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it is fed, clothed and comforted,—but he strives to pry into its inner world,-studiously and doubly hidden as it is, from the eye of the superior, by that stubborn pride which is the chief protection of the sensibilities of a denied or degraded caste. He looks closely to see how it thinks—how it feelswhat are its hopes and fears-how it estimates the presenthow it anticipates the future—what are its intellectual daily gains—if any; and what are its poor, despised moral trophies,—the little, creeping, insinuating aims and reachings,the small, fond fancies,—the only half-hoping, and always hidden faith-which, with the inferior condition, somewhat tend to elevate the lowly, soothe and soften the rough, and inform, though, perhaps, with only a transient beauty, the coarse and unintellectual. Dickens wins his way to their history through their sympathies. They unfold their condition because he seems to seek it, not because of his curiosity, but because of a real and friendly interest in their fortunes. He looks at them through their rags, and tells us of the warm heart, the pure spirit, the truly loving and sympathizing and yearning nature, which struggle and sigh for utterance below. Mr. Mathews employs a different process. He goes among the same people as a judge and critic, rather than a friend. It is not as the Howard, but as the chef de police, that he takes them in hand. He shows us the creature in his rags,—shows us his moral hatefulness,-points to his leprous spots, makes us understand how much he is criminal, and does not always remember to show how much he has been suffering. Dickens, by that obvious sympathy with his subject, which is, after all
, the best proof of a capacity for its treatment, lifts into our survey qualities of worth in the object, in which we have hitherto seen only qualities of crime and filth. Our human nature, under his counsel, gradually assimilates itself to its new acquaintance, and we rejoice to find that one whom we held before to be only deserving of our scorn, has really some of the strongest claims, as a being no less suffering than erring, upon our indulgence and affection. The toil of Mr. Mathews is less catholic. His labors, in “Puffer Hopkins,"-winnowed to their just results,--would tend to show that this was all wrong,--and that many to whom we had yielded our sympathies, were in reality only deserving our scorn. This one-sidedness" is not truthful. Man is a much better animal, in his worst rags, than we are inclined to think him ; and the success of
Dickens is due, in fact, to the dramatic manner in which he inculcates this truth. But this acknowledgment is made only to the least objectionable portion of this author's writings. The miserable moral and physical deformities which he sometimes offers us for men and women, are equally false to nature and revolting to art. It is in some of these less truthful compositions that Mr. Mathews makes his closest approximation to the foreign author. He does not seem to possess the finer tact of discriminating and selecting from his materials; nor is he able-whether from youth and inexperience, or because of a natural deficiency in this part of his intellectual organization,-to catch those softening and redeeming traits which are found in the worst of natures, by which the roughest outlines are subdued, and brought within the lively naturalness of truth. The more prominent traits--the open expression-the master feeling, when it can no longer be suppressed-whether of rogue or ruffian-parvenu or pauper,--in his hands become prominent enough. These he can manage and delineate with force and spirit, but we miss the under-strokes,—the softening shadows. The lines stand out sharply and angularly upon the canvasin dead colors, dark, rude, wanting individuality. We see what is intended. --we recognize certain features and a partial truth ;-but it is not the whole truth, and, for the faith we put in it, might as well be false. It is in drawings such as these, as in morals,---the partial fact being the most disparaging form of falsehood and misrepresentation.
We are told by the author, in his preface 10 “Puffer Hopkins," that his desire was to produce a work which should be national and characteristic in its features. It is difficult to say what he conceives to be national and characteristic. We really regard him as less so in “Puffer Ilopkins” and “the Politicians," than in any other of his writings. Nationality is not shown in the slang words and proper names of party, The American people never look less certainly national, than in the times and business of an election. Undoubtedly, this is one of their features. It is one of their periods of excess. The moral moods of the nation distinguish it. We see in it the national tendency to excess and hyperbole,--to recklessness and extravagance,—and the brutal rages of demeanor which we owe to our Anglo-Saxon parentage. Our excitability, our eagerness and earnestness, are shown in some of these phases,—but these give us but a partial glimpse
of the national heart and countenance. Equally remarkable, certainly,—nay, much more remarkable,--.is the calm into which we subside after the contest,--the good humored philosophy wbich consoles us for our defeats, and the elasticity with which we rise to renew the struggle, as hopeful and resolute as ever, whenever the tocsin of party sounds to the field. Then, there is our freedom from vindictiveness. Never was people less given to harbour malignant or unfriendly moods; and we might, had we space and leisure, designate a hundred characteristics which might very well be regarded, under the circumstances, as peculiarly national. It is, we think, the error of Mr. Mathews, to have written as one brought up in a particular school of party. He has imbibed the bias of a sect,—and that not a successful oneand their prejudices constitute the staple of his satire. Satire it is not description. His materials are due to partisan politics, rather than to his walks among the people. We fail to perceive in them a just and adequate development of the popular nature and necessities. His flings are at demagogues and parvenues--at lying patriots and sheepish pretenders— creatures of whom, certainly, we have a nauseating abundance. He shows us the miserable arts, the low cunning, the wretched chicanery, the equal conceit and servility, with which these reptiles work themselves into power,-and bating a too great and frequent exaggeration in the process, he certainly succeeds in giving us a striking and humiliating picture. His error sometimes is,-and by which the force of his satire is impaired,—in making the objects of party too excessively small and ridiculous, and the plans and projects too glaringly absurd, to leave success within the scope of probability; and the satire falls to the ground at times from overleaping itself. There is a nice line of demarcation, difficult to define, by which we know where the artifice ceases, and the absurdity begins. The ridiculous is an Al Sirat-as narrow as that boundary which is supposed to separate the genius from the madman; and to make his way along this attenuated passage, is at once the greatest danger and the greatest triumph of the writer, whether his aim be the humorous or the sublime.
Of our resources of humor as a nation,-of our popular capacity for humor,—something may be said in this connection; for, to be truly successful as a humorous writer, one of the first pre-requisites is a close adherence to the absolute
truths of society. Humorous writing is one of the most delicate difficulties of art,-requiring a keen and quick perception, a happy susceptibility of mood, a nice regard to details, and a felicitous distribution of light and shade, with the happy mixture of pleasing but contending opposites. The English cannot be considered an humorous people. They do not readily surrender themselves to fun. Care is at their elbows ever-they seldom forget his propinquity. Their capacity for humor is doubtful, if not certainly inferior. They are far too earnest a people for it. Their playfulness is like that of Behemoth. Their embrace leaves about the ribs of the subject, very much the sort of sensation which might be looked to follow that of the grisly bear of the Rocky Mountains. They sport like Leviathan, and their laughter-of course, we speak not of the aristocracy now—is something of a yell." He “who plays at bowls” with them, “may expect rubbers." Their wit is seldom innocuous. It breaks bones. They are serious in their fun,indeed, it is something serious usually which makes them funny. The shows in which they most delight are brutal and blood-thirsty. Their jokes are horse-play, and of the kind called "practical.” Even the humane Mr. Dickens derives many of his funny things from the mishaps and misfortunes of his neighbours,-and the amiable Mr. Pickwick is represented as supremely happy when he contributes to the prostration of his companion, at the cost of a broken head, in the sports of the ice-plain. We have but to study the organization of the Anglo-Saxon race, to find the source of these characteristics. The Saxon was a sullen slave—the Norman a brutal and sanguinary robber. The ordinary practices, the constant exercises, the familiar amusements of both races, were of a savage and cruel character. The penalties of crime, of whatever degree, were written in blood. Natural and becoming sports were forbidden, at the peril of life and limb. Oppressive restraints and barbarities controlled some of the popular practices, which were in themselves innocent and conducive to the softening of vulgar moods. Their laws were terribly vindictive. As a matter of course, their strifes were incessant with their tyrants. They encouraged, by their arms, one tyrant against another. A people of unbending will, the failure to escape their oppressors simply increased their ferocity. They cherished the hope of freedom with their hate of the des
potism to which they sullenly succumbed. They yielded nothing without reluctance, and seized upon all possessions without scruple. Intensity, in all their moods, was the natural fruit of such a history. They were people of toils and trials, not of sports. Original endowment, constant invasions, civil wars without end, and a most unhappy familiarity with bloodshed, impressed the moral nature of the nation with a stern, fervid, impregnableness of mood, which becomes conspicuous at a moment, and gives a dark and savage character even to their amusements. Hence the bloody and terrible character of their dramatic writings,—the awful passions which they developed,—the dreadful nature of the deeds to which they gave immortality. It is in their tragedy, indeed, rather than their comedy, that the genius of the nation exults and lives. It is to the writings of Milton and Shakspeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger and Marlowe, rather than those of Farquhar, and Congreve, and Vanbrugh, and Cibber, that the English trace their intellectual supremacy. And the successful writers and writings so preferred, are all earnest, intense and tragic in their kind. This earnestness and severity is at the source of their national greatness --of their liberties. They were a people, prepared by long training for high thoughts and achievements. But it cannot be denied that the effect has been evil upon the morals and manners of the mere multitude, who have no means of partaking of the subduing and refining influences which modify these traits in the superior. The influence of the drama was great, in doing for the inferior classes what social advantages had done for the wealthy. But these influences, though softening and subduing, did not so radically affect the national mind as to endow it with
qualities not originally possessed by the national genius. Of course, no well-balanced national mind can be entirely without humor as a natural constituent of character. But the English have never made many striking exhibitions of this sort. What they have displayed, has been of a very superior kind, certainly, as the names of Fielding, Sterne, Smollett and Hogarth fully show. But these names are the more conspicuous from their infrequency. The English have cheerfulness, a hearty, healthy nature, in which a congenial moral and physique work iogether, to produce a flow and freedom of temper,—but not often that quality, which, while it is too subtle for satisfactory definition, we all understand by the 43
VOL. VI.--NO. 12.