CHAPTER XLI. THE LATER WRITERS.
Charles Lamb. Thomas Hood. Thomas de Quincey. Other Novelists. Writers
on Science and Philosophy.
CHARLES LAMB.—This distinguished writer, although not a novelist like Dickens and Thackeray, in the sense of having produced extensive works of fiction, was, like them, a humorist and a satirist, and has left miscellaneous works of rare merit. He was born in London, and was the son of a servant to one of the Benches of the Inner Temple; he was educated at Christ's Hospital, where he became the warm friend of Coleridge. In 1792 he received an appointment as clerk in the South Sea House, which he retained until 1825, when, owing to the distinction he had obtained in the world of letters, he was permitted to retire with a pension of L450. He describes his feelings on this happy release from business, in his essay on The Superannuated Man. He was an eccentric man, a serio-comic character, whose sad life is singularly contrasted with his irrepressible humor. His sister, whom he has so tenderly described as Bridget Elia, in a fit of insanity killed their mother with a carving-knife, and Lamb devoted himself to her care.
He was a poet, and left quaint and beautiful album verses and minor pieces. As a dramatist, he is known by his tragedy John Woodvil, and the farce Mr. H——, neither of which was a success. But he has given us in his Specimens of Old English Dramatists the result of great reading and rare criticism.
But it is chiefly as a writer of essays and short stories that he is distinguished. The Essays of Elia, in their vein, mark an era in the literature; they are light, racy, seemingly dashed off, but really full of his reading of the older English authors. Indeed, he is so quaint in thought and style, that he seems an anachronism—a writer of the Elizabethan period returned to life in this century. He bubbles over with puns, jests, and repartees; and although not popular in the sense of reaching the multitude, he is the friend and companion of congenial readers. Among his essays, we may mention the stories of Rosamund Gray and Old Blind Margaret. Dream Children and The Child Angel are those of greatest power; but every one he has written is charming. His sly hits at existing abuses are designed to laugh them away. He was the favorite of his literary circle, and as a talker had no superior. After a life of care, not unmingled with pleasures, he died in 1834. Lamb's letters are racy, witty, idiomatic, and unlabored; and, as most of them are to colleagues in literature and on subjects of social and literary interest, they are important aids in studying the history of his period.
THOMAS HOOD.—The greatest humorist, the best punster, and the ablest satirist of his age, Hood attacked the social evils around him with such skill and power that he stands forth as a philanthropist. He was born in London in 1798, and, after a limited education, he began to learn the art of engraving; but his pen was more powerful than his burin. He soon began to contribute to the London Magazine hisWhims and Oddities; and, in irregular verse, satirized the would-be great men of the time, and the eccentric legislation they proposed in Parliament. These short poems are full of puns and happy jeux de mots, and had a decided effect in frustrating the foolish plans. After this he published National Tales, in the same comic vein; but also produced his exquisite serious pieces, The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies, Hero and Leander, and others, all of which are striking and tasteful. In 1838 he commenced The Comic Annual, which appeared for several years, brimful of mirth and fun. He was editor of various magazines,—The New Monthly, and Hood's Magazine. For Punch he wrote The Song of the Shirt, and The Bridge of Sighs. No one can compute the good done by both; the hearts touched; the pockets opened. The sewing women were better paid, more cared for, elevated in the social scale; and many of them saved from that fate which is so touchingly chronicled in The Bridge of Sighs. Hood was a true poet and a great poet. Miss Kilmansegg and her Precious Leg is satire, story, epic, comedy, in one.
If he owed to Smollett's Humphrey Clinker the form of his Up the Rhine, he has equalled Smollett in the narrative, in the variety of character, and in the admirable cacography of Martha Penny. His caricatures fasten facts in the memory, and every tourist up the Rhine recognizes Hood's personages wherever he lands.
After a life of ill-health and pecuniary struggle, Hood died, greatly lamented, on the 3d of May, 1845, and left no successor to wield his subtle pen.
THOMAS DE QUINCEY (1785-1859).—This singular author, and very learned and original thinker, owes much of his reputation to the evil habit of opium-eating, which affected his personal life and authorship. His most popular work is The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, which interests the reader by its curious pictures of the abnormal conditions in which he lived and wrote. He abandoned this noxious practice in the year 1820. He produced much which he did not publish; and his writings all contain a suggestion of strength and scholarship, a surplus beyond what he has given to the world. There are numerous essays and narratives, among which his paper entitled Murder considered as One of the Fine Arts is especially notable. His prose is considered a model of good English.
The death of Dickens and Thackeray left England without a novelist of equal fame and power, but with a host of scholarly and respectable pens, whose productions delight the popular taste, and who are still in the tide of busy authorship.
Our purpose is already accomplished, and we might rest without the proceeding beyond the middle of the century; but it will be proper to make brief mention of those, some of whom have already departed, but many of whom still remain, and are producing new works, who best illustrate the historical value and teachings of English literature, and whose writings will be read in the future for their delineations of the habits and conditions of the present period.
Captain Frederick Marryat, of the Royal Navy, 1792-1848: in his sea novels depicts naval life with rare fidelity, and with, a roystering joviality which makes them extremely entertaining. The principal of these are Frank Mildmay, Newton Forster, Peter Simple, and Midshipman Easy. His works constitute a truthful portrait of the British Navy in the beginning of the eighteenth century, and have influenced many high-spirited youths to choose a maritime profession.
George P. R. James, 1806-1860: is the author of nearly two hundred novels, chiefly historical, which have been, in their day, popular. It was soon found, however, that he repeated himself, and the sameness of handling began to tire his readers. His “two travellers,” with whom he opens his stories, have become proverbially ridiculous. But he has depicted scenes in modern history with skill, and especially in French history. His Richelieu is a favorite; and in his Life of Charlemagne he has brought together the principal events in the career of that distinguished monarch with logical force and historical accuracy.
Benjamin d'Israeli, born 1805: is far more famous as a persevering, acute, and able statesman than as a novelist. In proof of this, having surmounted unusual difficulties, he has been twice Chancellor of the Exchequer and once Prime Minister of England. Among his earlier novels, which are pictures of existing society, are: Vivian Gray, Contarini Fleming, Coningsby, and Henrietta Temple. In The Wondrous Tale of Alroy he has described the career of that singular claimant to the Jewish Messiahship. Lothair, which was published in 1869, is the story of a young nobleman who was almost enticed to enter the Roman Catholic Church. The descriptions of society are either very much overwrought or ironical; but his knowledge of State craft and Church craft renders the book of great value to the history of religious polemics. His father, Isaac d'Israeli, is favorably known as the author of The Curiosities of Literature, The Amenities of Literature, and The Quarrels of Authors.
Charles Lever, 1806-1872: he was born in Dublin, and, after a partial University career, studied medicine. He has embodied his experience of military life in several striking but exaggerated works,—among these are: The Confessions of Harry Lorrequer, Charles O'Malley, and Jack Hinton. He excels in humor and in picturesque battle-scenes, and he has painted the age in caricature. Of its kind, Charles O'Malley stands pre-eminent: the variety of character is great; all classes of military men figure in the scenes, from the Duke of Wellington to the inimitable Mickey Free. He was for some time editor of theDublin University Magazine, and has written numerous other novels, among which are: Roland Cashel, The Knight of Gwynne, and The Dodd Family Abroad; and, last of all, Lord Kilgobbin.
Charles Kingsley, born 1809: this accomplished clergyman, who is a canon of Chester, is among the most popular English writers,—a poet, a novelist, and a philosopher. He was first favorably known by a poetical drama on the story of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, entitled The Saint's Tragedy. Among his other works are: Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet; Hypatia, the Story of a Virgin Martyr; Andromeda; Westward Ho! or the Adventures of Sir Amyas Leigh; Two Years Ago; and Hereward, the Last of the English. This last is a very vivid historical picture of the way in which the man of the fens, under the lead of this powerful outlaw, held out against William the Conqueror. The busy pen of Kingsley has produced numerous lectures, poems, reviews, essays, and some plain and useful sermons. He is now Professor of Modern History at Cambridge.
Charlotte Bronte, 1816-1855: if of an earlier period, this gifted woman would demand a far fuller mention and a more critical notice than can be with justice given of a contemporary. She certainly wrote from the depths of her own consciousness. Jane Eyre, her first great work, was received with intense interest, and was variously criticized. The daughter of a poor clergyman at Haworth, and afterwards a teacher in a school at Brussels, with little knowledge of the world, she produced a powerful book containing much curious philosophy, and took rank at once among the first novelists of the age. Her other works, if not equal to Jane Eyre, are still of great merit, and deal profoundly with the springs of human action. They are: The Professor, Villette, and Shirley. Her characters are portraits of the men and women around her, painted from life; and she speaks boldly of motives and customs which other novelists have touched very delicately. She had two gifted sisters, who were also successful novelists; but who died young. Miss Bronte died a short time after her marriage to Mr. Nichol, her father's curate. Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell, her near friend, and the author of a successful novel called Mary Barton, has written an interesting biography of Mrs. Nichol.
George Eliot, born 1820: under this pseudonym, Miss Evans has written several works of great interest. Among these are: Adam Bede ; The Mill on the Floss; Romola, an Italian story; Felix Holt; andSilas Marner. Simple, and yet eminently dramatic in scene, character, and interlocution, George Eliot has painted pictures from middle and common life, and is thus the exponent of a large humanity. She is now the wife of the popular author, G. H. Lewes.
Dinah Maria Muloch (Mrs. Craik), born 1826: a versatile writer. She is best known by her novels entitled John Halifax and The Ogilvies.
Wilkie Collins, born 1824: he is the son of a landscape-painter, and is renowned for his curious and well-concealed plots, phantom-like characters, and striking effects. Among his novels the best known are:Antonina, The Dead Secret, The Woman in White, No Name, Armadale, The Moonstone, and Man and Wife. There is a sameness in these works; and yet it is evident that the author has put his invention on the rack to create new intrigues, and to mystify his reader from the beginning to the end of each story.
Charles Reade, born 1814: he is one of the most prolific writers of the day, as well as one of the most readable in all that he has written. He draws many impassioned scenes, and is as sensuous in literature as Rubens in art. Among his principal works are: White Lies, Love Me Little, Love Me Long; The Cloister and The Hearth; Hard Cash, and Griffith Gaunt, which convey little, if any, practical instruction. His Never Too Late to Mend is of great value in displaying the abuses of the prison system in England; and his Put Yourself in His Place is a very powerful attack upon the Trades' Unions. A singular epigrammatic style keeps up the interest apart from the story.
Mary Russell Mitford, 1786-1855: she was a poet and a dramatist, but is chiefly known by her stories. In the collection called Our Village, she has presented beautiful and simple pictures of English country life which are at once touching and instructive.
Charlotte Mary Yonge, born 1823: among the many interesting works of this author, The Heir of Redclyff is the first and best. This was followed by Daisy Chain, Heartsease, The Clever Woman of the Family, and numerous other works of romance and of history,—all of which are valuable for their high tone of moral instruction and social manners.
Anthony Trollope, born 1815: he and his brother, Thomas Adolphus Trollope, are sons of that Mrs. Frances Trollope who abused our country in her work entitled The Domestic Manners of the Americans, in terms that were distasteful even to English critics. Anthony Trollope is a successful writer of society-novels, which, without being of the highest order, are faithful in their portraitures. Among those which have been very popular are: Barchester Towers, Framley Parsonage, Doctor Thorne, and Orley Farm, He travelled in the United States, and has published a work of discernment entitledNorth America. His brother Thomas is best known by his History of Florence to the Fall of the Republic.
Thomas Hughes, born 1823: the popular author of Tom Brown's School-Days at Rugby, and Tom Brown at Oxford,—books which display the workings of these institutions, and set up a standard for English youth. The first is the best, and has made him famous.
WRITERS ON SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY.
Although these do not come strictly within the scope of English literature, they are so connected with it in the composition of general culture, and give such a complexion to the age, that it is well to mention the principal names.
Sir William Hamilton, 1788-1856: for twenty years Professor of Logic and Metaphysics in the University of Edinburgh. His voluminous lectures on both these subjects were edited, after his death, by Mansel and Veitch, and have been since of the highest authority.
William Whewell, 1795-1866: for some time Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. He has written learnedly on many subjects: his most valuable works are: A History of the Inductive Sciences, The Elements of Morality, and The Plurality of Worlds. Of Whewell it has been pithily said, that “science was his forte, and omniscience his foible.”
Richard Whately, D.D., 1787-1863: he was appointed in 1831 Archbishop of Dublin and Kildare, in Ireland. His chief works are: Elements of Logic, Elements of Rhetoric, and Lectures on Political Economy. He gave a new impetus to the study of Logic and Rhetoric, and presented the formal logic of Aristotle anew to the world; thus marking a distinct epoch in the history of that much controverted science.
John Ruskin, born 1819: he ranks among the most original critics in art; but is eccentric in his opinions. His powers were first displayed in his Modern Painters. In his Seven Lamps of Architecture he has laid down the great fundamental principles of that art, among the forms of which the Gothic claims the pre-eminence. These are further carried out in The Stones of Venice. He is a transcendentalist and a pre-Raphaelite, and exceedingly dogmatic in stating his views. His descriptive powers are very great.
Hugh Miller, 1802-1856: an uneducated mechanic, he was a brilliant genius and an observant philosopher. His best works are: The Old Red Sandstone, Footprints of the Creator, and The Testimonies of the Rocks. He shot himself in a fit of insanity.
John Stuart Mill, born 1806: the son of James Mill, the historian of India. He was carefully educated, and has written on many subjects. He is best known by his System of Logic; his work on Political Economy; and his Treatise on Liberty. Each of these topics being questions of controversy, Mr. Mill states his views strongly in respect to opposing systems, and is very clear in the expression of his own dogmas.
Thomas Chalmers, D.D., 1780-1847: this distinguished divine won his greatest reputation as an eloquent preacher. He was for some time Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of St. Andrew's, and wrote on Natural Theology, The Evidences of Christianity, and some lectures on Astronomy. But all his works are glowing sermons rather than philosophical treatises.
Richard Chevenix Trench, D.D., born 1807: the present Archbishop of Dublin. He has written numerous theological works of popular value, among which are Notes on the Parables, and on Miracles. He has also published two series of charming lectures on English philology, entitled The Study of Words and English Past and Present. They are suggestive and discursive rather than philosophical, but have incited many persons to pursue this delightful study.
Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, D.D., born 1815: Dean of Westminster. He was first known by his excellent biography of Dr. Arnold of Rugby; but has since enriched biblical literature by his lectures on The Eastern Church and on The Jewish Church. He accompanied the Prince of Wales on his visit to Palestine, and was not only eager in collecting statistics, but has reproduced them with poetic power.
Nicholas Wiseman, D.D., 1802-1865: the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England. Cardinal Wiseman has written much on theological and ecclesiastical questions; but he is best known to the literary world by his able lectures on The Connection between Science and Revealed Religion, which are additionally valuable because they have no sectarian character.
Charles Darwin, born 1809: although he began his career at an early age, his principal works are so immediately of the present time, and his speculations are so involved in serious controversies, that they are not within the scope of this work. His principal works are: The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, and The Descent of Man. His facts are curious and very carefully selected; but his conclusions have been severely criticized.
Frederick Max Mueller, born 1823: a German by birth. He is a professional Oxford, and has done more to popularize the Science of Language than any other writer. He has written largely on Oriental linguistics, and has given two courses of lectures on The Science of Language, which have been published, and are used as text-books. His Chips from a German Workshop is a charming book, containing his miscellaneous articles in reviews and magazines.