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fixed on keeping a "trot for the town." No matter how he stumbled and staggered during the stage, so that he comes up to the door at last with whip-cracking, and the jaded team spirited up to a lively tramp.
The serial writer, too, performs usually to a larger public, and, consequently, is less addicted to conventionalities than Three Volume, who has a more select few for his audience, and who could not so easily stoop to the vulgarity of common people, and their ways and doings. But, as I have said already, the serial is more prone to make me laugh, and for this great gift I prize him most of all. I have very grave doubts if age has anything heavier in all its inflictions than in the difficulty--yearly increasing in a terrific ratio-the difficulty of enjoying a good laugh. For my own part, baldness, adiposity, and suchlike, are all lighter evils to me than the gravity I feel stealing over me, the little tolerance I have for small fun, and the growing conviction that the pleasant people have gone home, and that I am left to walk back with the dreary ones.
That my own capacity for the enjoyment is not totally blunted, I can test by seeing how the old racy humour of Molière and Cervantes how Scott, too, and Sydney Smith -continue to amuse me. What has become of this gift? is it gone and lost, like the art of painting on glass, like the glaze of Luca della Robbia, or the wonderful potterypaste of Maestro Giorgio? One thing is certain, Three Volume has none of it; and, latterly, the serial has not more than enough to season his quality and remind you of bygones. As nothing so much disgusts a man with wine-drinking as plying him for a while with bad liquor, so there is no such certain death to the appreciation of real humour as in the race of small jokers perpetually letting off a fire of petty drolleries suggested by the passing events of the hour. If there be a
public for these, heaven help the real humorist when he craves an audience! That there is a public for them he would be a bold man that should deny, and a very large and a very faithful public, too!
I do not make a great demand on my novelist. I ask him to help me through a stray hour of ennui, a dreary half-day of rainy weather in a dull house, the time I have to wait for my train, or the morning in which the post has either failed or brought nothing of any interest. I protest loudly and in toto against accepting the storyteller as either preacher or teacher. I will neither listen to him about law reform, nor prison discipline, nor madhouses, nor public schools. Let him, if he must, season his pages by the introduction of these institutions; but let him not insinuate his own theories about their management, or pretend to tell me how much more smoothly would suits in Equity go were he the Chancellor, or what a happy day would it be for the lunatics did the writer sit in Whitehall with the dignity of a Commissioner. I never heard an amateur fiddler that one would have given a sixpence to; and I have rarely seen one of those wouldbe reformers in fiction who approached his subject with even the vaguest knowledge of its details, or any conception of its difficulties. "Mark me, Mr Vagabond," said Junius to Garrick, when the actor, forgetting his real province, had attempted a negotiation with the publisher to betray the name of the great satirist "mark me, Mr Vagabond; stick to your pantomimes.'
I do not think there is anything so good in Alexandre Dumas as his total exemption from this vice. He never tries the didactic, and I respect him for his abstinence. Let not the clown, when he casts a somersault in the circus, tell me that he means to emblematise the motion of the earth! Suum cuique. Let the story-teller understand that his mission is simply to amuse without any outrage to good manners,
or any offence to good morals. Let him be as pleasant as he can, and leave the task of making the world better and wiser to men who have to accept the charge with heavier responsibilities than attach to talewriting.
Scott understood something about his craft, and something about the world too. Had he deemed that fiction was the proper channel to instil correct notions about hospitals for the blind, drainage of towns, ragged schools, or reformatories, we should doubtless have had these and suchlike discussed, though, perhaps, we might have lost something in not having the 'Antiquary,' 'Ivanhoe,' and a score more as good.
Balzac, also, wrote indifferent good novels, and knew one sort of life as few others ever did, and yet he never addressed himself to assail some institution or attack some system. He knew well that no group of people ever yet lived who revolved round one grievance; that life is a very particoloured affair, and, however a particular wrong may tinge existence, that the daily business of the world goes on amidst innumerable cares and troubles and joys and anxieties, and it is of these fiction ought to treat, showing as truthfully as she can what human nature does, says, thinks, and endures, with very little reference to some great stumbling-block, which, after all, has hurt the shins of only one, perhaps, in the company.
That the ordinary business of life can go on amidst the most terrible convulsions, and men follow the pursuits of ambition, of pleasure, or of money-getting, unaffected by that great event which in history will absorb the whole page, will be readily acknowledged by any one who will turn to the memoirs of the years of the French Revolution, or the Magazines of Ireland during '98. Jeffrey, in one of his essays, remarks on this, and says, that while posterity will be entirely occupied by the dreadful phantom of the Reign of Terror,
nothing in the actual records of the time will recall it.
It is hard to believe or to understand it, but the literature of France in those dreadful years ran upon idylls and odes and pastorals. Pastorals, when the creak of the charrette that carried the victims to the scaffold was the one sound heard in the streets! when the channels ran with blood, amidst the carnage of helpless women, and the noyades of the Loire ! Pastorals! One is inclined to ask, Is it in ethics as in optics, and does the eye, gorged and inflamed by red, turn to seek repose, to rest upon green?
Now, if Fiction had to deal with this era, we should find the guillotine in every page. Every event and every action would revolve around the scaffold; the headsman everywhere-everywhere the axe and what truth would there be in such a portraiture?
The Irish rebellion of '98 was, while it lasted, a dreadful scene of cruelty and carnage on all sides; and yet I have heard more stories of convivial gaiety, more narratives of country-house life and hospitality, of that period, than of all I ever remember to have heard of any other time of Irish history.
Of what is now going on in America, let Wall Street and Fifth Avenue, in their respective spheres, tell how much sympathy is felt for the countless thousands dying in every form of agony, or coming back, pitiably maimed and crippled, to drag out lives of suffering and penury! Fiction would doubtless paint New York breathless for the last news from the battle-field; and so it might, but not for the record of victory or defeat as a source of triumph or sorrow, but simply to know how it would affect the exchanges, or react on the price of gold.
To my thinking, 'Les Misérables' is only a blue-book gone mad; and a census return done by a sensational hand would be just as amusing reading as any of this school.
There is another practice of certain novelists which annoys me not a little—that is, to dish up the same characters either as principals or secondaries in every story. It is not merely objectionable on the ground that character-drawing is almost the best part of fiction, as it is certainly the most instructive; but there is such poverty in invention, or such inveterate indolence implied in the practice. It is bad enough if a strolling company must perform Coriolanus' with the same corps that gave the 'Road to Ruin;' and it is hard to surrender one's sympathy to Romeo, when he perpetually recalls Jeremy Diddler still, these poor creatures do their utmost so to disguise their identities that you shall not detect them. Whereas, in the novel, it is the same dreary personage that broke your heart in the Three Crows,' that is now dogging your steps in Drivelling Manor;' and the Bore that cost you the thread of one story by your efforts to skip him, turns up in a totally different book to be your misery once
When Sancho was relating the memorable story of the shepherd to his master, he found himself suddenly arrested in his narrative by Don Quixote's inability to tell how many sheep had been ferried over the stream. 'Fore God," said he, "if you have forgotten the score, it is impossible for me to continue the story." These people are, however, more exacting still, for they call on you to bear in mind who was each person's father and mother, who their uncles and aunts and good friends. A name turns up suddenly in the story without any intimation who he is and whence he comes. You turn back to trace him; alas! it is to a story published the year before, and nine others dating successively as many years back, you must go a labour that may possibly not be requited by any interest intended to surround him. In the reading of these books, if not well "posted" in all by the same
author, and gifted with a retentive memory besides, a man feels like a parvenu suddenly introduced into a society where, except himself, each knows and is known to his neighbour. He has the humiliating con sciousness that in a company so intimately united, he himself, the intruder, is de trop. He sees that every one knows the Duke of Allsorts, and that nobody is surprised when Lady Mumford appears, and he naturally concludes that he has no business in a society where he is the only one who has to inquire who are those around him. Why will not these writers give us with a new book a chronological table, and let us learn who begat whom?
But, in point of fact, the thing is harder than mere chronology-it is far more; it is the Darwinian theory applied to fiction, and the law of development introduced into tale-writing. The homunculus of some book of ten years ago may be the foreground figure of a later work; and the child you have scarcely noticed at one time, may have been developed into the grandmother of a present heroine.
This is simply intolerable. ask for a story, and you give me a census return; I want a tale, and I get an extract from a baptismal registry.
There are a few characters of fiction, and really they are very few, that could not recur too often. It would be difficult to shut the door against Sancho, or Falstaff, or perhaps Dugald Dalgetty; but have the writers I have just been speaking of given us any creations like these? or are not their personages only real in the one respect, that they are as tiresome as living men?
Let me record one splendid exception from this judgment in him who has given to our fictionliterature a racy vigour and a freshness which only genius can give. With Charles Dickens we encounter no repetitions; all is varied, novel, and interesting as na
ture herself; and this great master of humour moves us to tears or laughter without the semblance of an effort on his part; and as for those "inexpensive guests" that
sit beside our fireplaces at lone hours, or stroll with us in our solitary rambles, we owe more of them to him than to any other writer of the century.
ABUSE OF IRELAND.
Daniel O'Connell used to say that he was the best abused man in Europe; had he only lived till now he would have seen that the practice has been extended to all his countrymen of every class and condition, of every shade of politics, and every section of opinion. The leading journal especially has adopted this line, and the adjective Irish has been assumed as a disqualifier to all and everything it can be applied to. I am sure that this is not generous-I have my doubts if it be just.
First of all, we are abused too indiscriminately, and for faults diametrically the opposite of each other; secondly, we are sneered at for qualities which the greater nation is not sorry to utilise ; and, last of all, we are treated as such acknowledged admitted inferiors as makes it a very polite piece of condescension for Englishmen to occupy themselves, even in their leisure hours, by admonishing us of our faults, and reminding us of our shortcomings. Our unhappy country, too, whose greatest crime we used to think was the being our birthplace, is now discovered to be a damp tract of dreary bog-unfruitful, unwholesome, and unpleasant-without a soil to grow corn, or a sun to ripen it; spongy if undrained, and if drained, a "parched expanse of arid limestone. This is not cheerful, any more than to hear that it rains ten months in the year, and that if it only rained nine we should have no grass, and without grass could no longer fatten beeves for Britons to feed on, that being the last resource left us in our destitution.
Whatever we do, or attempt to do, by some unhappy fatality seems
wrong. If we stay at home, we are told that we are a poor -spirited set of creatures, satisfied with mere subsistence, and content to grovel on in our poverty. If we emigrate, we are reproached as people who have no loyalty, nor any attachment to the land of their birth.
One great authority declared that Ireland could never grow wheat, and yet Mr Whiteside t'other day assured us that we were ruined by the corn-laws. This is mighty hard to understand, and I own it puzzles me considerably.
But what has malt to do with table-beer?" "They've raised the price of malt, I hear
Surely if the country was unsuited to the grape, it could scarcely be injured by a tax on the exportation of wine!
Again, we are over-populated. The fatal tendency of the Irish to be venturous led to early marriages and large families; and it was a mercy to think that some had taken courage and gone off to America.
Then came another with 'Adam Smith' in his hand, to protest that population meant riches-even a population of Irishmen; and, last of all, an indignant patriot declared that the day was not perhaps very distant, when Ireland should be peopled by Scotchmen.
The Times,' however, capped all. It explained that Ireland must abandon tillage and forego manufactures-that her climate was unstable, her soil unfruitful, and her people lazy. She had, however, here and there, principally on the seaboard, some spots of picturesque beauty; and that Englishmen, partly out of a liking for scenery,
partly from pity, might occasionally come over and look at these, the duties of guide and cicerone being assigned to the native-who thus at last would have found an employment up to the level of his capacity and his inclination. This is no exaggeration of mine-I am inventing nothing-I read, twice over too, the article that contained this suggestion. It was made in perfect good faith, just as the writer might have counselled a North American savage to limit himself to the manufacture of mocassins, and not take to regular shoemaking.
Irishmen were deliberately told, by an authority that assumes to be not only the political director, but the moral arbiter of the nation, that there was nothing better for them to do than turn guides to Cockney tourists.
If poor Paddy's circumstances were such as to permit his having some leisure time at his disposal, I can easily believe what amusement he might obtain from the occupation recommended-what food for laughter he would derive from townbred ignorance and moneyed selfsufficiency-what stores of fun he would lay by from the crude remarks and stupid commentaries of wandering bagmen and the like; but the fact of reducing to a profession what ought only to be a pastime, gives a very different colour to the career.
The writer of this suggestion may not, however, have seen, as I have, a heavy traveller from the manufacturing districts gaining his Irish experiences from a bare-footed, ragged, half-famished native; and it is such an exhibition of intense drollery and sly raillery as one cannot readily forget: the quick instinct as to the nature of the stranger, his class and his habits -the subtle appreciation of the amount of his credulity-the racy enjoyment of his manifold blunders, and the thorough zest felt by a poor, half-naked, potato-fed creature for his mental superiority over
well-clad, well-to-do "Manchester" made up elements that worked into something highly dramatic.
Let me assure the happy discoverer of this theory for Ireland that, so far from increasing the opportunities to Paddy to measure his native quickness with Saxon stolidity, he would be wiser not to give heedless occasion for the compari
Now, these slights are not peacemakers, and we, the poorer and the more helpless people, ought at least to have kind words; and yet there is one more grievance which, I own, is, to my own feeling, harder to bear than even these. It is the assertion-made so frequently, declared so roundly, and proclaimed so unblushingly, that it has passed into a popular belief-that any Irishman who has ever risen to high honours and great renown, will be found, on examination, to possess traits and characteristics the very opposite to those that distinguish his countrymen-being, in short, a sort of lusus naturæ Paddy
who knows if not a Saxon egg, surreptitiously stolen, and placed in the Celtic nest! Sterne they only half give us. Swift some deny us altogether; for my own part, I'd not fight for him. Goldsmith they only concede to us whenever they disparage him. for Edmund Burke, he puzzles them sorely. Burke, the great orator, the master of every form of eloquence, we might be permitted to claim, because, by calling it Irish eloquence, its condemnation was fixed for ever. But Burke the logician-Burke the statesmanBurke the philosopher-the man who foresaw more in the working out of events than any man of his age, who could trace effects to their causes, and predicate from the actual what must be the future-him they deny us, and declare that all these gifts were English. There was an Irishman, too, who called himself Arthur Wellesley, and what an amount of ingenuity was expended to show that his origin was