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No. 3527 February 10, 1912
1. Mrs. Humphry Ward's Novels. By Stephen Gwynn.
II. The Turco-Italian War. By Kepi.
Author of "The Severins," etc. (To be continued.)
NINETEENTH CENTURY AND AFTER 823
V. The Changes in India. By Sir Andrew Fraser, K.C.S.I. (Late Lieut-Governor of Bengal.) NINETEENTH CENTURY AND AFTER 351 VI. A Leader: Scenes of Revolutionary Life in Russia. IV-VII. By Variag. (Concluded). FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW VII. Fiction and Portraiture. By F. Warre Cornish. EYE-WITNESS VIII. Absent Friends; By Filson Young. SATURDAY REVIEW IX. The Advertisement Nuisance. PUNCH
X. The Wreck of the "Delhi." By George R. Halkett.
A PAGE OF VERSE.
XI. "Nature is the Living Mantle of God."- Goethe.
XII. The Astronomer's Prayer. By Hugh Austin.
By Rev. W. Blackshaw.
CONTEMPORARY REVIEW 841
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MRS. HUMPHRY WARD'S NOVELS.
It is more than a quarter of a century now since Mrs. Ward's first novel was published, and very little less since she achieved with her second book that commanding success which gave her the position now consolidated by twenty years of sincere and able work. Yet probably few critics would deny that critical opinion has never seriously faced the task of assigning to her writings even a conjectural rank. To this enterprise the issue of a collected edition seems to challenge us; but before attempting it, it is necessary to make clear what is meant here by an absence of critical estimate. There are certain authors (take the late Mr. Marion Crawford as a type), excellent craftsmen in their way, to whom all gratitude is due for many pleasant hours-hours no more wasted than is a day spent in sunshine-yet of whom it may be said without disparagement that the higher laurels never came into the scope of their aim. Others, again, whatever be the ultimate award, have by common consent been recognized as possible candidates for permanent recognition. I pick out Mr. Conrad and Mr. Hewlett at a venture. It makes no difference to the issue that Mr. Hewlett has obtained a vogue probably no less wide than Mr. Crawford's, while Mr. Conrad has been obliged to content himself with a very limited public. Any critic, any man of letters, would agree that in estimating the contemporary art of fiction these two names must be taken into account. Yet from such a survey Mrs. Ward might, I think, very conceivably be omitted, almost by inadvertence. The reason is easy to give. Mrs. Ward created her position by a book whose popularity rested upon qualities apart from its artistic value. And although we have
the best authority (her own)' for declaring that its success was never in doubt, that success was greatly increased by an article of Mr. Gladstone's in these pages which dealt with it chiefly in its theological relations.'
Without discussing here the merits of Robert Elsmere as a novel (and upon a re-reading they seemed much greater than I had remembered), it can be affirmed that to the world in general the book was the vehicle for popularizing a new range of ideas. It interested readers as an article in this Review might have done. The discussions which it raised so abundantly concerned not the story but the material which the story treated. If Stevenson's book The Wreckers had filled Great Britain with controversy upon the methods of speculative finance, a similar situation would have arisen. But even if Stevenson had written a novel upon the theme afforded by a clergyman who finds himself obliged to surrender the doctrinal position which he is pledged to uphold, no one would have turned to that book for an exposition of the newest light on theology. With Stevenson the story is the thing and the sole thing. With Mrs. Ward it is only one of several interests. And it may be added that Mrs. Ward made her success at the very height of Stevenson's intellectual ascendancy, when criticism was dominated by his doctrine of cutting out of the novel all that did not strictly help to advance the tale, and she was therefore unduly discounted by the critical opinion of that particular moment; all the more, perhaps, because, in defiance of the recommended pro
1 See preface to "Robert Elsmere" in the Westmoreland edition, which furnishes with each novel biographical notes upon the sources of inspiration, as well as photographs of places which have the honor to be associated with Mrs. Ward's work.
2 "Nineteenth Century," May 1888.
cedure, she had succeeded in interesting those whom no novelist can afford to despise.
I am speaking now of that critical opinion which is responsive and responsible only to the craft itself-which, in fact, very largely reflects the craft's own judgment—and which is always a little prejudiced against the successful artist by certain aspects of popularity. The admiration of those who, admiring Mrs. Ward, admired also Miss Corelli, was in this respect a detrimental asset. Yet, it may be replied, if Mrs. Ward can interest fashionable ladies and other not very intellectual people in things of the mind (as undoubtedly she has done), that is matter for praise: unless her methods can be shown to be illegitimate, unless she has vulgarized and mutilated the thing which she delineates, to bring it down to facile comprehension. I do not think such a charge could be sustained for a moment. Highly trained, indefatigably industrious, her work proves her to be -and not only that, but fair in her presentment of those attitudes of mind which are not her own. The devil's advocate before the tribunal of art would be obliged, I think, to limit himself to this indictment: that she is a publicist rather than an artist; or at least that her success was the success of a publicist rather than of an artist, and that even with developing artistic power she has never learnt to subordinate the accidental to the essential interests of her craft.
The devil's advocate has (as usual) something to say for himself. Mrs. Ward's characters, he affirms, exist too little by their affections or their senses, too much by their ideas; and it is possible to represent her books as only one or two degrees removed from that ungenial thing, the "symposium" in a review. She is so well educated (that is indeed the trouble: she is much too well educated) that she knows the
proper ingredients for a novel: picturesque backgrounds are provided, plot is carefully planned, incident does not lack, local color is thoughtfully wrought up. But in remembering her novels, it is not the plot nor the incident nor the characters that one remembers: it is the collision of ideas. Add to this, says the devil's advocate, that Mrs. Ward is admirable as a cicerone to Canada, to Italy, to the home counties, and above all to the highest circles of intellectual and political distinction. Her novels succeed as superior guide-books rather than as human documents.
On such lines the devil's advocate in my consciousness proceeds and would go further if he were let; but the substance of his complaining comes, I think, to this. People talk of such and such a person having "had no advantages." Mrs. Ward has had too many "advantages"; they stand in her way. There is something of the child in every artist, and it is hard to find in most of Mrs. Ward's books. When you find it, she is unconsciously creative-working in a wholly different mood. Every page that she writes of the north country (where we know that she was bred, and if we did not know we could infer it) tells simply of life lived. She is part of what she writes about, is one with it. Everywhere else we are conscious of experience deliberately pursued,
scenes and environments admirably depicted, but no more. She can describe to us the society in which most of her working life has presumably been passed: she cannot make it live.
Herein she shows inferior to so true yet so pedestrian an artist as Trollope. Trollope made Barchester-made it out of his own consciousness, somehow obscurely informed. It lives, it is all of a piece, it has an atmosphere which conveys itself: he does not need to describe. Or take a closer parallel. Trollope was probably never in so close
touch with politicians as Mrs. Ward has been, yet his novels of parliamentary life, far less technical than hers in their method, far less shoppy (if one may be permitted the phrase), nevertheless catch, as hers do not, the spirit of the institution as we know it to-day, despite the passage of nearly two generations and far-reaching change. The difference is that Trollope is interested primarily in men and women, in the rough lump of humanity; Mrs. Ward is preoccupied with special types, with their ideas, and their setting, soIcial or historic.
Yet after all, what novelist of today except Mr. Hardy could one securely class on a level with Trollope? And in one sense Mrs. Ward has a better right to be named with him than most: her survival is assured, like his, for the purposes of history. The historian seeking to construct a picture of the last hundred years will find his best resource (far better than the newspapers can afford) in certain novelists, persons of normal mind: such pre-eminently was Trollope. Take for example one of his least-known works, The MacDermots of Ballycloran: it is like the report of the Devon Commission dramatized and focussed upon a particular locality. He saw Ireland with the mind of a jury. And if a Royal Commission had been instituted to report upon the life of the country clergy and the more devout among their well-to-do parishioners, who can doubt but that the evidence and the findings would have left an impression which could be well summed up in the novels of Miss Yonge? These two artists (no candid mind can deny that title to Miss Yonge) presented the mode of middle-class living in their day, in a way that will serve the historian-to whom Stevenson or Meredith will be of singularly little advantage. Mrs. Ward also will go down to posterity as the writer who has known how to drama
tize in an interesting fashion, not so much the life as the intellectual tendencies of her own generation. The historian will turn to her to understand not what people were like, what they did, what they did not do, how they judged of conduct, but rather (in an age much marked by speculation) what they thought about. You will gather from Meredith what Meredith loved and laughed at, from Stevenson what Stevenson liked men to do or to be. But Mrs. Ward dispassionately, or at least with scrupulous generosity, sets out for us the general opinions current in her time upon high matters of con
A novelist's early attempts are often instructive; and Mrs. Ward's first book showed all the superficial characteristics of her manner. To begin with, Miss Bretherton had the attribute of associating itself inevitably with an actual personage-in that case a living actress. Mrs. Ward has always steadily insisted on the right to find in fact a starting-point for fiction, a suggestion which the artist may develop. In another respect the choice of subject was characteristic, since it admits of being stated as an abstract intellectual formula. It might have been written in answer to an examination question put somewhat thus: "If an actress of high ambition, but destitute of training, makes a dazzling success by sheer beauty, what is likely to be her evolution?" And the answer given in Mrs. Ward's thesis-novel reveals a third trait destined to mark all her work. Miss Bretherton owes the salvation of her artistic soul to the fact that she has come in touch with persons of what is sometimes called the highest culture. It is an obsession with Mrs. Ward that there exists somewhere (at the top) a distinctive society, admission into which may be simply represented an assay or proof of fitness (as in Canadian Born), but is more commonly