« PoprzedniaDalej »
his province as a censor; but when Mr. 'Examiner' says of a gentleman that he is 'stooping to flatter a public prejudice,' which public prejudice does not exist, I submit that he makes a charge which is as absurd as it is unjust, and am thankful that it repels itself. And, instead of accusing the public of persecuting and disparaging us as a class, it seems to me that men of letters had best silently assume that they are as good as any other gentlemen, nor raise piteous controversies upon a question which all people of sense must take to be settled. If I sit at your table, I suppose that I am my neighbor's equal as that he is mine. If I begin straightway with a protest of Sir, I am a literary man, but I would have you to know I am as good as you,' which of us is it that questions the dignity of the literary profession- my neighbor who would like to eat his soup in quiet, or the man of letters who commences the argument? And I hope that a comic writer, because he describes one author as improvident and another as a parasite, may not only be guiltless of a desire to vilify his profession, but may really have its honor at heart. If there are no spendthrifts or parasites amongst us, the satire becomes unjust ; but if such exist, or have existed, they are as good subjects for comedy as men of other callings. I never heard that the Bar felt itself aggrieved because 'Punch' chose to describe Mr. Dunup's notorious state of insolvency, or that the picture of Stiggins in 'Pickwick' was intended as an insult to all Dissenters, or that all the attorneys in the empire were indignant at the famous history of the firm of 'Quirk, Gammon, and Snap.' Are we to be passed over because we are faultless, or because we cannot afford to be laughed at? And if every character in a story is to represent a class, not an individual — if every bad figure is to have its obliged contrast of a good one, and a balance of vice and virtue is to be struck —novels, I think, would become impossible, as they would be intolerably stupid and unnatural, and there would be a lamentable end of writers and readers of such compositions.
"Believe me, Sir, to be your very faithful servant,
"W. M. THACKERAY."
PERSONAL APPEARANCE OF THACKERAY.
Who that has seen will ever forget the commanding figure and the stately head? Sauntering- usually a solitary man through the hall of the Reform Club, or in the quietudes of the Athenæum, making up his mind to find a corner to work for an hour or so on the small sheets of paper in his pocket, in a hand as neat as Peter Cunningham's, or Leigh Hunt's; gazing dreamily, and often with a sad and weary look, out of window; moving slowly westward home to dinner on a summer's evening; or making a strange presence, as obviously not belonging to the place, in Fleet Street, on his way to Whitefriars or Cornhill; who that knew him does not remember dear Old Thackeray, as his familiars lovingly called him, in some or all of these moods and places? In Thackeray as in Dickens, there was a strong and impressive individuality. No two men could be less alike, in person or mind, than these two writers who shared the world's favor together; and yet there was an equality and identity in their impressiveness. Dickens's strength was quick, alert, and with the glow of health in it; it seemed to proceed like that of a mighty engine from an inward fire. Thackeray's was calm, majestic by its ease and extent, as the force of a splendid stream. Hawthorne's figure and air has been described as “modestly grand:" and the observation, it occurs to me, applies exactly to Thackeray. Indeed I have often been struck with the idea that the two men must have affected society much in the same way, and by the same mental and physical qualities. Like Hawthorne, Thackeray
"Wandered lonely as a cloud,"
a cloud, it should be noted and remembered, with a silver lining. In their solitude, when suddenly observed, both had a sad, a grave aspect: and each was "marvelously moved
1 Shortly before his death he spent a morning in the reading-room of the British Museum, and there by accident left upon a table a page of the MS. of the story he had in hand. The paper being found, the clearness and roundness of the writing at once suggested the owner to the attendant, and the precious, missing leaf was forwarded to Kensington.
to fun on occasions. In both the boy appeared easily; and this was a quality of Dickens's genius, as it was of my father's. I should like to see pictures of Thackeray holding a skein of silk for a child upon his broad hands; of Dickens playing at leap-frog or rounders of Hawthorne lying in the grass listening to the birds, and ducking lest the passers by should interrupt him; and of Douglas Jerrold taking part in basting the bear in his Kentish orchard. Mr. Fields's description of Hawthorne's fun at sea, and of his grand solitary figure under the stars at night, might stand for portraiture of Thackeray.
- almost If Thackeray cast upon the outer world an austere contemptuous look- and walked the streets and paced the clubs self-contained, solitary, —it was because he was an observer of human nature, indeed of all nature. You stand away to examine a picture. He who goes to observe the Downs on a Derby day does not take three sticks at Aunt Sally. When Thackeray observed a child at play, he was touched by the natural flow of its movements and the natural philosophy underlying its prattle. Dickens put himself under the glossy plumes of the raven in the happy family, and dwelt unctuously on the juiciness of the youngster's exposed calves. The difference, I have thought, having often come upon both at busy points of observation, was shown in their attitude towards the world when in the thick of it. Thackeray sailed majestically along, one hand thrust in his pocket, a cultivated, fastidious, high-bred man, deep-hearted withal. Dickens had a swifter headway, a more combative and a compacter air, and bore down with his bright eye that had (to use Doré's phrase to me applied to his own retentive vision) plenty of collodion in it, upon every human countenance, every beggar's limp, or groundling's daub of dirt. Brave and loyal workers both, who have laid the world under immeasurable debts of gratitude to them; they held along opposite sides of the way, and at each passing man and woman gazed, albeit they knew them not, feeling that there were no ordinary men abroad that day.
It was with Thackeray as with Hawthorne. The grand, sad
mask could pucker in a moment, and break into hearty fun and laughter. A friend went laughing into the Reform Club one afternoon; he had just met Thackeray at the door of the Athenæum Club. He had had a dispute with his cabman about the fare, which he had just proposed to settle by a toss. If Thackeray won, the cabman was to receive two shillings, and if the toss went against the author of "Vanity Fair” the cabman was to receive one shilling. Fortune was with the novelist; and he dwelt delightfully afterwards on the gentlemanly manner in which the driver took his defeat. Yet there were times, and many, when Thackeray could not break through his outward austerity, even when passing an intimate friend in the street. I and a mutual friend met him one afternoon in Fleet Street, ambling to Whitefriars on his cob, and a very extraordinary figure he made. He caught sight of us, and my companion was about to grasp his hand, but he just touched his hat with his finger, and without opening his lips or relaxing the solemn cast of his features, he passed on. My companion stamped his foot upon the pavement and cried, "Who would think that we were up till four o'clock this morning together, and that he sang his ‘Reverend Dr. Luther,' and was the liveliest of us."
But Thackeray was a sick man, as well as a hard-worked one. He was threatened by several disorders of long continuance; and against which he stoutly fought, turning his noble placid face bravely upon the world this "great Achilles whom we knew," and who was most loved by those who knew him best. Indeed by the outer world—by those with whom he came in contact for the first time he was not loved, and not often liked. His address was as polished as a steel mirror, and as cold. In the "Hoggarty Diamond,” in that exquisite chapter given to Mr. Titmarsh's drive with Lady Drum, Mr. Samuel observes: "For though I am but a poor fellow, and hear people cry out how vulgar it is to eat peas with a knife, or ask three times for cheese, and such like points of ceremony, there's something, I think, much more vulgar than all this, and that is insolence to one's inferiors. I hate the chap
that uses it, as I scorn him of humble rank that affects to be of the fashion; and so I determined to let Mr. Preston know a piece of my mind." And Mr. Preston knew it accordingly. In this passage there is the key-note of the wordly side of Thackeray's character. He was beloved by his inferiors, and reserved his hottest scorn for those pretenders who, buffeted and cold-shouldered by those in whose society they aspire to mix, take their revenge upon their dependents.
Testimonies of love, of friendship, of admiration, in records of kindly acts, in anecdotes of tender heart, in passages from his works illustrating passages of his life, filled the papers at that mournful Christmas-time when he died. The instances of his kindly and unostentatious help to many of his young literary friends might be given by the score. I can remember many that came under my own observation. I was one morning at Horace Mayhew's chambers in Regent Street when Thackeray knocked at the door, and cried from without "It's no use, Porry Mayhew: open the door."
“It's dear old Thackeray," said Mayhew, instinctively putting chairs and table in order to do honor to the friend of whom he never spoke without pride, and without adding, — “ I know dear good Thackeray is very fond of me.”
Thackeray came in, saying cheerily — “Well, young gentlemen, you'll admit an old fogy.'
man. Between him
He always spoke of himself as an old and Mayhew there were not many years. He took up the papers lying about, talked the gossip of the day, and then suddenly said - with his hat in his hand "I was going away without doing part of the business of my visit. You spoke the other day at the dinner (the "Punch" weekly-meeting) of poor George. Somebody-most unaccountably has returned me a five pound note I lent him a long time ago. I did n't expect it: so just hand it to George: and tell him, when his pocket will bear it, to pass it on to some poor fellow of his acquaintance. By-bye." A nod and he was gone.
This was, we all agreed, very like "dear old Thackeray.