one would hardly look for such epigrams, Marryat's 'King's Own.' But to trace such witticisms to their first source is a task for 'Notes and Queries.'
In one of the best of his occasional essays, Kingsley held a brief for the plaintiffs in the old case of Puritans versus Playwrights. The litigation in which this case represents a minor issue has lasted for a period far exceeding that of the most pertinacious lawsuit, and is not likely to come to an end within any assignable limits of time. When the discussion is pressed home, it is seen to involve fundamentally different conceptions of human life and its purposes; and it can only cease when we have discovered the grounds of a permanent conciliation between the ethical and the aesthetic elements of human nature. The narrower controversy between the stage and the Church has itself a long history. It has left some curious marks upon English literature. The prejudice which uttered itself through the Puritan Prynne was inherited, in a later generation, by the High-Churchmen Collier and William Law. The attack, it is true, may be ostensibly directed—as in Kingsley's essay—against the abuse of the stage rather than against the stage itself. Kingsley pays the usual tribute to Shakespeare whilst denouncing the whole literature of which Shakespeare's dramas are the most conspicuous product. But then, everybody always distinguishes in terms between the use and the abuse; and the line of demarcation generally turns out to be singularly fluctuating and uncertain. You can hardly demolish Beaumont and Fletcher without bringing down some of the outlying pinnacles, if not shaking the very foundations, of the temple sacred to Shakespeare.
It would be regrettable, could one stop to regret the one-sided and illogical construction of the human mind, that a fair judgment in such matters seems to require incompatible qualities. Your impartial critic or historian is generally a man who leaves out of account nothing but the essential. His impartiality means sympathy with the commonplace, and incapacity for understanding heroic faith and overpowering enthusiasm. He fancies that a man or a book can be judged by balancing a list of virtues and vices as if they were separate entities lying side by side in a box, instead of different aspects of a vital force. On the other hand, the vivid imagination which restores dead bones to life makes its possessor a partisan in extinct quarrels, and as short-sighted and unfair a partisan as the original actors. Roundheads and Cavaliers have been dead these two centuries.
Dumb are those names erewhile in battle loud; Dreamfooted as the shadow of a cloud, They flit across the ear.
Yet few even amongst modern writers are capable of doing justice to both sides without first making both sides colourless. Hallam judges men in the throes of a revolution as though they were parties in a lawsuit to be decided by precedents and parchments, and Carlyle cannot appreciate Cromwell's magnificent force of character without making him all but infallible and impeccable. Critics of the early drama are equally one-sided. The exquisite literary faculty of Charles Lamb revelled in detecting beauties which had been covered with the dust of oblivion during the reign of Pope. His appreciation was intensified by that charm of discovery which finds its typical utterance in Keats's famous sonnet. He was scarcely a more impartial judge of Fletcher or Ford than 'Stout Cortes' of the new world revealed by his enterprise. We may willingly defer to his judgment of the relative value of the writers whom he discusses, but we must qualify his judgment of their intrinsic excellence by the recollection that he speaks as a lover. To him and other thoroughgoing admirers of the old drama the Puritanical onslaught upon the stage presented itself as the advent of a gloomy superstition, ruthlessly stamping out all that was beautiful in art and literature. Kingsley, an admirable hater, could perceive only the opposite aspect of the phenomena. To him the Puritan protest appears as the voice of the enlightened conscience; the revolution means the troubling of the turbid waters at the descent of the angel; Prynne's 'Histriomastix' is the blast of the trumpet at which the rotten and polluted walls of Jericho are to crumble into dust. The stage, which represented the tone of aristocratic society, rightfully perished with the order which it flattered. Courtiers had learnt to indulge in a cynical mockery of virtue, or to find an unholy attraction in the accumulation of extravagant horrors. The English drama, in short, was one of those evil growths which are fostered by deeply-seated social corruption, and are killed off by the breath of a purer air. That such phenomena occur at times is undeniable. Mr. Symonds has recently shown us, in his history of the Renaissance, how the Italian literature to which our English dramatists owed so many suggestions was the natural fruit of a society poisoned at the roots. Nor, when we have shaken off that spirit of slavish adulation in which modern antiquarians and critics have regarded the so-called Elizabethan dramatists, can we deny that there are symptoms of a similar mischief in their writings. Some of the most authoritative testimonials have a suspicious element. Praise has been lavished upon the most questionable characteristics of the old drama. Apologists have been found, not merely for its daring portrayal of human passion, but for its wanton delight in the grotesque and the horrible for its own sake; and some critics have revenged themselves for the straitlaced censures of Puritan morality by praising work in which the author strives to atone for imaginative weakness by a choice of revolting motives. Such adulation ought to have disappeared with the first fervour of rehabilitation. Much that has been praised in the old drama is rubbish, and some of it disgusting rubbish.
The question, however, remains, how far we ought to adopt either view of the situation? Are we bound to cast aside the later dramas of the school as simply products of corruption? It may be of interest to consider the light thrown upon this question by the works of Massinger, nearly the last of the writers who can really claim a permanent position in literature. Massinger, born in 1584, died in 1639. His surviving works were composed, with one exception, after 1620. They represent, therefore, the tastes of the playgoing classes during the rapid development of the great struggle which culminated in the rebellion. In a literary sense it is the period when the imaginative impulse represented by the great dramatists was running low. It is curious to reflect that, if Shakespeare had lived out his legitimate allowance of threescore years and ten, he might have witnessed the production, not only of the first, but of nearly all the best works of his school; had his life been prolonged for ten years more, he would have witnessed its final extinction. Within these narrow limits of time the drama had undergone a change corresponding to the change in the national mood. The difference, for example, between Marlowe and Massinger at the opening and the close of the period—though their births were separated by only twenty years—corresponds to the difference between the temper of the generation which repelled the Armada and the temper of the generation which fretted under the rule of the first Stuarts. The misnomer of Elizabethan as applied to the whole school indicates an implicit perception that its greater achievements were due to the same impulse which took for its outward and visible symbol the name of the great Queen. But it has led also to writers being too summarily classed together who really represent very different phases in a remarkable evolution. After making all allowances for personal idiosyncrasies, we can still see how profoundly the work of Massinger is coloured by the predominant sentiment of the later epoch.
As little is known of Massinger's life as of the lives of most of the contemporary dramatists who had the good or ill fortune to be born before the days of the modern biographical mania. It is known that he, like most of his brethren, suffered grievously from impecuniosity; and he records in one of his dedications his obligations to a patron without whose bounty he would for many years have 'but faintly subsisted.' His father had been employed by Henry, Earl of Pembroke; but Massinger, though acknowledging a certain debt of gratitude to the Herbert family, can hardly have received from them any effective patronage. Whatever their relations may have been, it has been pointed out by Professor Gardiner that Massinger probably sympathised with the political views represented by the two sons of his father's patron, who were successively Earls of Pembroke during the reigns of the first James and Charles. On two occasions he got into trouble with the licenser for attacks, real or supposed, upon the policy of the Government. More than one of his plays contain, according to Professor Gardiner, references to the politics of the day as distinct as those conveyed by a cartoon in 'Punch.' The general result of his argument is to show that Massinger sympathised with the views of an aristocratic party who looked with suspicion upon the despotic tendencies of Charles's Government, and thought that they could manage refractory parliaments by adopting a more spirited foreign policy. Though in reality weak and selfish enough, they affected to protest against the materialising and oppressive policy of the extreme Royalists. How far these views represented any genuine convictions, and how far Massinger's adhesion implied a complete sympathy with them, or might indicate that kind of delusion which often leads a mere literary observer to see a lofty intention in the schemes of a selfish politician, are questions which I am incompetent to discuss, and which obviously do not admit of a decided answer. They confirm, as far as they go, the general impression as to Massinger's point of view which we should derive from his writings without special interpretation. 'Shakespeare,' says Coleridge, 'gives the permanent politics of human nature' (whatever they may be!), 'and the only predilection which appears shows itself in his contempt of mobs and the populace. Massinger is a decided Whig; Beaumont and Fletcher high-flying, passive-obedience Tories.' The author of 'Coriolanus,' one would be disposed to say, showed himself a thoroughgoing aristocrat, though in an age when the popular voice had not yet given utterance to systematic political discontent. He was still a stranger to the sentiments symptomatic of an approaching revolution, and has not explicitly pronounced upon issues hardly revealed even to
The prophetic soul Of the wide world dreaming of things to come.
The sense of national unity evolved in the great struggle with Spain had not yet been lost in the discord of the rising generation. The other classifications may be accepted with less reserve. The dramatists represented the views of their patrons. The drama reflected in the main the sentiments of an aristocratic class alarmed by the growing vigour of the Puritanical citizens. Fletcher is, as Coleridge says, a thoroughgoing Tory; his sentiments in 'Valentinian' are, to follow the same guidance, so 'very slavish and reptile' that it is a trial of charity to read them. Nor can we quite share Coleridge's rather needless surprise that they should emanate from the son of a bishop, and that the duty to God should be the supposed basis. A servile bishop in those days was not a contradiction in terms, and still less a servile son of a bishop; and it must surely be admitted that the theory of Divine Right may lead, illogically or otherwise, to reptile sentiments. The difference between Fletcher and Massinger, who were occasional collaborators and apparently close friends (Massinger, it is said, was buried in Fletcher's grave), was probably due to difference of temperament as much as to the character of Massinger's family connection. Massinger's melancholy is as marked as the buoyant gaiety of his friend and ally. He naturally represents the misgivings which must have beset the more thoughtful members of his party, as Fletcher represented the careless vivacity of the Cavalier spirit. Massinger is given to expatiating upon the text that
Subjects' lives Are not their prince's tennis-balls, to be bandied In sport away.
The high-minded Pulcheria, in the 'Emperor of the East,' administers a bitter reproof to a slavish 'projector' who
Roars out All is the King's, his will above the laws;
who whispers in his ear that nobody should bring a salad from his garden without paying 'gabel,' or kill a hen without excise; who suggests that, if a prince wants a sum of money, he may make impossible demands from a city and exact arbitrary fines for its non-performance.
Is this the way To make our Emperor happy? Can the groans Of his subjects yield him music? Must his thresholds Be wash'd with widows' and wrong'd orphans' tears, Or his power grow contemptible?
Professor Gardiner tells us that at the time at which these lines were written they need not have been taken as referring to Charles. But the vein of sentiment which often occurs elsewhere is equally significant of Massinger's view of the political situation of the time. We see what were the topics that were beginning to occupy men's minds.
Dryden made the remark, often quoted for purposes of indignant reprobation by modern critics, that Beaumont and Fletcher 'understood and imitated the conversation of gentlemen much better' (than Shakespeare); 'whose wild debaucheries and quickness of wit in repartees no poet can ever paint as they did.' It is, of course, easy enough to reply that in the true sense of the word 'gentleman' Shakespeare's heroes are incomparably superior to those of his successors; but then this is just the sense in which Dryden did not use the word. His real meaning indicates a very sound piece of historical criticism. Fletcher describes a new social type; the 'King's Young Courtier' who is deserting the good old ways of his father, the 'old courtier of the Queen.' The change is but one step in that continuous process which has substituted the modern gentleman for the old feudal noble; but the step taken at that period was great and significant. The chivalrous type, represented in Sidney's life and Spenser's poetry, is beginning to be old-fashioned and out of place as the industrial elements of society become more prominent. The aristocrat in the rising generation finds that his occupation is going. He takes to those 'wild debaucheries' which Dryden oddly reckons among the attributes of a true gentleman; and learns the art of 'quick repartee' in the courtly society which has time enough on its hands to make a business of amusement. The euphuism and allied affectations of the earlier generation had a certain grace, as the external clothing of a serious chivalrous sentiment; but it is rapidly passing into a silly coxcombry to be crushed by Puritanism or snuffed out by the worldly cynicism of the new generation. Shakespeare's Henry or Romeo may indulge in wild freaks or abandon themselves to the intense passions of vigorous youth; but they will settle down into good statesmen and warriors as they grow older. Their love-making is a phase in their development, not the business of their lives. Fletcher's heroes seem to be not only occupied for the moment, but to make a permanent profession of what with their predecessors was a passing phase of youthful ebullience. It is true that we have still a long step to make before we sink to the mere roue, the shameless scapegrace and cynical man about town of the Restoration. To make a Wycherley you must distil all the poetry out of a Fletcher. Fletcher is a true poet; and the graceful sentiment, though mixed with a coarse alloy, still repels that unmitigated grossness which, according to Burke's famous aphorism, is responsible for half the evil of vice. He is still alive to generous and tender emotions, though it can scarcely be said that his morality has much substance in it. It is a sentiment, not a conviction, and covers without quenching many ugly and brutal emotions.
In Fletcher's wild gallants, still adorned by a touch of the chivalrous; reckless, immoral, but scarcely cynical; not sceptical as to the existence of virtue, but only admitting morality by way of parenthesis to the habitual current of their thoughts, we recognise the kind of stuff from which to frame the Cavaliers who will follow Rupert and be crushed by Cromwell. A characteristic sentiment which occurs constantly in the drama of the period represents the soldier out of work. We are incessantly treated to lamentations upon the ingratitude of the comfortable citizens who care nothing for the men to whom they owed their security. The political history of the times explains the popularity of such complaints. Englishmen were fretting under their enforced abstinence from the exciting struggles on the Continent. There was no want of Dugald Dalgettys returning from the wars to afford models for the military braggart or the bluff honest soldier, both of whom go swaggering through so many of the plays of the time. Clarendon in his Life speaks of the temptations which beset him from mixing with the military society of the time. There was a large and increasing class, no longer finding occupation in fighting Spaniards and searching for Eldorado, and consequently, in the Yankee phrase, 'spoiling for a fight.' When the time comes, they will be ready enough to fight gallantly, and to show an utter incapacity for serious discipline. They will meet the citizens, whom they have mocked so merrily, and find that reckless courage and spasmodic chivalry do not exhaust the qualifications for military success.