twelve years ago. But they have now been considerably enlarged and a few mistakes corrected. For instance, the present Introduction to Vanity Fair' contains thirtyfive pages, some half-dozen of which at least are absent from the old one, and they are not the least interesting, including, as they do, some extracts, which will be new to most people, from Whitwell Elwin's 'Quarterly' essays on Thackeray, the statement that Dobbin was founded on Thackeray's (and FitzGerald's) great friend, Archdeacon Allen, and the curious conversation between Mr J. E. Cooke and Thackeray as to whether Becky killed Jos Sedley. And there are a good many additional illustrations, both in the Introduction and in the book itself.

Thackeray did not wish his life to be written, and these charming pictures of him, as his daughter and his friends remember him, are likely to remain the nearest approach we shall ever get to an authoritative biography. Lady Ritchie's writing is, like her father's and even more so, of a very easy and desultory sort, rambling backwards and forwards over an uncertain country, very reluctant to be tied by any chronological or other order. As in the novels, so in these Introductions, we are often a little uncertain where we are, and what year or what people we are talking about. The daughter does not care any more than the father to make it quite clear who people are, and what relation they bear to each other; and, like him, she frequently prefers to give us the marriage or the funeral first, and to say nothing about the courtship or illness till afterwards; all of which is rather confusing. To give one instance only. 'Vanity Fair' fills the first two volumes of the edition; it may therefore be assumed that its Introduction will generally be the first read. Yet the reader, who may very possibly know nothing of Thackeray's life, is casually introduced to members of the Carmichael-Smyth family without a word of explanation of Thackeray's connexion with them. All we are told is that the schoolboy often stayed with his stepfather and mother' in Dr James Carmichael-Smyth's house near the British Museum. Then follow other facts about that family, out of which you may extract the Thackeray relationship if you know it already, but not otherwise. It is a pity that people who write reminiscences will

forget that we who read them need to be supplied with the groundwork of facts and dates which they themselves hold in their memories, and on which they safely make their pleasant embroideries. We cannot follow them comfortably unless we are plainly told who married whom, and when, if not where; and how long each of them lived, and how many children they had.

But nihil est ab omni Parte beatum.' We have to

take things as they are. Perhaps Lady Ritchie could not have given us what she has given if she had undergone a training in the business methods of biography under Sir Leslie Stephen or Sir Sidney Lee. As it is, everyone who reads these Introductions comes away with a sense of having, as it were, passed through a 'careless-ordered garden' of pleasant and gracious memories, in which Thackeray appears and reappears as the principal figure. What is the ultimate impression left of him-of the man, not the writer, as we look at him here through his daughter's affectionate eyes, or divine him for ourselves behind the characters in his books? Not that of a strong man certainly. A life of literature, journalism, and dining-out is not the sort of life that developes strength of will or character. He had a shrewd eye for his own defects as well as for those of others; and he knew how to lay his finger on the root of them. Yes, it is very like it is certainly very like,' he once said to an American lady as he looked at a volume of Pendennis.' 'Like whom, Mr Thackeray?' 'Oh! like me, to be sure; it is very like me.' 'Surely not,' objected the lady, 'for Pendennis was so weak!' 'Ah, well, Mrs Baxter,' he replied, 'your humble servant is not very strong.' Thompson, afterwards Master of Trinity, said of him that in his undergraduate days he led 'a somewhat lazy but pleasant and gentlemanlike life'; and though most of the laziness of it had perforce to go when he lost his fortune, some of its laziness as well as all of its gentlemanlike pleasantness lingered in the man of middle age; so that when, after praising Carlyle for living in a 407. house with only a 'snuffy Scotch maid to open the door,' he fancies himself asked, 'And why don't you live with a maid yourself?' his reply is categorical enough: 'Well, I can't; I want a man to be going my own messages, which occupy him pretty well. There must be

a cook, and a woman about the children, and that horse is the best doctor I get in London; in fine, there are a hundred good reasons for a lazy, liberal, not extravagant but costly way of life.' He was probably quite right. A prophet can denounce society without any other assistance than a Scotch maid-of-all-work; but Thackeray's business was to describe it, to extract its essence and convert it into art. That cannot be done without living in it, and then the man to go on messages and the rest of the machinery become valuable if not necessary at once.

[ocr errors]

It has been recorded that for a boy who did not play games he was wonderfully social, full of vivacity and enjoyment of life. His happy insouciance was constant. Never was any lad at once so jovial, so healthy and so sedentary.' There is the key of his life. A youth of these tastes was destined from the first to live the life of a man about town. And that life Thackeray did live always. But it is a complete mistake to think that he was subdued to it. He was above it, and in it, never merely and entirely of it. He caught from it its not unkindly tolerance of many sorts of men who would never have got past the snuffy Scotch maid of Cheyne Row; he learnt from it that truth on which saints and philosophers may sometimes reflect with wonder and humility, that this world is apparently meant to be a place of multiplicity and variety; and would not be so interesting, nor even, he is bold enough to tell his mother, so good a world as it is, were all men like' his saintly friend John Allen. But he knew the worth of such a man, 'yearning day and night in the most intense efforts to gain Christian perfection,' and wrote to him, 'I love you with all my heart and soul. I owe more to you than to all others put together.' But, for good or for evil, he and Allen were different men and perforce lived different lives. And it may be that, though Allen was the better man, Thackeray was the better preacher, and was enabled to make the more breaches in the fortifications of the world precisely by knowing its strong and weak places from inside.

If that was so, it was, of course, because he kept his heart sound. He had been near enough to Major Pendennis to understand his point of view as no one else before or since has ever understood it, but he never himself became Major Pendennis. If he had, he could not

have painted that wonderful portrait. Arthur Pendennis could paint himself, more or less, because he saw a good many points of view beside his own, and was never quite sure what his own was. But pure worldlings and pure saints like the Major and Archdeacon Allen could never depict themselves because they never for a moment get outside their own point of view. Thackeray, of course, was inside and also outside them all; and so could understand, love and judge Allen, and could create the immortal Major. Perhaps there are too many worldlings in his books; and perhaps he knew too many in his life. Even of himself, perhaps, one side was the Sadducee whom he denounces in Arthur Pendennis.

'Friend Arthur was a Sadducee, and the Baptist might be in the Wilderness shouting to the poor, who were listening with all their might and faith to the preacher's awful accents and denunciations of wrath or woe or salvation; and our friend the Sadducee would turn his sleek mule with a shrug and a smile from the crowd, and go home to the shade of his terrace, and muse over preacher and audience, and turn to his roll of Plato, or his pleasant Greek song-book babbling of honey and Hybla and nymphs and fountains and love."

But it was the side which was kept under, which was judged and condemned and defeated.

'If seeing and acknowledging the lies of the world, Arthur, as see them you can with only too fatal a clearness, you submit to them without any protest further than a laugh; if, plunged yourself in easy sensuality, you allow the whole wretched world to pass groaning by you unmoved; if the fight for the truth is taking place, and all men of honour are on the ground armed on the one side or the other, and you alone are to lie on your balcony and smoke your pipe out of the noise and the danger, you had better have died, or never have been at all, than such a sensual coward.'

That is not the language of the worldling. It is a different thing-the language of a man who knew inside as well as outside himself what worldlings are. 'Charges of cynicism,' as Meredith said, 'are common against all satirists. Thackeray had to bear with them.' But, as Meredith adds, the man himself was one of the manliest, the kindliest of human creatures. It was the love of his art that exposed him to misinterpretation.... He described

his world as an accurate observer saw it; he could not be dishonest.' Those who knew him knew well how much the opposite of a cynic he was; and Shirley Brooks expressed their feelings in Punch' when he wrote the memorial verses which begin :

[ocr errors]

'He was a cynic! By his life all wrought

Of generous acts, mild words, and gentle ways;
His heart wide open to all kindly thought,

His hand so quick to give, his tongue to praise!'

And did any real cynic ever love his children? These Introductions show how Thackeray loved his, and how he was loved in return. No claims or pleasures of the world were ever allowed to keep him apart from his two girls. When he and they were unavoidably separated, he was a constant and affectionate correspondent; when all were at home together, they were his chosen companions; and his engagement to dine with them so many nights a week took precedence of all others, however distinguished.

It is inevitable that the Introductions should deal rather with the man than with the writer. They are avowedly biographical, and Lady Ritchie would naturally decline the part of her father's critic. But, after all, the man is remembered for the writer's sake. And besides, 'caret vate sacro.' He desired not to have and has not had a biographer. We shall never know him as we know Johnson or Scott. He will therefore stand or fall by his own writings. What place is he likely permanently to occupy in the roll of English writers? What part did he play in that brilliant development of the novel which, as we were saying just now, was such a striking feature of the century in which he lived?

Flaubert, in one of his letters to George Sand, makes a very interesting remark about English novelists. He has been reading 'Pickwick,' and he says of it, 'il y a des parties superbes, mais quelle composition défectueuse! Tous les écrivains anglais en sont là; Walter Scott excepté, ils manquent de plan.' He probably had never heard of Jane Austen; and, of course, his remark does not apply to the work of the last forty or fifty years. But even to-day, looking broadly at the English novel, it is still true, in spite of Scott and Miss Austen and George Eliot and

« VorigeDoorgaan »