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is used very sparingly as subservient to character or situation, but commonly as an illustration or pictorial background. Let us compare the two following extracts. The first is from Jane Austen's ‘Mansfield Park’: —
‘Now we shall have no more rough road, Miss Crawford; our difficulties are over. The rest of the way is such as it ought to be. Mr. Rushworth has made it since he succeeded to the estate.—Here begins the village. Those cottages are really a disgrace. The church spire is reckoned remarkably handsome. I am glad the church is not so close to the great House as often happens in old places. The annoyance of the bells must be terrible. There is the parsonage, a tidy-looking house, and I understand the clergyman and his wife are very decent people. Those are almshouses, built by some of the family. To the right is the steward's house; he is a very respectable man. Now we are coming to the lodge gates; but we have nearly a mile through the park still. It is not ugly, you see, at this end; there is some fine timber, but the situation of the house is dreadful. We go down hill to it for half-a-mile, and it is a pity, for it would not be an ill-looking place if it had a better approach.'
The second is from the opening pages of Mrs. Humphry Ward's “Marcella':–
“She looked out upon a broad and level lawn, smoothed by the care of centuries, flanked on either side by groups of old trees—some Scotch firs, some beeches, a cedar or two—groups where the slow selective hand of Time had been at work for generations, developing here the delightful roundness of quiet mass and shade, and there the bold caprice of bare fir trunks and ragged branches, standing back against the sky. Beyond the lawn stretched a green descent indefi. nitely long, carrying the eye indeed almost to the limit of the view, and becoming from the lawn onwards a wide irregular avenue, bor. dered by beeches of a splendid maturity, ending at last in a far distant gap where a gate—and a gate of some importance—clearly should have been, yet was not. The size of the trees, the wide uplands of the falling valley to the left of the avenue, now rich in the tints of harvest, the autumn sun pouring steadily through the vanishing mists, the green breadth of the vast lawn, the unbroken peace of wood and cultivated ground, all carried with them a confused general impres: sion of well-being and of dignity, Marcella drew it in — this impression—with avidity. Yet at the same moment she noticed involuntarily the gateless gap at the end of the avenue, the choked condition of the garden paths on either side of the lawn, and the unsightly tufts of grass spotting the broad gravel terrace beneath her window.’
In the former passage, which is brimful of humorous sug: gestion, the writer is exclusively intent upon setting out points of human character in an effective light. The latter is a highly: finished piece of word-painting, taken direct, as an artist * take take a picture, from a landscape that lay before the writer, and as such it is excellently done; but, except for the slight indication of a neglected estate, it stands apart from the plot or the play of character, and might be bound up with the volume or omitted like a woodcut. Undoubtedly the art of descriptive writing, which demands poetic feeling and a delicate hand upon the organ of language, is practised finely by the best of our modern novelists, and is a valuable element of their popularity. Yet there are signs that it is already threatened by the inexorable demands of the lower realism, which takes slight account of the intimations that can be conveyed or the emotions that may be roused by using language as an instrument for the interpretation of nature, and requires to be shown the thing itself, as it is seen in a photograph. “The tendency of the times, we are told, “seems to be to read less and less, and to depend more upon pictorial records of events.’ And the author from whom we quote * proceeds to show how a few lines of sketch at once elucidate and vivify whole pages of word-painting. He goes further, and relates how ‘the fallacy of the accepted system of describing landscapes, buildings, and the like in words, was proved experimentally by reading slowly a description of a castle, mountains, and a river winding to the sea, from one of the Waverley novels, before a number of students, three of whom proceeded to indicate on a black board the leading lines of the mental picture produced by the words. The drawings were all different and all wrong, as might indeed have been confidently foretold ; for the two sister arts of the pen and of the pencil cannot possibly interpret each other reciprocally after this fashion, or produce identical effects by their widely differing methods. Yet it is not impossible that the lower ranks of writers, who exaggerate the prevailing fashion of exactly reproducing what any one can see and hear, may find themselves outbid and overpowered on this ground by illustration in line and colour. In this direction, indeed, lies the danger of extreme Realism. It wages war against Romance, which subsists upon idealistic conceptions of noble thought and action; it pretends to hold up a true mirror to society, because it reflects faithfully and without discrimination, like a photograph, the street, the club, or the drawing-room, and arranges dramatically the commonplace talk of everyday people. All this is fatal to high art, in writing as in painting; nor can very clever dialogue, ingenious situations, variety of style and subject, or even a high average morality, preserve such literature from triviality and gradual degradation.
It is the saying of a French writer, that the novel of to-day has abjured both the past and the future, and lives wholly in the present. We are so far of his opinion in regard to the past, that we doubt, for reasons already given, whether the reading public can be induced to travel backward into distant periods and unfamiliar scenes, even though facts, anecdotes, costume, and other accessories be scrupulously and historically exact, The future is a domain upon which the novelist has rarely trespassed; but in close propinquity to it lies theologic specula. tion, and we have not long ago witnessed the fascination that can be exercised over a multitude of readers by a novel which described the unhappiness brought upon the peaceful home of an Anglican clergyman who was driven forth from his parsonage by imbibing some tincture of modern Biblical criticism. The sensation, for so it must be called, produced by “Robert Elsmere, illustrated the degree to which in these days popularity depends on hitting the intellectual level of the general reader, and on touching the fancy or the conscience of that very numerous class whose culture is of the medium sort, neither high nor low. For while it seems certain that to a great many people the views and arguments which overthrew Elsmere's orthodoxy and brought him to martyrdom must have seemed profound, daring, and novel, to others they are but too familiar and by no means fresh. To some of us, indeed, the overpowering effect produced on Elsmere's mind by his remark. able discoveries may be not unlike the awe and gratitude with which an African chief receives the present of an obsolete cannon. But the main reason why the future is no better field than the distant past for the modern novelist, is that in both cases there is a want of actuality, and that the positive temper of the age requires in either case something more definite and verifiable.
It may be affirmed, moreover, as a general observation, that the spirit of realism is hostile to the Novel with a Purpose. whether it be that species which undertakes to argue or instrut! under the cloak of agreeable fiction, or that other species, much cultivated by Dickens in his later works, which attacks antiquated institutions and public abuses in a story so contrived a to expose their absurdity and injustice. There is an air o artificiality about such compositions which damages the artistic illusion, the photographic rendering of actual life, upon which the author relies, because it throws over the stage a shadow
of his own personality. For one tendency of excessive realism 15 is to encourage an approximation between literary and theatrical effects, since the whole interest becomes concentrated upon figures acting and moving under a strong light in the foreground of scenes carefully adjusted, so that anything which betrays the author's presence interrupts the performance. Yet although our contemporary novelist is thus subjected, in respect of his period and his repertory, to limitations from which his predecessors were free, there has never been a time when English fiction has exhibited, in competent hands, greater fertility of invention and resource, or so high an average proficiency in the art of writing. The vastly increased demand for amusement in modern life has stimulated the production of light literature, which is now cultivated far more widely than heretofore, like tea, and the market is flooded with an article of sound moderate quality. At this moment we have in very truth a democracy of letters, for while no mighty masters overtop the rest, the number of writers who stand on an equality of merit, who can produce one or more excellent stories, is very large. Their field has widened with the expansion of British enterprise; they can draw their plots, descriptions, and characters from the colonies, from Africa, from the South Sea Islands, or from India; and it will be observed that not only the tale of adventure, but also the quiet story of domestic interiors and family troubles, is easily acclimatized, and gains something from a sparing use of variety of dialect and landscape. As for the Novel of Adventure, it is drawing copious sustenance from these outlying regions. For although it is only from first favourites that the home-keeping reader will tolerate an elaborate romance about Africa or the Pacific, he has taken a very strong liking to short stories of scenes and actions strictly contemporaneous, written in a rough, vigorous, and utterly unconventional style, which convey to his mind impressions as distinctly as a set of pictorial sketches. We believe that this style, which retains a strong flavour of its American origin (it can hardly be dated earlier than Bret Harte), may be reckoned to be peculiar to the light literature of the English language. We are not aware that it prevails to any extent in other countries; for although the short story of love, intrigue, and manners in general has flourished from mediaeval times, and at this moment is almost exclusively confined to these subjects in France, the class of works to which we are now referring differs entirely in subject and style. In England and America the roving life of the colonies, the backwoods, the Western States, and the Indian frontiers has created an unique school of realistic fiction in which Mr. Kipling is at this moment the chief professor. There is moreover a manifest affinity between these short prose narratives and the strain of racy strenuous versification upon the quaint unvarnished notions and hardy exploits of the bush, the prairie, or the frontier, by which Bret Harte, Lindsay Gordon, and again Kipling have attained celebrity. As these poems echo the far-off ring of the ancient ballad, so we may venture to surmise that the short prose story of adventure, which appeals to modern taste by its vivid reality, its terseness of style, and its picturesque outline, represents the latest form reached by Romance in its long evolution. Such a tale will squeeze into fifty or a hundred pages what Fenimore Cooper or G. P. R. James would have distended into three volumes of slow-moving narrative, whereby infinite labour is saved to the hasty and indolent reader of these railroad days. Here, in short, we perceive the influence of that very characteristic school of contemporary art, which we know to have always existed, but to which men have recently given the exceedingly modern title of Impressionist,-the school of authors who desire to strike the imagination vividly and with a few sharp strokes, grouping their figures in a strong light, rounding off their compact story upon a small canvas, and reject. ing every detail that is not strictly accessory to the main purpose. Already it is beginning to be said in France that Zola with his laborious particularism has passed his climacteric of fashion, and that the swift impressionist is sailing in on a fair wind of spreading popularity. Now in France, though no longer in England, the critics still do their duty; they are not merely, to borrow a phrase from Coleridge, the eunuchs who guard the temple of the Muses; they are often prolific authors who exercise great influence upon public opinion, so that their forecast of the course and tendencies of fiction is worth bearing in mind. We ourselves are ever a restless, bustling, far-wandering folk, great lovers of fiction and travel, who not only carry forth the English language into the uttermost parts of the earth, to be moulded in strange dialects to queer uses, but also bring back fresh ideas and incidents, and various aspects of a many-sided world-ranging life. If, as has been often asserted, literature be the collective expression of the ideas and aspirations, the tastes feelings, and habits of the generation which produces it, we may not be altogether wrong in treating the short highly finished story, whether of adventure or manners, as the impress and reflection of modern English society. But no operation is more delicate than the endeavour to trace the subtle connexion between constant modifications of literary form and the pressure of its ever-changing moral and material environment. ART,