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That this should have been a pure, healthy, honest, boyishly noble and chivalrous soul—that this highhearted gentleman should have been tender, gentle, upright, true in thought and deed, did not surprise one; nor yet that he should have had such moods of wild fun and airy riot as are embodied in his lesser works, such moods as Heine describes in one inimitable sentence, when he says, “At noon I feel as though I could devour all the elephants of Hindostan, and then pick my teeth with the spire of Strasburg cathedral.’ But it did surprise one at first to learn that this was the most finished literary artist of his age, a wise, sad moralist, an extraordinarily subtle humorist, a writer whose stealthy charm and subtle perfection of style and thought almost baffle analysis. This did surprise one, until by some quaint expression, some passing phrase, unconsciously betraying the natural facility, the admirable critical insight of the speaker, the veil was withdrawn, and it became evident that the author of Vanity Fair and the man beside you were truly one and the same. Yet, with all his boyishness of manner, there was something leonine about Thackeray. “And there came up a lion out of Judah l’ Miss Bronté exclaimed, when she first saw Lawrence's picture of the giant. With such a presence, he might easily have been tempted to assume an air of false dignity; but he was too wise to do so; for that bright and frank guilelessness could not fail to be the most consummate charm of a man who, intellectually, possessed the subtlety of the serpent. This openness, indeed, was sometimes inconvenient. He felt blame sensitively, and could not always conceal his sensitiveness. On the other hand, a few sentences of sympathetic appreciation, a few “kind words, even when spoken by an unknown critic, were sure to bring cordial thanks from the great man, whose humility was as unfeigned as his greatness.” And he is gone and the reign of Queen Anne will not be written by Thackeray ! Here is perhaps his latest allusion to the “ambition,’ which he so ardently cherished:— “Queen Anne has long been my ambition; but she will take many a long year's labour, and I can't ask any other writer to delay on my account. At the beginning of this year I had prepared an announcement, stating that I was engaged on that history; but kept it back, as it was necessary that I should pursue my old trade of novelist for some time yet to come. Meanwhile her image stands before St. Paul's, for all the world to look at ; and who knows but some one else may be beforehand with both of us, and sketch her off while we are only laying the palette” We talked for a while about the dear friend, the
delicate, subtle, and imaginative insight into the characters with which they are occupied. They may be compared to Mr. Leech's drawings, which raise a laugh indeed, but from which a truer notion of the English men and women and children of the Victorian era is to be obtained than from all the portraits painted by the Academicians.
* Here, for instance, is a sentence which, appearing a year before his death, called forth such a note of kindly thanks. ‘Men, therefore, whose writings owe their fascination to the “wise sad valour” which lies at the root of all true humour, and to the mellow autumnal hue which falls like the golden lights of harvest aslant the page; the moralists who take Vanitas' for their theme—Montaigne, Charles Lamb, William Thackeray—appear to gain a new force and faculty as they grow old. That tender sagacity and gentleness of touch, which charm us so, is long in being learned; 'tis a second nature, scarcely quite formed until the hair is grey, and the brow furrowed.’
noble gentleman, who had gone over to the majority; and then we fell silent, until the Doctor roused us by proposing somewhat shyly to read a paper on the Memorial Poets, one of the latest contributions, as we guessed, to the yet unpublished De Omnibus. Somewhat shyly, I say, for when his own writings are in question the Doctor manifests an exceptional shyness. I do not know why this should be, unless, perhaps, that he allows a vein of sentiment, which he resents and ridicules in others, which never enters into his ordinary conversation, to flow from his pen, and touch his written prose. Having secured our assent, he drew a manuscript from his pocket, and began to read.
AGAINST Oblivion, “who blindly scattereth her poppies, we wage an incessant but ineffectual warfare. We rear tombstones, and sepulchral urns, and Roman columns, ‘whose ashes sleep sublime, buried in air, and looking to the stars,' and Egyptian pyramids, to preserve the unprofitable memory of a name. We strive passionately to perpetuate the perishable. It is an easy thing to be forgotten; but we prefer a vexed immortality and an unquiet fame to the innocent obscurity of the grave. But this monumental literature is not confined to the tombstone or the urn. The same feeling which rears the rude slab in the remote village churchyard,
Where happy generations lie,
inspires the Lycidas of Milton and the In Memoriam of Tennyson. With what may be called occasional memorial poetry we are indifferently supplied. Ben Jonson's matchless epigram occupies the foremost place: Underneath this marble hearse Lies the subject of all verse— Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother. Death ! when thou hast slain another,
Fair, and learned, and good as she,
Milton himself on this ground is not always very happy. The epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester, who died in childbed in her twenty-third year, is decidedly poor. The lady sits in heaven beside the mother of Joseph—“No Marchioness, but now a Queen,' —a recognition of aristocratic distinctions, which in the situation has an odd sound, especially from the lips of a Republican. But his sonnet on ‘My late espoused saint,’ his second wife, Catherine Woodcock— Her face was veiled; yet, to my fancied sight, Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shined So clear as in no face with more delight.
But O, as to embrace me she inclined,
is tender and solemn; and Lycidas discloses the richest
bloom of his virgin fancy. The fine lines—
are, perhaps, unmatched by anything that he afterwards wrote. Dryden tried his hand at memorial verses, with no very brilliant result. They are, as all his work is, strong, massive, masculine; but they are deficient in simplicity of construction and delicacy of touch. It is curious that Dryden, who, as a moralist and satirist, was so eminently simple and unartificial—going so directly to the mark, never failing to hit the right nail on the head—should have grown constrained and turgid when he attempted to enlist the purer and loftier emotions. Somehow on that ground his weighty and magnificent common-sense did not serve him ; he faltered where weaker men firmly trod; the habit of that majestic satiric muse, fitted to dignify the pageantry of woe, stifled genuine sorrow and the simple expression of natural feeling. Dr. Johnson thought the ode on Anne Killigrew the noblest in the language; but there is a great gulf between ‘Thou youngest virgin-daughter of the skies, made in the last promotion of the blessed,’ and Dante's exquisitely simple—‘this youngest of the angels.’ But all these are of the nature of occasional poetry,