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The connexion thus formed with Mr. Ebers had a material influence in deciding the young man as to the course he should pursue. His repugnance to "conveyancing" being insuperable, and his tastes and inclinations being decidedly literary, he readily listened to the suggestions of Mr. Ebers, to make an experiment as a publisher. The sacrifice, to be sure, was considerable. It involved the relinquishment of his share in his father's lucrative business, which had been carried on, meanwhile, by two partners, at the head of whom he would necessarily be placed; it was the exchanging a certainty for a chance. Yet, on the other hand, he was to secure the advantage of Mr. Ebers's extensive connexion, and of his practical knowledge of business, which as yet was a "book sealed" to him. There were other temptations, not unworthy of a high literary ambition, and a generous zeal for the interests of authors. The period, that of 1828-9, was the season of the (exclusively) "fashionable novels," when what was most ephemeral was most triumphant, and when works of a more enduring though less winning character had fewer charms than usual in a publisher's eye. Let us here pause for a moment to consider what his aims were, and, at the same time, what were his qualifications for giving effect to them.
Mr. Ainsworth entered upon his speculation doubtless with literary feelings not very dissimilar to those with which he may be supposed to have recently originated his Magazine. His was not the speculation of an ordinary publisher: his aim was to promote the interests of literature, to advance his own reputation as a writer, and to surround himself with such authors as it was alike honourable to serve and to be associated with; he thought that he might bring forward sterling works, rejected, perhaps, as not "fashionable," and assist writers of a better class than those who aspired to a merely fleeting popularity; in any case, he should succeed in showing that such an enterprise might be conducted on liberal and gentlemanlike principles. These, as we believe, were his objects; but he mistook the practicability of the scheme, and misconceived his own qualifications for conducting it. He had great liberality, a highly cultivated literary taste, ripe scholarship, and popular manners; he was borne up by the spirit of youth, and the love of books for their own sake, to make an experiment, and his entering upon it was the best proof of the sacrifices he could cheerfully incur, and that he thought of no selfish or mercenary bargain. But with
these fine qualities he wanted some that are not always found in their company and in that of youth-forethought, deliberation, patience under disappointment, submission to repugnant tasks, and indifference to the trifling circumstance of being always unthanked and generally misapprehended. What young man of one-and-twenty understands his own character sufficiently to justify such an attempt? His principles were but partially recognised by the writers with whom he was brought into connexion, and he was of too impatient a temperament to afford them time to understand him. His pride speedily revolted from the position he had voluntarily chosen, and at the expiration of about a year and a half he abandoned the experiment; the result was-neither good nor harm, beyond loss of time. During this period, and up to the year 1830, a few trifles had been written; a tragedy on the subject of Philip van Artevelde was planned, and two acts composed; a melodrame or two, never acted, swelled the stock; but nothing was published. A change of scene was now resolved upon: in the summer of that year Mr. Ainsworth started on a tour in Switzerland and Italy.
It was in the following year, during a visit to Chesterfield, that he first thought of writing a three-volumed tale, and the idea of "Rookwood" arose. He has told us his object. "Wishing," he says, "to describe somewhat minutely the trim gardens, the picturesque domains, the rook-haunted groves, the gloomy chambers, and gloomier galleries of an ancient hall with which I was acquainted, I resolved to attempt a story in the bygone style of Mrs. Radcliffe; substituting an old English squire, an old manorial residence, and an old English highwayman, for the Italian marchese, the castle, and the brigand of that great mistress of romance.'
"Rookwood" was commenced, but many and serious pauses occurred in the completion of the story; nor was it until May, 1834, that it was published; but the power with which the design was worked out, the success with which it was accomplished, was instantaneously recognised. The "Edinburgh Review" described the novel achievement—“ What Mr. Ainsworth has ventured to do, and successfully, was to revive the almost exploded interest afforded by the supernatural; and to preserve this, too, not in connexion with days long gone by, but side by side with the sober realities of 1737, with the convivialities of Yorkshire squires and country attorneys, with the humours of justices of the peace and the feats of Dick Turpin the highwayman." The same writer
describes, also, the influences of all this upon the reader.
Strange as it may seem, the author has contrived to present the terrors of burial vaults and the blood-stained mysteries of family crime side by side with the most familiar scenes of the every-day life of the eighteenth century, without exciting the slightest feeling of the ludicrous-nay, more, with a character of earnestness and solemnity with which, à priori, we should have hardly thought such subjects could have been invested."
But the truth is, as the critic seems to have felt, that the reader is never allowed to pause for an instant to think at all. The famous picture of the ride to York, now as well known as the name of Turpin himself, is but an image of the reader's course as he leaps the abrupt gaps and turns the picturesque corners of this singular tale. He goes through it hurried, yet noting everything, and with breathless interest; and it is not until after a pause at the close that he bethinks him of the songs and ballads whose lively or solemn chimes struck his ear as he passed rapidly; when he is sure to turn back to read them leisurely over one by one, enjoying the true spirit of the old minstrelsy with which they are embued, and wishing for a whole volume of such tuneful rarities. The effect of this publication was to place Mr. Ainsworth in the first rank of writers of romantic fiction. The first edition was speedily sold off; a second followed. In 1836 Mr. Macrone issued a beautiful volume with designs by Cruikshank.
"Crichton" was the next work meditated; and as soon as projected Mr. Macrone offered 3501. for the manuscript. It appeared in the spring of 1837, and a rapid sale betokened the now established reputation of the writer. This historical romance afforded, in some respects, indications of a higher aim and more elaborate finish than the happiest pictures of the preceding work. Extensive and curious reading a minute acquaintance with the modes, usages, intrigue, and philosophy of the time-a capacity at once to analyse and combine-an eye for grand effects as well as the smallest details-were everywhere recognised. Many rare qualities united in the composition of this work. Its pictures of the times and persons it treats of are "finished sketches," the effect of which, by a truly artist-like skill, is heightened instead of diminished by the small fine touches that denote a thorough familiarity with every incidental particular of the subject. Thus, not only are the king's jester and the king's cook as vividly set
before us as Henri himself; but Henri's lineaments are not more accurately painted than is the quaint figure of a piece of embroidery, the fashion of a jewel, or the cut of a garment. In spite of a most hurried and effect-marring termination, this romance has in it the seeds of life, and contains some of its author's soundest and most brilliant writing. Here, again, we see a lyrical genius in full flow; some of the songs are of a most dainty fashion, and charm equally by their structure and their fancy.
The "Admirable Crichton" was yet winning admiration when his untired historian commenced another romance, which he originally intended to call "Thames Darrell," and under that name it was announced by its publisher. After considerable delays, the opening chapters of the work made their appearance in "Bentley's Miscellany," under the title of "Jack Sheppard." This was in January, 1839. Two months afterwards, on the retirement of Mr. Dickens, the author of the new romance was installed as editor of the Miscellany"-the terms agreed upon being 517. per month. As the story month by month developed itself, the circle of its success widened; not an audible objection to its hero or to its author-to his plot, scenery, or persons-their life, character, or behaviour was raised, as far as we are aware, in the most fastidious coterie; but, on the contrary, many established critics of high character, fully cognisant of the significant fact that the hero of the tale was the veritable housebreaker, welcomed him with winged pens as he broke limb by limb out of the Magazine, and shook him heartily by the hand as a legitimate historical acquaintance. When he stood before them, whole, in the autumn of the same year, he met with astonishing success, and became the " rage" for months. The three volumes were produced in a dramatic form simultaneously at eight different theatres; and George Cruikshank's inimitable designs became set scenes east and west. At last, however, the prison-breaker's popularity became all at once an offence in people's eyes greater than any of which he was ever convicted. He was denounced as something worse than the monster in "Frankenstein." Critics, who had always a passion for heroes in fetters before, now found out that housebreakers are disreputable characters. They were in raptures with the old-established brigand still, and the freebooter of foreign extraction; they could hug Robin Hood as fondly as ever, and dwell with unhurt morals on the little peccadilloes of Rob Roy; nay, they had no
objection to ride behind Turpin to York any day, and would never feel ashamed of their company; but they shook their heads at Sheppard, because low people began to run after him at the theatres; he was a housebreaker!
We are here recording facts, and have small space for opinions. It may be observed, however, that the outcry, to have served any moral end, should have been raised much sooner. Why did it not break out when the housebreaker first broke out in January amidst public plaudits? Why was it silent for a whole twelvemonth? But this is not the only question. Why was not that moral outcry raised long before this culprit ever made a literary appearance at all? He had some remarkably suspicious precursors-heroes selected only for their ruffianism; yet the storm falls on this offender, probably because he comes late in the field. In answer to the charge of choosing a Newgate hero, the romancer is surely entitled to say, "I did not select him because he was a housebreaker, but because he was a prison-breaker." And if mischief arise from the delineation of the characters of such criminals which is a separate question, and would lead us as far afield as the "Robbers" of Schiller led the young reprobate nobles who turned thieves in imitation, and might suggest a committee of inquiry concerning Bardolph and Company, amongst a crowd of others; but if mischief arise, which course has the directest tendency to produce it—that which introduces the criminal into the story to play off his brutalities unrestricted, and, as it were, under cover of false dates and places-or that which avows the heroship on the title-page, and warns off those of timid tastes and trembling morals? People seem to object to no atrocity, no vulgarity, so that it be unexpected, and not concentrated in the hero. We take up the most innocent-looking Arcadian sort of books, and find ourselves in the heart of Newgate. Of this we may have some cause to complain; but we cannot complain of going to Tyburn, when the hero's very name tells us we shall be taken there in the end, wheresoever the story may previously wind.
Gay has been libelled for his "Beggar's Opera," and Fielding has been abused for his "Jonathan Wild the Great" (excellent company wherein to sin or to suffer martyrdom!); but those exquisite satires, if liable to be misunderstood by the dull, are as innocent of evil as they are brave in purpose and profound in wit. They are what they profess to be, and do not cheat the reader with a promise of some