Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

been accused of estimating too highly. Critics who did not know the Master are apt to judge him partly from gossip, partly (as in the case of Socrates) from some of his least desirable and least congenial pupils. What the Master was in the pulpit, I found him during a very long friendship, the kindest, the most generous, one of the most humorous of men, sympathetic, laborious, sane in judgment, self-denying, considerate, and firmly anchored in his faith. Surely he should be remembered as he really was ; as those who knew him best, best knew him; as he is to be found in these sermons, and in his noble words on the great Gordon. If he had a second-rate Crito, or a fashy Alcibiades, among his pupils, his memory is not to be poisoned by reason of their offences. One of the Master's pupils, it may be said not unkindly, left a monument of self-analysis behind him, and for this I have heard the Master blamed. How little he liked it may be gathered from a passage (page 36) where he says, “There was more heartiness, and originality, and force among the youth of that day” (forty years ago) "and there was not the same tendency to self-analysis."

In history one does not observe many new books. Mr. Hodgkin continues his learned and lucid “Italy and Her Invaders"; dealing now with the Lombards. I call it "lucid," for that it is so an ignoramus may discover, and “ learned ” because Mr. Hodgkin seems to have neglected no old source, including coins, and to have consulted every modern interpreter of the rather darkling oracles. But, to be as hard on myself as on other incompetent members of the guild of critics, I don't know anything at all about the Lombards, except what Mr. Hodgkin tells us, and the romance of Rosamond, and the Saga which Kingsley did into verse. I read with a gratified surprise, like the Duke of Newcastle, when they told him that Cape Breton was

an island. The Lombards were early neighbours of the Angles : the Angles sailed across sea and conquered, the Lombards marched to Italy and conquered, afterwards giving their name to Lombard-street, where Becky Sharp went. Both nations worshipped Hertha and drowned her temple-slaves, and from such wild ancestors came Beckett and Dante. Mr. Hodgkin's books do not need the good word of a dunce in matters Longobardic.

About another historical work, Mr. Hume Brown's “ Life of John Knox,” I have a smattering. This book, too, is learned and lucid, but rather chilly in style. Mr. Hume Brown (as I have elsewhere hinted) gives us the bear without its claws and rugged coat. Knox writes, on occasion, like a very lively newspaper man of the period (say Mr. Healey); his enemies are "old bosses,” or “cob-carles," when they are not "bloody beasts,” and “ Jezebels fit for the devil's maw.” Mr. Hume Brown does not throw much light on these vivacities of the Reformer, who was a very great man, a very lively writer, but an uncommonly bad Christian. The author's perspective, as it were, is excellent throughout : he guides us skilfully through the political labyrinth ; his remarks on Knox at Dieppe, and his influence on foreign Puritanism, are capital contributions to history. He publishes, too, a letter, by Peter Young, descriptive of Knox's personal aspect, which, with other evidence, proves Beza's woodcut to be an authentic portrait, contrary to the opinion of Mr. Carlyle. He is a little hard on Queen Mary, in her relations with Knox, but he is not a hopelessly partial judge of his hero. I know not how it is, Knox offends me in almost all that he did and wrote, yet leaves me with a sneaking affection for the indomitable, superstitious, overbearing, vain, courageous old heathen of a Reformer. In that violent drama he played a man's part, if not a Christian man's. Such a character as his Catholic opponent, Ninian Winzet, had far more “sweet reasonableness,” but by that quality the wise world refuses to be governed. This is not an ideal Life of Knox; it wants colour and life, it wants Knox's own best qualities, but it is a very meritorious piece of work. The volume of “Miscellaneous Essays

“ Miscellaneous Essays” of Mr. Pater, edited by his friend Mr. Shadwell, contains matter which he had not finally corrected. The most interesting essay, perhaps, is that on Pascal : would that the author could have added, what is almost the necessary pendant to a study of Pascal-a study of Molière. The genius of these great men overlapped, and one was the complement of the other. In these papers Mr. Pater (more than in some of his work) seems to me to avoid the error of “writing too well.” His genius produces on me the effect of a flower-plot in a cloister garden ; there is something so precise, so remote from the world and its interests in his style. The most mundane thing is the little story of “Emerald Uthwart," for a court-martial and a military execution are more in Mr. Kipling's line than in Mr. Pater's. One feels that Mr. Kipling would have made the story live, and in Mr. Pater's hands it is a cool picture seen from far away : the hero might be a kind of St. Sebastian rather than a British subaltern. The little essay on diaphanéité was, apparently, written when the author was an undergraduate or a very young don, and it is a proof that he became himself very early. Nothing can be more remote in thought and expression from the ordinary heyday of youth. Some of the ideas, like that Platonic one of “elect souls," recur in the essay on Pascal. If the “Child in the House" was himself, he must have been his literary self from infancy. He had “a mystical appetite for sacred things,” a most unusual state of mind, surely ; his ideas of ghosts were extremely unlike those which we used to entertain. The essays are like a voice out of another world than ours ; a world, I fear, where I should long to do something violently natural—to shout, and throw stones, and disarrange things in general, and talk in a boisterous manner about sporting events. But this reaction (which is deplorable) may be only a proof of the author's success in producing the still, chill, contemplative effect which he desired. And yet, when I was young, Mr. Pater's literary manner seemed to me (for a short time) to be almost perfection. Perhaps it is too perfect, too shrinkingly immaculate, too virginal ; I do not say too old-maidish. In any case, I could never recapture the pleasure I found in the earliest book, the “ Studies of the Renaissance."

We have known Mr. Stevenson in many characters, as essayist, poet, dramatist, and novelist. In the “ Vailima Letters," addressed to, and admirably edited by Mr. Colvin, he appears in the genre epistolary. Mr. Stevenson was an odd, erratic letter writer, as a rule ; fantastic would best describe his familiar correspondence. To myself would come, once in a blue moon, a remark on native customs and traditions, a hasty request for books, or a criticism, perhaps in rhyme, on some new work. But the “Vailima Letters " are a kind of journal letter, written at stated intervals, to keep Mr. Colvin acquainted with all his correspondent's doings and adventures, whether in literature, or as a settler, or as a Samoan politician. The literary passages will probably be of most interest to the public, for many people, who never read what a man has written, are glad to read about what he is going to write, and about his methods as a writer. On all of these points Mr. Stevenson gives plenty of information, and he confirms what was already known-namely, that all his literary remains are fragmentary. Stories of a plantation, of a French prisoner in England, of the Young Chevalier and his rescue of a girl from a fire at Strasbourg, and of a hanging Scottish judge in Sir Walter Scott's time, and others are, alas ! all unfinished. The story of the hanging judge, “Weir of Hermiston,” will be in the hands of readers of COSMOPOLIS. Mr. Stevenson's methods, as we knew before, were extremely arduous, and his alternations of pleasure and pride in his work, and of disappointment and distress, are probably familiar to most artists. These passages, and his excursions into his own psychology, and a few elaborate pictures of landscape, will probably be of the keenest interest to readers who were not personally acquainted with the writer. The troubles and struggles of a

settler in a new country, the battles with pigs, and lazy or uninstructed native "hands,” are much the same everywhere. Englishmen, though scattered in so many lands, are somehow very uninterested in the politics of the people they supplant, and Mr.

Stevenson certainly gives more of Samoan politics than the general reader can be expected to care for. Had he confined himself to penning his own meditations, he would doubtless have interested more keenly the lovers of literature. But his example of courage, goodness, and generosity shines here, as in all his works. I would not place him, on the evidence of this collection, among the great letter writers - Horace Walpole, Madame de Sevigné, Cicero, and the rest; but they lived among great affairs, in the letter-writer's best milieu, not in an unfamiliar island, in a struggle with sickness, with work

with Nature, and with the troubles of obscure politics. The one element really congenial to Mr. Stevenson was the naturally courteous and loyal society of the unspoiled Samoans; and that element, unluckily, is not congenial to an over-civilised public. Mr. Colvin's preface contains the best portrait of his friend which has been drawn with pen and ink, and raises the highest hopes of the Memoir which, I suppose, he is to write. Probably he left out of the Letters many bright comments on people at home--"actualities" which the world would relish, but which the world must go without. We are left to regret, in our own interest, that need of variety kept Mr. Stevenson flitting from unfinished book to book freshly begun, instead of practising the stubborn application of Trollope. In his “Journal" Scott often confesses to this need of variety, of change; but in Mr. Stevenson the necessity was overmastering.

To the criticism of novels personal taste and perhaps personal prejudice contribute so much that a man of any experience distrusts himself, and must warn other people to distrust him. For example, I think that a story should be conceived and narrated for the story's sake, as a disinterested representation of life, of character, of events. It should have no more "message," or últerior purpose (as of discouraging religion, inciting sedition, promoting loyalty, persuading us to marry our deceased wives' sisters, or to abstain from marriage as an impure and odious invention) than have the plays of Shakespeare, or “Old Mortality," or " Manon Lescaut.” “Even in this faith I choose to live and die." You may tell me that Æschylus, in the " Eumenides," means to plead the cause of agnation, as against kinship through females. You, or Mr. Verral, may declare that, in the “Alcestis,” Euripides is laughing at religion in his sleeve. Perhaps it is so, and then so much the worse for Euripides and Æschylus. Their plays are not tracts or sermons, in any case, and the novel which is really a tract has, I think, no right to exist. A case cannot be stated fairly and fully in a novel, and people with arguments to press on the public should put them honestly into treatises. “The public will read nothing but novels.” Then why trouble yourself about the opinions and conduct of crétins incapable of study, and obliged to pilfer what they call their ideas out

« AnteriorContinuar »