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that, however ignorant, vicious, or otherwise degraded, “a man's a man for a' that.”
One of the most recent, as well as most able of these works, is that whose merits and demerits it is our purpose to descant on in this notice.
Adam Bede is a book of whose authorship no living writer would probably be ashamed. It is eminently a realistic production of the school of Goethe and Wordsworth, describing in prose scenes akin to those which Wordsworth loved to depict in poetry and writing in English, as Goethe did in German, of the homely relations, virtues and vices. The influence of both these great writers is visible, as well as, in an inferior degree, that of Carlyle, Dickens, Kingsley, Reade, and the other popular litterateurs of the day.
Not that these have been servilely copied, any of them, or that Adam Bede falls below any but the very highest works of its class. Wordsworth's Excursion, and Goethe's Wilhelm Meister have been, unquestionably, favorite studies of the anonymous author, whoever he or she may be. But beyond this we aver nothing, and least of all, question the originality of this work, in any proper sense of the term.
The idea we mean to convey is, that the author of Adam Bede shares largely in the so-called humanitarian and reforinatory spirit of the age, and so is in essential harmony with the writers we have named. He agrees with them further in a fondness for details, minute particulars, and exact descriptions.
In the execution of these details he equals a Dutch painter. But he differs from our popular writers in not mistaking changes for reforms, and in revering the customs and institutions of the olden times. Ile thinks he sees as much evidence of considerate kindness to the poor then as exists now. Though less ostentatious, it was not the less real. It professed less, but performed perhaps as much more. This is evidently the opinion of the author, which, however, he is quite willing to keep to himself, if the reader is not disturbed by it.
In fact, toleration of differences is the leading feature of the book. No matter whence they arise, or what occasions them, religion, society, nationality, trades or professions, the charity
of our author is sufficiently expansive to embrace them all. This many-sidedness is not of English growth. It is evidently derived from a German root--Goethe in particular.
A disciple, as we think, of this school, our Author, exempted, as he fancies, from all prepossessions, endeavors to describe all classes in society as he has found them, and especially to paint religionists of all sorts from their respective stand-points. To do him justice, he has been in the main, as successful in this as in other parts of his work. Hence, in these pages, Mr. Irwine, an old-fashioned high-churchman, is sketched in terms which could not fail to please his friends. (The scene of the story is in the north of England, and sixty years ago.)
In like manner the early Methodists are made to appear as interesting as possible, through their representative, the fair female preacher. In social life, the esquire and servant, great and small tenants, artisans and work-people, are fairly and kindly dealt with. All these persons and parties are made to revolve in their respective orbits, without the slightest jar or jostle. It is a scene of Arcadian repose and simple sincerity, surpassing such glimpses of actual life as we have been favored with.
But as there is a skeleton in every house, so to this rosecolored picture of English society, our author makes a single exception, in the person and preaching of Mr. Ryde, the clergyman who eventually succeeded the Rev. Mr. Irwine. Mr. Irwine, be it remembered, is represented as a man of a remarkably fine personal appearance and address, a most dutiful son, and agreeable neighbor, equally the friend and favorite of high and low. But Mr. Ryde, his successor, though he has no proper connection with the story, and does not even come to the place till about twenty years after it is finished, is nevertheless foisted into the narrative by an episode in the form of an elaborate defense, not merely of the principles on which the book is written, but of the superior traits of its leading characters. This Mr. Irwine in particular is set off to great advantage, in comparison with Mr. Ryde, who is represented
as disagreeable in all respects ; in his visage, person, and preaching; a man of sourish disposition, a busy-body, ambitious to rival the rich in show, and yet parsimonious to the
Here is a singular exception, indeed, to the author's usual amiability. Affecting the character of “ a wide liker,” there is at least one style of manhecan not like at all, and sees in him nothing pleasing or praiseworthy. How shall we account for this sudden change in the tone which otherwise pervades the book. The case is this : Mr. Ryde was an “evangelical” minister of the Established Church—a character which, for the most part, meets with but little favor from the novelists of any school.
That Evangelical clergymen are not really so much more disagreeable than other men; that they are not necessarily ugly to look upon ; of a sour disposition, ambitions temper, penurious habits, quarrelsome and litigious; that they do not invariably give their whole attention to dogmas and discipline; that they are not always harping on “the bulwarks of the Reformation;" that they are not the bitterest of all parties towards Dissenters ; that they do not instinctively set people by the ears—all this is of but little consequence to writers of novels. Enough that there is an hereditary feud between the two; enough that ministers of this class have been known to dissuade their young people from indiscriminate novel-reading as an evil habit, and to doubt whether one is often made either wiser or better by the views of society presented in popular novels.
It is still more to the purpose that their stand-points are opposite.
The novelist can not endure “sound doctrines,” does not believe in dogmas, has no faith in “ the stated preaching" of the Gospel for the reformation of mankind. IIis faith is in sentimental virtue, and he has no reliance upon the inculcation of principles. His heroes and heroines were born such, and so were the villains of his story. With him, it is literally true, that “the crooked can not be made straight, nor the rough places plain." His one doctrine is, that every man has his natural bent, which nothing can change. As Mr. Emerson says: “If you are the devil's child, be sure the devil will have you."
Now the creed of the Evangelical preacher is quite the contrary. He believes in the natural depravity, not of some, but of all men, and that all men, even the most depraved, may be renewed by God's spirit, through the belief of the truth. He holds, therefore, that there is hope for all, and yet, that all are in danger. He has but little faith in natural goodness, and relies more on that which is guided by principle, than by mere impulse. And so it comes to pass that his teachings are displeasing to the mass of novel-readers and novel-writers, and the dislike they conceive of his teachings is easily transferred to his person and character.
Hence the jaundiced eyes through which they are wont to look upon him and his work, and the consequent distorted descriptions of both.
This, we believe, is a true account, both of the general fact, and of this particular example of it. As to which of the two views is the more agreeable to the word of God, we will not stop to inquire.
The seeming fairness of this writer towards all parties but the Evangelical, proceeds not from a sympathy with any of them, but from indifference. He likes a clergyman of the old school, avowedly, because he was a good fellow, fond of society, dogs, and horses, did not preach doctrines, nor meddle with spiritual things at all, and made all his sermons very short.
The influence of the pretty Methodist, too, of which apparently such a favorable account is given, is all resolvable into the effect produced naturally by her soul-full eyes, exquisitely modulated voice, and a certain indescribable plastic touch, by which she magnetized all who come near her.
Even spiritual-rappings are indorsed, though rather before their time. The tenants, great and small, are favorites, as people wholly engrossed with this present world could not fail to be, with this author and others like-minded. Such as they are, they are admirably drawn to the very life. We never ourselves enjoyed sketches of the kind more.
Adam Bede, the hero, is, to be sure, a little too stately, and superior to other folks, especially the plain people by whom he is surrounded. He greatly surpasses not only these, but Mr. Irwine and the fine English gentleman, Capt. Donnithorne, as well. His marriage with the fair Methodist does not please our fancy. Similia similibus is our motto. Ilis brother Seth is a more common, because a more real character. Lesbith, their mother, the writer of this has in his own parish, and has heard her talk like the book, many a time. Mrs. Poyser is what a fast London yonth would call a “stunner.” She could be matched, perhaps, in New-England, but hardly any where else. Neither her tongue, wit, nor shrewdness ever fails her. Hetty is a character well conceived, and as well sustained throughout, and, we fear, many such there be. The same is true of her erring admirer, Copt. Donnithorne, whose unfortunate, and eventually criminal relations with Hetty, are de scribed with unusual discrimination, displaying great insight into character, and psychological knowledge of the human heart. He is not a villain after the usual pattern of popular novels, but an average man of the English upper classes in the country. The story of his imprudencies and errors is told with as much delicacy as the case admits, and can not fail to leave a deep moral impression on the minds of youthful readers of either sex.
It is donbtful, indeed, if such narratives do not, by what they reveal, remove the tender bloom from the soul of the maiden, which should be untouched by any profane hand. We can only add, therefore, that if a knowledge of such things be thought desirable by any, it can not easily be imparted in a less objectionable manner than in this tale of those “ who loved not wisely but too well.”
. On the whole, then, we think favorably of Adam Bede as a novel, and allow it to be “the novel of the season."
Its fling at the Evangelical clergy is a matter of course in works of this class, though none the less to be regretted as pretty sure to influence, more or less, the minds of youthful readers.
In spite of this eruption of hereditary humor, as it were, we