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486 specimEN of DICKENs' PRose.
still makes shift to trim and water with his own thin hands. At night, when he sees my candle, he draws back his curtain, and leaves it so till I am in bed. It seems such company to him to know that I am there, that I often sit at my window for an hour or more, that he may see I am still awake; and sometimes I get up in the night to look at the dull, melancholy light in his little room, and wonder whether he is awake or sleeping.
“The night will not be long coming,” said Tim, “when he will sleep and never wake again on earth. We have never so much as shaken hands in all our lives, and yet I shall miss him like an old friend. Are there any country flowers that could interest me like these, do you think? Or do you suppose that the withering of a hundred kinds of the choicest flowers that blow, called by the hardest Latin names that were ever invented, would give me one fraction of the pain that I shall feel when these old jugs and bottles are swept away as lumber. Country !” cried Tim, with a contemptuous emphasis; “don’t you know that I couldn't have such a court under my bed-room window anywhere but in London "
With which inquiry Tim turned his back, and pretending to be absorbed in his accounts, took an opportunity of hastily wiping his eyes, when he supposed Nicholas was looking another way.
THE author of Vanity Fair and The Snobs of England was born in 1811, at Calcutta. His father, descended from a good old Yorkshire family, held office in the Civil Service of the East India Company. The novelist was yet a very little child when that separation from his parents, which is the bitterest penalty attached to Indian life, took place. His own words give us a glimpse of the voyage to England. “Our ship touched at an island on the way home, where my black servant took me a walk over rocks and hills till we passed a garden where we saw a man walking. That is Bonaparte,' said the black: 'he eats three sheep every day and all the children he can lay his hands on.” We can well imagine little fingers tightening round the dark hand that held them, as the pair hurried back to the ship and looks of terror glancing from the little white face back to the trees where this
lived. The old Charter-house school, lovingly painted in more than one of his works, was the place of his education; and his name is the latest of those household words which that quiet cloister has given to the literature of England. After some time at Cambridge, where he did not stay to take a degree, he entered life, the heir to a fortune of many thousand pounds, resolved to devote himself to the easel and the brush. His studies in the art-galleries of Rome and some of the German cities, particularly Weimar, prepared him, unconsciously to himself, for that other painting-in pen and ink—to which his life was afterwards devoted.
488 THACKERAY's EARLIER works.
The loss of a large part of his fortune made it necessary that he should be more than an amateur student of art. He entered at the Middle Temple, and began his literary career in the pages of “Fraser's Magazine.” Month by month there appeared tales and sketches by Michael Angelo Titmarsh and George Fitz-boodle, Esquire; which, although slow in attracting general attention, caught the eye of such men as John Sterling, who saw in them the evidence of great talent in the bud. The Hoggarty Diamond, The Paris Sketch-Book, The Chronicle of the Drum, and The Irish Sketch-Book were among the first works of this artist-author's pencil. Barry Lyndon, the story of an Irish fortune-hunter, also appeared in “Fraser.” The columns of Punch were next enlivened by Thackeray's sketches; and no papers, in the formidable array of wit and fun, which for twenty years has been growing into volumes under the striped jacket of that distinguished criminal, have ever surpassed Jeames's Diary, or The Snob Papers. The former, inimitably rich in its spelling—which, whether the writer meant it or not, most delightfully exposes the absurdities of the Phonetic system— contains the history of a London flunkey, elevated to sudden wealth by speculation in railway shares. The latter, with a touch of light and seemingly careless banter, twitches the cloak from Humbug and Hypocrisy, especially as these wretched things are found in London clubs and drawing-rooms, and discloses them in all their ridiculous meanness to the scorn of honest men. Then appeared Thackeray's first, and, in the eyes of many, his greatest novel, Vanity Fair. Running its course in serial numbers, it rapidly became a favourite. It was utterly unlike the fiction already on English tables. A very clever and thoroughly unprincipled governess, Becky Sharp, pushing and schem1846 ing her way into fashionable life, is certainly the heroine A.D. of the book. She personifies intellect without virtue. Opposed to her is the sweet, amiable, pretty, but somewhat silly Amelia Sedley, who represents virtue without intellect. Pictures of Continental life mingle with London scenes; and especially we have a sketch of Brussels in those terrible days when
“PENDENNIs” AND “ESMOND.” 489
Waterloo thunder was in the air. Prominent among the portraitures of men in “Wanity Fair” are the fat Indian official, Jos. Sedley, whose delicate health does not interfere with the play of his knife and fork—the big, hulking dragoon, Rawdon Crawley, whose heart, for all his nonsense, is in the right place—the empty dandy, George, upon whom little Amelia wastes her sweetness—and the unselfish and devoted William Dobbin, a kind of Tom Pinch in regimentals. The History of Arthur Pendennis, the second great work from Thackeray's pen, followed in a short time. In the character of Pendennis the novelist depicts a man full of faults and weaknesses, who is acted on by the common influences of modern life. Mrs. Pendennis, the hero's mother, and Laura, who, although 1849 too good for the scamp, finally becomes his wife, are the A.D. chief feminine portraits. The Major, a worldly old beau, and that fine fellow, George Warrington, a literary man, who acts as the good genius of Pen, are capitally drawn. Six brilliant and appreciative Lectures on the English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century, dealing, among others, with Swift, Pope, Addison, Steele, Hogarth, and Goldsmith, delighted a fashionable London crowd at Willis's Rooms in 1851, and were afterwards delivered by the author, both in Scotland and America. They have since been printed, and have sold remarkably well. Many of the literary men, whose books and manners Thackeray discussed in the delightful gossip of these Lectures, mingle in the mimic life of his next work, The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. The days of Blenheim and Ramillies are revived. Swift, Congreve, Addison, and Steele walk once more among men. Jacobites are plotting for the return of those exiled princes who live across the water. Queen Anne is on the English throne. As a work of literary art, Esmond stands, perhaps, higher than either 1852 Vanity Fair or The Newcomes. The hero, who has long A.D. sought Beatrix Castlewood, a self-willed beauty, consoles himself for rejection by a union with her mother, and settles down in Virginia to write the story of his life. The novelist had a diffi. cult task to accomplish in reconciling his readers to a plot so un
490 LATER NOVELS AND LECTURES.
common; but any slight revulsion of feeling which we experience at the change is amply atoned for by the eloquence of the book and its truthfulness as a piece of historical painting. The Newcomes, Memoirs of a Most Respectable Family, edited by Arthur Pendennis, Esquire, appeared in monthly numbers, which completed their tale in 1855. The story is one of modern life. And, in all the range of fiction, nothing goes deeper to the heart than the affecting spectacle of that true gentleman, and 1855 gentlest man, old Colonel Newcome, lying, after a life of A.D. virtue and devotion, on a poor death-bed within the gloom of the old Charter-house. Amid a crowd of new and striking characters, we find here a lovely picture of womanhood in the sweet Ethel Newcome. The success of the “English Humourists” induced the lecturer to try his pen a second time in this attractive field. Continuing those light and graceful sketches of later English history which form the ground-work of “Esmond,” he produced a series of lectures on The Four Georges, which he delivered first in the States, then in London, and afterwards in several leading cities of Great Britain. These lectures have since appeared in the “Cornhill Magazine.” The darker side of the Germanized English Court is here depicted. He tells with great pathos the domestic tragedy of poor old “Farmer George,” third of the name, closing the sorrowful story with a passage in his own peculiar vein, full of mournful beauty and deep feeling. But the son of that blind, insane, deaf old king is treated with such contemptuous sarcasm—such fine-pointed, piercing irony, as a Thackeray alone can sprinkle or fling upon his victim. All the poor paints and feathers, in which this royal character is tricked out in contemporary books and records of his reign, shrivel and drop under the fluid flame; and the man, poor and miserable and naked, stands disclosed to view. The Virginians, a continuation of “Esmond,” founded like that work on an historical basis, began to appear towards 1857 the close of 1857. The story embraces pictures of life in England during the reign of George the Second, and places before us the literary men and wits who thronged the