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ches,” “Cutbills,” “Bluffs,” “Gallipots," "Shirks” and “Bloaters." Why such names? Are they suggestive either of wit or of society? Are they suggestive of character? It is the error of Mr. Mathews to make them commonly so. Mr. Dickens falls into the folly of employing a like nomenclature, but he steers clear of the further error of making it significant of the morals and manners of his dramatis per
He is prudent enough to confound the senseless exaggeration by idealizing the character that bears the name. The error is due to a like exaggeration with that which, in a sentimental age, provided the persons with names particularly rose-hued and lackadaisical. The "Nickelby's," and “Rudges," and "Twists,” are natural antagonists to the Lovells, Savilles and Mandevilles of a previous generation, and are just as legitimate. Mr. Dickens, though he confers unusual names upon his personages, does not employ such as convey absolutely vulgar suggestions of the character. He makes them outré, but not necessarily monstrous. We think him wrong, even as it is, for the nomenclature should represent the society in which the scene is laid, and should be as little suggestive of the peculiarities of the individual, as names so found are possible to be. This is a rule in art known to the old writers. In modern times, we have Walter Scott, a nice tactician in such matters. He goes so far as to object that the general title of a work should convey any idea of the purpose or plot of the writer. But, in this suggestion, he was governed by the policy of the raconteur, simply, who knows how much of success is due to surprise, and who guards in this way against the discovery of his plan until he is ready with the denouement. But, so far as the naming of persons is concerned, the rule is a reasonable one. Look at the old English masters of comic fiction for something on this head. Take Fielding, Smollett and Goldsmith for authorities--as they are. Tom Jones, Squire Western, Blifil, Roderick Random, Thornhill, etc., are names of society, well chosen, simple and expressive, conveying no more to the mind of the reader than the simple fact that he is among creatures of kith and kin. Be sure, there is no small value in this suggestion. A novel writer, indeed, cannot do better than go to the "directory” for his dramatis personæ.
Our next objection to “Puffer Hopkins," is a more serious one. The work, though marked by sober and even pathet
ic parts, is yet, in its general tone, intended as a humorous one. Now, we are not prepared to regard the endowments of Mr. Mathews as particularly humorous. His various attempts in this way, do not convince us that he is in possession of this quality, or at least that he holds it to any great extent. It is certainly not his forte. Comic fiction is evidently not his vein. He does not seem the man for picking up and portraying such materials as present themselves, lying confusedly, upon the surface of social life. Whatever be the character of the less direct, the less grave portions of this story, it is assuredly not humor. It lacks ease, smoothness of transition, unaffectedness, for this. It is too stern, too sombre, too stiff and stately. The dignity and directness of the author's mood, seems to stand in the way of his persons. He makes them speak his language, as he usually thinks, rather than such as belong to their own thoughts and situations. He makes them speak scorn and satire, when such persons are susceptible only to the ridiculous. They · are simply the mouth-pieces of the author, and there is a constant struggle between the position of the dramatis personæ and what is before them to do, and the higher and soberer thoughts which the former is compelling them to articulate. We do not deny that the material furnishes excellent staple for the humorous and the satiric, but it is one thing to bring it forth by means of the natural agents, and another to unfold it in the attributes of the stern censor in the chair of criticism. The ludicrousness is not allowed to show itself by means of its proper representatives. It is held up by the author himself.-a man of keen, earnest, cynical inind, with a bitter chuckle, which is scorn rather than humor, to the hatred rather than the contempt of the species. We see the critic, but not the humorist. We see that there are things and persons deserving of ridicule and laughter, but we do not laugh. The author holds the victim up to severer penalties. He says "laugh,” it is true, but he says it in such a manner, that we are more disposed to "lynch” than to laugh.
We confess ourselves surprised that Mr. Mathews should incline to this species of writing. We do not conceive his endowments to be of the kind for it, and should suppose him to be utterly ignorant of his rôle, but for his real excellence in other performances to which we have adverted. His error has been, in all probability, the result of the ne42
VOL, VI.NO. 12.
cessities of American authorship. Such are our critics, and such our publishers, and such our people, that native literature, to be popular, must necessarily be a work of imitation. To be original, would be to offend critic, publisher and public, who are not easily persuaded of tracks yet to be hewn out by the hands of the pioneer, in letters as in woods. The American, whatever be his genius, must subdue, must hush its utterance, until, by showing that he can tread the same paths, successfully, with the foreigner, he may venture unchallenged into some glorious outlawry of his own. The example and the good fortunes of the modern English writers of humor, have, we suspect, done more towards persuading our author into their provinces, than any natural tendency of his own mind. We do not say this in disparagement. We do not say that he is an imitator,-a mere follower in the path of a superior. Very far from this. But for the belief that Mr. Mathews is a man of really original endowment, destined yet to do honour to our literature, we should not expend a word upon him. But the temptation to enter fields in which success has recently been found, is but natural to the young and striving intellect. He may enter the same field, but may plough and plant it after a fashion of his own. This is the fact in the present case. Mr. Mathews has too much real ability to be an imitator. We see this in spite of the painful difficulties which his subject seems to have imposed upon his genius. His book seems to betray, in every page, the proofs of a native and audacious mind struggling against self-rivetted fetters. Could he have been an imitator, this work would have been more successful. The material for a dozen volumes, like those of Dickens', is abundant in the characteristics of New York life. But success, except in the matter of money, and for the moment, would have been but an inferior concern with an original mind. To succeed, after the fashion of Mr. Dickens, or any model, would be but a small achievement, the value of which may be understood by reference to the successes which, by merely imitative industry, Mr. James has secured in his pressing progress through the paths opened by Walter Scott.
We have already said that Mr. Mathews lacks one great essential of the successful imitator-mental Aexibility. His independence stands in his own path. He will look aside from his model, to his mind. His eyes turn inwardly, not
without. Instead of following, he aims perpetually to lead. His thoughts and expressions come out of a mould of their own, in spite of all his efforts to force them into that of other people. Hence, indeed, the phlegm and stiffness which distinguish his utterance,--a characteristic which is every where present in his humorous attempts, and which we conceive to be singularly false as characteristic of his intellect. As an imitator of Dickens, we should say that he would be particularly unfortunate, and his failure would be the strict result of the strong and decided independence which marks his mind. This independence, would he obey it, would lead him to very different fields, and probably to not dissimilar degrees of success ;-allowing all the while for the monstrous inferiority of opportunity in the cis-atlantic writer,-an inferiority which, we are compelled to fear, will survive the present generation. He lacks sundry of the attributes which are among the most prominent in the genius of Dickens,-that pliancy of mood, for example, which we call mental flexibility, and which enables him to go out of himself, to forget himself, to forget his favorite thoughts and fancies, and to throw all the strength of his intellect into the dramatis persona under his hands. Shakspeare was, of all writers that have ever lived, the most perfect master of this faculty. Homer had it in large degree. Walter Scott stands next to Shakspeare in its possession. Milton wanted it,--so did Byron, so does Bulwer. We might name others, were it needful. The one class implicitly obeyed the laws inevitably accruing from the condition of the scheme before them,-followed out that scheme,—had no prejudices, no partialities,—took no sides in the controversy of which they simply reported, and seemed to have subdued their own passions entirely, while giving breadth, strength and development to those of their characters. Milton, on the other hand, was a kingman,---of great executive will,—who impressed all persons with his own nature, and made all speak after the fashion of his own soul. He asked not after the fashion of the world, but he made the world after his own models. This is what the Germans call “one-sidedness,” in opposition to “many-sidedness,"—a clumsy mode of expressing things which are yet left without a perfect definition. Our author labors under this "one-sidedness," which renders him unfit for dramatic writing. He has too much of the puritan temperament, which is unimpressible, rigid and dictatorial,
and all this is totally adverse to success in fields like those of Dickens. He lacks, also, as the natural consequence of an earnest, inflexible will, the same capacity for patient observation,—the same keen zest for the queer, the quaint and the ridiculous,—which are leading traits in the constitution of the English writer. A fondness for exaggeration-which is equally
significant of the imaginative faculty—is, as far as we are able to see, almost the only marked quality which these writers partake in common ;-yet, even in the development of this quality, they are very unlike. Mathews is generally very serious and sarcastic in his exaggerations ; Dickens is rather jocose and good-humored. The one dilates in the sterner portions of his story,—the other rather hurries over these, and, in the sad and the pathetic, aims to be as simple and natural as possible. He has the advantage, in this respect, of the American, simply because of that inferior earnestness of mood, which permits of a proper division of his regard among all of his plans and passages.
In the intense directness of his own, Mr. Mathews is not an unfit representative of the American mind, which is serious, straight-forward and impressive ;--not content with being suggestive only,-never satisfied until it enforces, with sober argument and solid illustration, the subject which it proposes to teach. His tastes do not incline him, with the writer of whom we assume his designed imitation,—10 "catch the living manners as they rise," to seize and bring together, in connection and odd contrast, as they severally occur, the thousand traits presented by the condition of low-life and pauperism. His genius is too aristocratic-too despotic, for this. He is, we regret to think, from his writings, too little of the democrat-socially and politically. He generalizes with more ease than he details ; groups rather than delineates. The nicer shades of humble character escape him,—those exquisitely slight hues, and fainter lines, which denote the transition from one mood or feeling to another, among a class of persons, who,-except when entirely freed from the restraining presence of their superiors,—speak and appear with the subdued voice and countenance of men for whom there is no social law, and whose social privileges are those of license rather than liberty. It is from a singular sympathy with this ordinary and inferior nature, that Mr. Dickens derives his material and his successes. He not only sees into its external condition,-how