Obrazy na stronie

get up and walk about his room; but she was not alarmed, as this was a habit of her son when unwell. It is supposed that he had, in fact, been seized at this time, and that the violence of the attack had brought on the effusion on the brain which, as the post-mortem examination showed, was the immediate cause of death. His medical attendants attributed his death to effusion on the brain, and added that he had a very large brain, weighing no less than 581⁄2 oz. He thus died of the complaint which seemed to trouble him least.



Born a gentleman, educated at a university, and very soon induced to devote himself to authorship, an occupation which, after a determined but not disagreeable struggle, gave him fame and prosperity — Mr. Thackeray underwent few of the adventures which he has described so well, or others of a rougher order. Nor did his well-regulated mind permit him to indulge in the passions, follies, or tentative efforts which have made the lives of so many men hard living but agreeable reading. Sir Walter Scott's history as an author is varied by the story of a mystery more wonderfully kept than that in any of the sensation tales of our day, and by the story of a grand speculation which brought about a ruin more nobly repaired than ever was similar imprudence atoned for. Byron's life was full of real romance, vulgarized into mock romance by the vanity and mystifying tendencies of the man, and by the malevolent propensities of those who refused to see the diamond because it was in brass and backed with tinsel. In the story of Burns we have a constant and painful struggle of genius with frailty, and are everywhere reminded, as in the noble lines of Marlowe,

"How angels, in their crystal armor, fight

A doubtful battle with our tempted thoughts."

[ocr errors]

And we doubt not that when the lives of many men of the present day, who have attained much literary eminence, though far less than Thackeray, come to the press, it will be seen that living authors, like their betters, "have had buffets."

But in Thackeray's career, so far as the world can ever know it, there is little of which a biographer can make points. The story of his inner life and troubles would doubtless have been one of deep interest. The loss of fortune, and a still severer trial to his loving nature—a trial to which this is our first and last reference must have given him hours and hours of care and sorrow; and, had he chosen to place these on record, and (after the fashion of sundry French and English egotistical psychologists) to lay bare his own soul to the world, we might have had an autobiography inferior to none in that special interest which self-depiction, performed by a master's hand, must ever offer. But he has not done this, and none can presume to supply what he has chosen to withhold. It was not that he shunned the world's eye we all feel at this moment how endeared he was to us by his delightful habit of treating us all as his friends, and of confiding to us his "little miseries," telling us how discourteous were some of the small enemies who attacked him, and how unreasonable were the small friends who besieged him. He was of much too healthy a mind to fear to walk about in his habit as he lived in private, and he never shrouded himself in mysteries, nor broke upon us, at stated seasons, in a blaze of glory. Simple, natural, and a gentleman, he was ever as frank as those who live in good society are usually found. But his great griefs he kept to himself, and would have instantly recoiled from the idea of making money or fame by a revelation of the pulsations of a troubled heart. Hence, his outside life having been without adventure, and his inner life a secret between his Maker and himself, his biographer has little to tell save what all know.

The "grand county" may add his name to the roll of great, and brave, and good men who have come from Yorkshire. His father was in the civil service of the East India Company; and his mother, who has lived to behold a people in sorrow for the son who was so devoted to her, is understood to claim a descent of equally sturdy English character from the real old English who inhabit the principality. So he is England's by every right of pedigree. His grandfather was a clergyman

of the Established Church. William Makepeace Thackeray was born in Calcutta in the year 1811, and soon came to this country. He was a Charterhouse boy and a Cambridge man. His last public appearance was at the Charterhouse dinner, and he gave the time-honored Latin toast (which prays for prosperity to the great foundation) with a heartiness which was sadly remembered by some who heard him, and who stood by his open grave a few days later. He has not made much formal use of his college experiences, but they crop up, ever and anon, in his writings; and in that delightful “Shabby Genteel Story," the foundation upon which, years after, he based the history of " Philip," we find some early sketches of disreputable collegians. But he knew good men and true while at Cambridge, and preserved their friendship till the hour when friendship is ended.

Thackeray's own inclination was for the life of an artist. To his last day he was an earnest and devoted lover of art and of its professors; and it is remarkable that, large as was the number of distinguished men of his own calling who came round his grave, the assemblage of first-rate artists was almost as large. There stood Millais and Marochetti, and Redgrave; Creswick, O'Neil, and Cruikshank; Leech, and Teniel, and Doyle; Munro, Du Maurier, Walker, and Phillips, and others whose faces we saw as faces are seen at such a moment, whose presence we recognize when names do not always arise to the mind. He had ever the largest praise for the artist who had made a reputation, the kindest word for him who was struggling on an upward course, and the most open hand for the artist who was neither successful nor advancing. Intending to educate himself for painting, he travelled much, and, as happens to many men, he was really educating himself in the finest and wisest manner for another art than that which he thought he was studying. And upon this path he soon entered, and trod it to the last. He was fortunate, we think, in not beginning authorship too young. He had not, as Douglas Jerrold said, "to take down the shutters before there was anything in the shop windows." He had been well edu

cated, had moved in refined society, had seen much of the world, and had his mind ennobled and enriched by the study of art, where she shows proudest, before he took pen in hand. Hence, an observer of style will see that even in his earliest writings there is an absence of strain and flutter, and a composed and reticent tone. He knew that he had plenty to say, and hence he did not find it necessary to beat out his gold into the thinnest leaf; he knew that what he said was worth hearing, hence he had no recourse to devices or affectations to attract attention; and he knew that he was able to tell his story well, and hence he told it in his own manner, and calmly waited its acceptance by the hearers. We do not imply any censure upon those who have not possessed his advantages, and who have had to learn to rid themselves, one by one, of the blemishes from which Thackeray was so singularly free. It is greatly to a writer's praise that he has taught himself what Thackeray knew at starting. We merely dwell with pleasant memory upon the finish and composure of his early style. It strengthened with his strength, and, long before the end, had been universally recognized as the purest and best English of the day

Strong, without rage: without o'erflowing, full."

Henceforth the story of his life is little more than a recital of the dates of his works. Before he became famous he wrote for many of the journals; and a tribute, as graceful as unexpected, from the editor of the “Examiner,” has revealed the fact that the brilliant pen of Thackeray pointed many of the epigrammatic articles for which that journal obtained a reputation which it has now regained. In "Fraser's Magazine,” however, he found the amplest range for his powers of sarcasm and of humor; and under the name of Michael Angelo Titmarsh (a characteristic blending of grand and little for satiric purpose) he published some of the very best of his minor works — minor only in the sense that they are of smaller extent than his grand novels, as an exquisite cameo is minor beside a finished statue, not beside a stone mason's giant. "The Great Hoggarty Diamond" is one of the most

[ocr errors]

remarkable of these tales, and through all its humor comes the lesson he ever taught, — that of manliness and hopefulness. The " Shabby Genteel Story" was also in "Fraser ; and who will ever forget that dinner at Margate, and the duel with the painter, and the fat lady getting up in a hurry to rescue her red-bearded, valiant cockney? A powerful paper, in which he described the execution of Courvoisier, and denounced the system of public executions, was another of his contributions; and we have, unfortunately, no space to go through the list, very pleasant as it would be to note, in the spirit in which talks to a friend of the good deeds of a lost friend, the delightful papers which used to make "Fraser a work to be eagerly scrambled for in public places by those who had imperative claims on their half-crowns, and therefore read no magazines in luxurious privacy.

[ocr errors]

In a good day for himself, the journal, and the world, Thackeray joined "Punch." Here he had more ample play for all his faculties than had been ever offered him. An epigram in two lines, a sketch in two pages, a head-piece, a tail-piece, a caricature, a pregnant initial, a jovial song (are we thinking of the "Mahogany Tree " ?), an Irish chant of ridiculous treason (say the "Limerick Tragedy"), a versified fable for the instruction of Lords and Princes ("Silly Little Finches "), a tale in many chapters ("Jeames's History "), or a series of essays ("The Snob Papers "), all were welcome and welcomed. And as companions at the hospitable board of council, where such things were conceived, suggested, reviewed, and admired, he sat with two who have preceded him to the world of shadows, and with some who live to mourn him. Douglas Jerrold and Gilbert A'Becket were his neighbors at those feasts, and none appreciated more keenly than Thackeray the magical quickness and sparkle of the wit's repartees, or the ever-ready, shrewd, and kindly talk of the humorist. Others who were of the happy party, and who read these lines, will silently testify to their truth, and add that for each and for all who sat with Thackeray at that board there was always the quaint greeting that dignified the friend with

« PoprzedniaDalej »