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Thackeray_His Acerbity-The Baronet-The Parson
Medical Ladies—Glorvina—“A Serious Paradise.”
THACKERAY resembled Lamb in the
1 all-pervading character of his humour. He adorned with it almost everything he touched, but did not enter into it heart and soul, like a man of really joyous mirth-loving disposition. His pages teem with sly hits and insinuations, but he never developes a comic scene, and we can scarcely find a single really laughable episode in the whole course of his works. So little did he grasp or finish such pictures that we rarely select a passage from Thackeray for recitation. He thought more of plot and stratagem than of humour, and used the latter, not for its own sake, but mostly to give brilliance to his narrative, to make his figures prominent, and his remarks salient. He thus silvers unpalatable truths, and although he disowns being a moralist, we generally see some substratum of earnestness peeping through the eddies of his fancy. With him, humour is
subservient. And he speaks from his inner self, when he exclaims, “Oh, brother wearers of motley! Are there not moments when one grows sick of grinning and tumbling, and the jingling of the cap and bells.”
We may say that much of Thackeray's humour is more inclined to produce a grin than a smile—merely to cause a grimace, owing to the bitterness from which it springs. It must be remembered, however, that the greater part of modern wit consists of sarcastic criticism, though it is not generally severe.
In Thackeray we do not find any of that consciousness of the imbecility of man, which made some French writers call the humour of Democritus “ melancholy.” The “Vanity” of which he speaks is not that universal emptiness alluded to by the surfeited author of Ecclesiastes, nor has it even the ordinary signification of personal conceit. No; he implies something more culpable, such immorality as covetous. ness, deception, vindictiveness, and hypocrisy. He approaches the Roman Satirists in the relentless hand with which he exposes vice. Some of his characters are monstrous, and almost grotesque in selfishness, as that of Becky Sharp, to whom he does not allow one good quality. Cunning and unworthy
motives add considerably to the zest of his humour. He says
“ This history bas Vanity Fair for a title, and Vanity Fair is a very vain foolish place, full of all sorts of humbugs and falseness and pretentions. One is bound to speak the truth, as one knows it, whether one mounts a cap and bells, or a shovel hat; and a deal of disagreeable matter must come out in the course of such an undertaking.”
Here is his description of a baronet, Sir Pitt Crawley ;
“ The door was opened by a man in dark breeches and gaiters with a dirty coat, a foul old neck cloth lashed round his bristly neck, a shining bald head, a leering red face, a pair of twinkling grey eyes, and a mouth perpetually on the grin.
“This Sir John Pitt Crawley's ?' says John, from the box.
6. Ees,' says the man at the door, with a nod.
“Don't you see I can't leave my horses ! Come bear a hand, my fine feller, and Miss will give you some beer,' said John, with a hoase laugh.
“The bald-headed man, taking his hands out of his breeches pockets, advanced on this summons, and throw. ing Miss Sharp's trunk over his shoulder, carried it into the house.
“On entering the dining room by the orders of the individual in gaiters, Rebecca found that apartment not more cheerful tban such rooms usually are when genteel families are out of town ... Two kitchen chairs and a round table and an attenuated old poker and tongs were however gathered round the fire place, as was a saucepan over a feeble sputtering fire. There was a bit of cheese and bread, and a tin candlestick on the table, and a little black porter in a pint pot.
“Had your dinner, I suppose ? It is too warm for you ? Like a drop of beer p'
“Where is Sir Pitt Crawley p said Miss Sharp majestically.
"He, he! I'm Sir Pitt Crawley. Reclect you owe me a pint for bringing down your luggage. He, he! Ask Tinker if I ayn't. Mrs. Tinker, Miss Sharp, Miss Governess, Mrs. Charwoman, ho ho!
“ The lady addressed as Mrs. Tinker, at this moment made her appearance with a pipe and paper of tobacco, for which she had been dispatched a minute before Miss Sharp's arrival; and she handed the articles over to Sir Pitt, who had taken his seat by the fire.
"Where's the farden P' says be, 'I gave you three halfpence. Where's the change, old Tinker ??
“There,' replied Mrs. Tinker, Ainging down the coin, 'it's only baronets as cares about farthings.'
“• A farthing a day is seven shillings a year,' answered the M.P., 'seven shillings a year is the interest of seven guineas. Take care of your farthings, old Tinker, and your guineas will come quite nat'ral.' ...
“ And so with injunctions to Miss Sharp to be ready at five in the morning, he 'bade her good night, 'You'll sleep with Tinker to-night,' he said, “it's a big bed, and there's room for two. Lady Crawley died in it. Good night.'”
He sums up Sir Pitt's character by saying. “ He never had a taste, emotion or enjoyment, but what was sordid and foul.”
Sir Pitt's brother, the Rector of the parish, is represented as being almost as abominable as himself, though in a different way
“The Reverend Bute Crawley was a tall, stately, shovel. hatted man, far more popular in the county than the Baronet. At College he pulled stroke oar in the Christchurch boat, and had thrashed all the best bruisers of the 'town.' He carried his taste for boxing and athletic exercises into private life, there was not a fight within twenty miles at which he was not present, nor a race, nor a coursing match, nor a regatta, nor a ball, nor an election, nor a visitation dinner, nor indeed a good dinner in the whole county, but he found means to attend it. He had a fine voice, sung ‘A Southerly Wind and a Cloudy Sky,' and gave the whoop' in chorus with general applause. He rode to hounds in a pepper and salt frock, and was one of the best fishermen in the county.”
The following is a sample of the conversation he holds with his wife, who, we are told “wrote this worthy Divine's sermons”
•• Pitt can't be such an infernal villain as to sell the re
version of the living, and that Methodist milksop of an eldest son looks to Parliament, continued Mr. Crawley, after a pause.
“Sir Pitt will do anything,' said the Rector's wife, we must get Miss Crawley to make him promise it, James.'.
“Pitt will promise anything,' replied the brother, 'he promised he'd pay my college bills, when my father died ; he promised he'd build the new wing to the Rectory. And it is to this man's son-tbis scoundrel, gambler, swindler, murderer, of a Rawdon Crawley, that Matilda leaves the bulk of her money. I say it's unchristian. By Jove it is.' The infamous dog has got every vice except hypocrisy, and that belongs to his brother.''
“Hush, my dearest love! we're in Sir Pitt's grounds, interposed his wife.
“I say he has got every vice, Mrs. Crawley. Don't bully me. Didn't he shoot Captain Marker ? Didn't he rob young Lord Dovedale at the Cocoa Tree? Didn't he cross the fight between Bill Soames and the Cheshire Trump hy which I lost forty pound! You know he did; and as for women, why you heard that before me, in my own magistrates room
“. For heaven's sake, Mr. Crawley,' said the lady, 'spare me the details.'”
It was in a great measure to this severe sarcasm that Thackeray owed his popularity. He justly observes :
“My rascals are no milk-and-water rascals, I promise you . : . such people there are living in the world, faithless, bopeless, charityless ; let us have at them, dear friends, with might and main. Some there are, and very successful too, mere quacks and fools; and it was to combat and expose such as those no doubt, that laughter was made.
But he does not always seem to attribute merriment to this humble and unpleasant origin; he produces some passages really meant for enjoyment, and doing justice to his gift, attacks frivolities and failings, which are not of an important kind. Thus, he speaks in a jocund strain of the vanity of “ fashionable