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THE BATTLE OF BELIEF

BY

THE RIGHT HON. W. E. GLADSTONE, M. P.

REPRINTED FROM "THE NINETEENTH CENTURY," MAY, 1888

NEW YORK ANSON D. F. RANDOLPH & COMPANY

38 WEST TWENTY-THIRD STREET

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“ROBERT ELSMERE” AND THE BATTLE

OF BELIEF.*

HUMAN NATURE, when aggrieved, is apt and quick in devising compensations. The increasing seriousness and strain of our present life may have had the effect of bringing about the large preference, which I understand to be exhibited in local public libraries, for works of fiction. This is the first expedient of revenge. But it is only a link in a chain. The next step is, that the writers of what might be grave books, in esse or in posse, have endeavored with some success to circumvent the multitude. Those who have systems or hypotheses to recommend in philosophy, conduct, or religion induct them into the costume of romance. Such was the second expedient of nature, the counterstroke of her revenge. When this was done in “ Télémaque," “ Rasselas,” or “ Colebs," it was not without literary effect. Even the last of these three appears to have been successful with its own generation. It would now be deemed intolerably dull. But a dull book is easily renounced. The

*“Robert Elsmere," by Mrs. Humphry Ward, author of “Miss Bretherton." The references are to the one-volume edition of “Robert Elsmere ” published in the United States by Messrs. Macmillan & Co.-A. D. F. R. & Co.

more didactic fictions of the present day, so far as I know them, are not dull. We take them up, however, and we find that, when we meant to go to play, we have gone to school. The romance is a gospel of some philosophy, or of some religion; and requires sustained thought on many or some of the deepest subjects, as the only rational alternative to placing ourselves at the mercy of our author. We find that he has put upon us what is not indeed a treatise, but more formidable than if it were. For a treatise must nowhere beg the question it seeks to decide, but must carry its reader onward by reasoning patiently from step to step. But the writer of the romance, under the convenient necessity which his form imposes, skips in thought, over undefined distances, from stage to stage, as a bee from flower to flower. A creed may (as here) be accepted in a sentence, and then abandoned in a page. But we, the common herd of readers, if we are to deal with the consequences, to accept or repel the influence of the book, must, as in a problem of mathematics, supply the missing steps. Thus, in perusing as we ought a propagandist romance, we must terribly increase the pace; and it is the pace that kills.

Among the works to which the preceding remarks might apply, the most remarkable within my knowl. edge is “ Robert Elsmere." It is indeed remarkable in many respects. It is a novel of nearly twice the

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