« PreviousContinue »
What a Lady Bountiful hath Mrs. Trollope been to printers, Marlborough-street puff-factors, Wellington-street advertising columns, provincial paper-makers, and eke, we fear, to universal trunk-makers! The prosiest of utilitarians must be sensible to the weight of her claims in this economical aspect, and must reverence in spite of his nil admirari temperament) the colossal scale on which she has employed national capital and labour. Nor is she ever weary in this well-doing, nor does she ever betray symptoms of fatigue. Again and again are novel-readers on the wrong scent, and have quite lost the trail, when asking one another, “ Have you read Mrs. Trollope's last ?" finding that what they supposed her most recent venture has been superseded by two or three others, and that the hypothetical 6 last" is neither the ultimate, nor penultimate, nor even antepenultimate, but quite an old story in the rationale of circulating libraries. And we have a profound conviction that so inveterate is this kalo or kako-ethes scribendi in her constitution —and so impressed is she with the resolution not to suffer the cold oblivion implied in the adage, “ Out of sight, out of mind”-that she will be found to have taken measures for many a year to come, by which her perpetual re-appearance shall be ensured. Depend upon it, her literary executors will be entrusted with the supervision of a few bales of 6 copy," containing work for generations of compositors and readers yet unborn ; so that novels of the approved Trollope fabric may, by a judiciously frugal rate of publication (say two or three per annum) be made to last some half-way into the next century. If, however, our prognostications should be disproved by the event, we shall console ourselves with the reflection that it was only because the novelist's will was wanting; and if we chance to survive her, we shall battle as stoutly as ever in behalf of her power to have worked out this paulo-post-futurum. Our faith in her potentiality is illimitable. But there are such things as 6 foiled potentialities," as Mr. Carlyle so graphically shows*—and that fact must be our apology, if Time, the Avenger, should call us false prophets, or other bad names. But we must leave to the New Monthly critic of A.D. 1950 the duty of defending our hallowed memory on this score.
Satire is, perhaps, the characteristic of Mrs. Trollope's writings~satire of a hard, poignant, persevering sort, which is little akin to the more graceful raillery of Mrs. Gore, or to Thackeray's goodnatured irony. It wears an almost vicious look-goes about seeking whom it may devour-snaps at strangers—bites as well as barks, and, when it does bite, makes its teeth meet. There is nothing reserved or indefinite in its vocables; it carries no trace of “ equivocal generation;" it beats about no bush, nor strives to break the fall of its victims, nor meditates excuse for its own hostility. To “ damn with faint praise,” it knows not ; to “ hesitate dislike," it scornfully repudiates. It is alien from all these refined equivoques and dissembling sarcasms which, to compass their ends,
assent with civil leer,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike.f * “ Latter Day Pamphlets.”
† Pope (Prologue to the Satires).
Its lines are deeply indented and coarsely grained, and do not fall on pleasant places. In anatomising her subjects, Mrs. Trollope shows no profound psychological science ; in fact, her incisions are often but skindeep; but then she gashes to and fro after a terrible sort, and produces jagged wounds, and leaves unsightly scars, and seems to revel in diagrams of morbid pathology. Her illustrations are generally lively, not always truthful, and frequently farfetched. The absurdities and abuses of social life have had few sharper inquisitors, but many of abler discrimination and more practical judgment. Fools and villains are not to be shamed and reformed, or their ugliness to be made a warning, by unqualified expositions of their actual or their ideal excesses. Satire, by being too broad, too unconditional, too straightforward, defeats its being's end and aim. Its acute angles become obtuse, and its parallel lines never meet their object. According to Sir Walter Scott, the nicest art of satire lies in a skilful mixture of applause and blame : there must be an appearance of candour, and just so much merit allowed, even to the object of censure, as to make the picture natural.* But in no case is Mrs. Trollope a friend to the media via. If she scolds, it must be vehemently; if she admires, it must be sweepingly-like the duke, with whom
Railing and praising were the usual themes,
And both, to show his judgment, in extremes. In the same manner, her humourists are too often buffoons; her wit trenches on caricature; her romance goes Surrey melodramatic lengths ; her comedy merges in farce. A blackguard à la Trollope is all black.
In reading her fictions we are consciously en rapport with a clear-seeing and clever woman, who surprises us with the extent, the variety, and the lucidity of her visions ; but we feel the while that truth and nature are sacrificed or forgotten that the clairvoyance is a skilful delusion, the performance a make-believe, the performer a professional artiste. Sometimes, indeed, Mrs. Trollope draws from life, and supplies the finishing touches as well as the outline from the same source. But as a rule, she overdoes nature, or contrives to do without it-novis saltem judicibus.
The celebrity of that literary scandalum to the taste of Uncle Sam, “ Domestic Manners of the Americans,” which he reckons to “whip creation” in the article of scan. mag., was not rivalled by the accompanying novel, “ The Refugee in America,” with which Mrs. Trollope clenched her argument. The former was fiction enough, on American showing—it was all “tarnation romance” from beginning to end ; and to follow it up by a professed work of fancy or unreality, was adding insult to injury. From the vulgarism and utilitarianism of this prosaic theme, she turned in the following year (1833) to Italy and the sixteenth century, producing " The Abbess,” a romance rich in convent characteristics, love intrigues, and Inquisition unpleasantries. The same strong and pointed lance that had just run-a-muck against Yankeedom, was now couched, in the same martial and uncompromising spirit, against old abuses of ultramontanism. There is ingenuity, but no great grasp of passion or power in this tale ; some of the characters are spirited, but they
* Thus Dryden's Portraiture of Shaftesbury (“ Absalom and Architophel”) qualifies the censure so artfully with praise of his talents, as to render his faults even more conspicuous and more hateful.-Scott's “ Life of Dryden,” $ 5.
are superficially drawn, and, when we close the book, they leave hardly a trace behind to recal and perpetuate the circumstances under which we 66 were first acquent." The author's penchant for political agitation and polemical romance, of which later years produced notable proofs in the career of Michael Armstrong and Jessie Phillips, declared itself in 1836 by the publication of the “Life and Adventures of Jonathan Jeffreson Whitlaw"--an atrocious rascal, who plays pranks to make angels weep and gentlemen swear, upon slave-hordes of what old Fuller called “God's images cut in ebony," on the banks of the Mississippi. For depicting an unmitigated scoundrel of the A 1 force--one of those male excrescences of human nature which now and then appear in paper and print-commend us to female novelists in general and Mrs. Trollope in particular. To adopt a fastidious paraphrase, she goes the entire animal. Othello peered downwards to see whether Iago had not cloven feet.* The feet of Mrs. Trollope's splendid sinners reveal the cleft-almost as deep as a well, and as wide as a church door-through patent leather and all. Wondrous' is her arithmetical mastery of these impossible quantities. A good hater herself, she indoctrinates us with her principles, until the force of hating can no further go, and the sense of our incapacity to wreak summary vengeance on the objects of it becomes intolerable, and makes us scream for the police, or frantically devise other retaliatory measures. The prosperity of Mr. Whitlaw increases our repugnance to his mal-practices; and the savage relief we feel when he is at last checkmated in the game of life, by that grim old Obi crone, is positively unchristian in its ebullitions. Yet Jonathan is ably represented : and other characters there are in the book which attest the writer's vigour and comprehensive skill-as Lotte Steinmark, the winsome German Fräulein, and Lucy Bligh, and Aunt Clio—(great is Mrs. Trollope in the matter of aunts). In the following years “ The Vicar of Wrexhill” made his celebrated début ; and to this hour that clerical notoriety is considered by many-taking him and his history together—the masterpiece of his race. As usual, the story bristles with satire of the roughest, and, as usual, it excited a stormy outcry from those whom it assailed. That the Doctor Cantwell, or Tartuffe, of this work, is an exaggerated piece of moral deformity we should be sorry to doubt; and that the acrimony and heat of Mrs. Trollope's strictures en masse are offensive and immoderate we are constrained to hint. But we fancy she did the state some service by this exposé of Jesuitism in social life-this onslaught upon the morbid phases of the “ Evangelical” school. So far we view it with a degree of approval similar to that we award to Sydney Smith's crusade against the Methodists, † when he laughed at the accounts of Providence destroying an innkeeper at Garstang, for appointing a cockfight near the Tabernacle, and of a man who was cured of scrofula by a single sermon, and of the poor Leather-lungs who, when he rode into Piccadilly in a thunderstorm, imagined that all the uproar of the elements was a mere hint to him not to preach at Mr. Romaine's chapel. We incline to hold with a distinguished clerical poet, that
* Oth. I look down towards his feet; but that's a fable:
If that thou be’st a devil, I cannot kill thee.--Othello, Act V., Scene 2. + Works of Rev. S. Smith, vol. i.
he only is the Evangelical
Sit like a nightmare !* This, and not the accomplished spouter who turns out on a Sunday morning, “with looks saddening the very sunshine, to instruct the parish poor in evangelic lore," and teach them to cast off all good works as filthy rags, and to fly morality as the gates of hell. What sort of world would that school substitute for the world they bid us forsake and in toto abandon? A dark, narrow world, indeed—so Christopher North has answered that question---yet, narrow as it is, haunted by thoughts that can, and too often do, debase and terrify into idiocy or madness ; for nature thwarted, must dwindle into decay or distortion—the very shape of the soul becomes deformed, its lineaments ghastly, as with premature age ; the spring is struck out of life; the gracious law of her seasons is disobeyed ; and on the tree of knowledge we are to look for fruits before blossoms. Bad philosophy and worse religion !† Hence our sympathy with the “high-and-dry' bard's apostrophe :
Oh shallow, and oh senseless ! in a world
Groans with the burden of offence-1 who swallow camels, straining at a gnat; who deem the Almighty frowns upon his throne, because two pair of harmless dowagers,
Whose life has lapsed without a stain, beguile
Burns fiercer for a Saraband. In its tendency, therefore, to “ show up” a sham system and a sham professor of sanctity, we recognise something healthy and seasonable in the “ Vicar of Wrexhill.” The effect of this beneficial tendency was, however, as in so many other instances of Mrs. Trollope's polemical ventures, marred and disabled by the bitterness of the medium employed for its exhibition,” as doctors say. The character of the Vicar has been not unjustly pronounced, by a favourable as well as competent reviewer, “not merely a libel on the sect, but a libel on humanity.” Painful as this novel is in tone and in details, and overwrought though it be in glare of colouring and in the drawing of the central figure, it is the one of its author's thousand-and-one productions which most completely and pointedly illustrates the individuality of her art—its disagreeableness of course included.
The subject of 5 Michael Armstrong” trenches upon the debateable ground of art. The province of fiction has its limits. “Child-torturers,"
* Rev. W. Lisle Bowles: “Banwell Hill; or, Days Departed." + See Blackwood's Magazine, vol. xxvii., p. 300.
says Currer Bell, “ slave-masters, and drivers, I consign to the hands of gaolers ; the novelist may be excused from sullying his page with the record of their deeds.”* Whether the novelist may be excused for depicting those deeds in extravagant form and lurid colouring, is another question, and one which touches Mrs. Trollope a little closely. For she has here detailed a very revolting and, as we think (albeit no devotees to the cause of cotton lords and millocracy), a very ex parte sort of historywhereof neither the fiction interests, nor the logic convinces, nor the rhetoric subdues us. The titled Vampire of the tale, Sir Matthew Dowling, is an impossible creature-happily for human nature, though unhappily for the success of the novelist : she represents him as a brute of incomparable coarseness, an atrocious scoundrel whose very name excites kicking propensities in every male reader's pedis pollex, and at the same time a man of ambitious and refined intellect, aspiring to the credit of a literary and accomplished gentleman, a speaker of modern languages, a critical French scholar, a playful votary of the Muses himself, and a universal Mæcenas to all who wield a pen in their service -valuing himself chiefly upon his reputation for the lighter graces of wit and gallantry, for being a delightful something between Killigrew and Count de Grammont,-so that there is no receptacle of wit from Joe Miller downwards, no gallant memoir in an unintelligible tongue, which Sir Matthew does not study with assiduity and perseverance of the highest order. Such is Mrs. Trollope's Manchester model man-the representative in her parliament of the cotton interest—the ex uno disce omnes pattern of millowners and manufacturers. And this vulgar oppressor has a familiar worthy of him, in the person of Mr. Joseph Parsons—a parasite who contracts to do his principal's dirty work wholesale, and does it beautifully-breaking the hearts and the bones of the factory folks after a magnificent system of his own. Such a couple of ogres can be had to order, to any amount, from the staff of dramatists at our minor theatres, or the “ Able Editors” of our red republic-ations. They are unworthy of the ingenuity and Toryism of Mrs. Trollope. Not much more to our taste, in point of draughtsmanship at least, are Dr. Crockley, whose sportive malice is so repulsive and the Lady Clarissa, a sentimentalist minus a heart ; and even the good people have more goodyness than goodness about them the little hero wanting individuality, his mother wanting nature, and his lady friends wanting ease and relief. The incidents of the tale are carelessly wrought; the descriptions are of the forcible feeble type; the conversations are improbable and stilted. On the whole, we submit that this volume of political agitation was a mistake. It sought to do in one social department what « Oliver Twist” had just been doing in another ; but it had no support ab intrà-no corps dramatique of Bumbles, and Claypoles, and Fagins, and Sykeses, and Artful Dodgers, and Nancys, to clench the argument and drive the nail home.
About the same time, however, Mrs. Trollope played the literary chaperon to a lady of real character and definite idiosyncrasy—one who stands out as a distinct and living form among the accepted celebrities of the English novel. And this is the Widow Barnaby. Her adventures
* Shirley, vol. i., p. 85.