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ANDREW Lang, a British poet, critic and general writer, born at Selkirk, Scotland, March 31, 1844. He was educated at St. Andrews University and at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1868 he was elected a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford. He has contributed largely to periodical literature. He has published "Ballades in Blue China" (1881); "Helen of Troy" (1882); "Rhymes à la Mode" (1884); "Custom and Myth" and "Ballades and Verses Vaine" (1884); "The Mark of Cain," a novel (1886); "Letters to Dead Authors" (1886); "Books and Bookmen" (1886); "Myth, Ritual, and Religion" (1887); "Grass of Parnassus (1888); "Letters on Literature" (1889); "Life of Sir Stafford Northcote (1890); "Essays in Little" (1891); "St. Andrews" (1893); "The Red True Story Book" (1895); and "My Own Fairy Book" (1895). In 1890 he collaborated with H. Rider Haggard in the production of "The World's Desire," a novel. He also translated the "Odyssey" with Professor Butcher, and the "Iliad" with Walter Leaf and Ernest Myers, and has published a series of critical articles on Shakspeare's plays.
To W. M. THACKERAY.
(From "Letters to Dead Authors.")
SIR,There are many things that stand in the way of the critic when he has a mind to praise the living. He may dread the charge of writing rather to vex a rival than to exalt the subject of his applause. He shuns the appearance of seeking the favor of the famous, and would not willingly be regarded as one of the many parasites who now advertise each movement and action of contemporary genius. "Such and such men of letters are passing their summer holidays in the Val d'Aosta," or the Mountains of the Moon, or the Suliman Range, as it may happen. So reports our literary Court Circular, and all our Précieuses read the tidings with enthusiasm. Lastly, if the critic be quite new to the world of letters, he may superfluously fear to vex a poet or novelist by the abundance of his eulogy.
No such doubts. perplex us when, with all our hearts, we would commend the departed; for they have passed almost beyond the reach even of envy; and to those pale cheeks of theirs no commendation can bring the red.
You, above all others, were and remain without a rival in your many-sided excellence, and praise of you strikes at none of those who have survived your day. The increase of time only mellows your renown, and each year that passes and brings you no successor does but sharpen the keenness of our sense of loss. In what other novelist, since Scott was worn down by the burden of a forlorn endeavor, and died for honor's sake, has the world found so many of the fairest gifts combined? If we may not call you a poet (for the first of English writers of light verse did not seek that crown), who that was less than a poet ever saw life with a glance so keen as yours, so steady, and so sane? Your pathos was never cheap, your laughter never forced; your sigh was never the pulpit trick of the preacher. Your funny people—your Costigans and Fokers - were not mere characters of trick and catchword, were not empty comic masks. Behind each the human heart was beating; and ever and again we were allowed to see the features of the man.
Thus fiction in your hands was not simply a profession, like another, but a constant reflection of the whole surface of life: a repeated echo of its laughter and its complaint. Others have written, and not written badly, with the stolid professional regularity of the clerk at his desk; you, like the Scholar Gypsy, might have said that "it needs heaven-sent moments for this skill." There are, it will not surprise you, some honorable women and a few men who call you a cynic; who speak of "the withered world of Thackerayan satire ;" who think your eyes were ever turned to the sordid aspects of life—to the motherin-law who threatens to "take away her silver bread-basket; to the intriguer, the sneak, the termagant; to the Beckys, and Barnes Newcomes, and Mrs. Mackenzies of this world. The quarrel of these sentimentalists is really with life, not with you; they might as wisely blame Monsieur Buffon because there are snakes in his Natural History. Had you not impaled certain obnoxious human insects, you would have better pleased Mr. Ruskin; had you confined yourself to such performances, you would have been more dear to the Neo-Balzacian school in fiction.
You are accused of never having drawn a good woman who
was not a doll, but the ladies that bring this charge seldom remind us either of Lady Castlewood or of Theo or Hetty Lambert. The best woman can pardon you Becky Sharp and Blanche Amory; they find it harder to forgive you Emmy Sedley and Helen Pendennis. Yet what man does not know in his heart that the best women - God bless them - lean, in their characters, either to the sweet passiveness of Emmy or to the sensitive and jealous affections of Helen? 'Tis Heaven, not you, that made them so; and they are easily pardoned, both for being a very little lower than the angels and for their gentle ambition to be painted, as by Guido or Guercino, with wings and harps and halos. So ladies have occasionally seen their own faces in the glass of fancy, and, thus inspired, have drawn Romola and Consuelo. Yet when these fair idealists, Mdme. Sand and George Eliot, designed Rosamond Vincy and Horace, was there not a spice of malice in the portraits which we miss in your least favorable studies?
That the creator of Colonel Newcome and of Henry Esmond was a snarling cynic; that he who designed Rachel Esmond could not draw a good woman: these are the chief charges (all indifferent now to you, who were once so sensitive) that your admirers have to contend against. A French critic, M. Taine, also protests that you do preach too much. Did any author but yourself so frequently break the thread (seldom a strong thread) of his plot to converse with his reader and moralize his tale, we also might be offended. But who that loves Montaigne and Pascal, who that likes the wise trifling of the one and can bear with the melancholy of the other, but prefers your preaching to another's playing!
Your thoughts come in, like the intervention of the Greek Chorus, as an ornament and source of fresh delight. Like the songs of the Chorus, they bid us pause a moment over the wider laws and actions of human fate and human life, and we turn from your persons to yourself, and again from yourself to your persons, as from the odes of Sophocles or Aristophanes to the action of their characters on the stage. Nor, to my taste, does the mere music and melancholy dignity of your style in these passages of meditation fall far below the highest efforts of poetry. I remember that scene where Clive, at Barnes Newcome's Lecture on the Poetry of the Affections, sees Ethel who is lost to him. “And the past and its dear histories, and youth and its hopes and passions, and tones and looks forever echoing in the heart
and present in the memory- these, no doubt, poor Clive saw and heard as he looked across the great gulf of time, and parting and grief, and beheld the woman he had loved for many years.'
Forever echoing in the heart and present in the memory: who has not heard these tones, who does not hear them as he turns over your books that, for so many years, have been his companions and comforters? We have been young and old, we have been sad and merry with you, we have listened to the midnight chimes with Pen and Warrington, have stood with you beside the death-bed, have mourned at that yet more awful funeral of lost love, and with you have prayed in the inmost chapel sacred to our old and immortal affections, à léal souvenir! And whenever you speak for yourself, and speak in earnest, how magical, how rare, how lonely in our literature is the beauty of your sentences! "I can't express the charm of them" (so you write of George Sand; so we may write of you): "they seem to me like the sound of country bells, provoking I don't know what vein of music and meditation, and falling sweetly and sadly on the ear." Surely that style, so fresh, so rich, so full of surprises that style which stamps as classical your fragments of slang, and perpetually astonishes and delights - would alone give immortality to an author, even had he little to say. But you, with your whole wide world of fops and fools, of good women and brave men, of honest absurdities and cheery adventurers : you who created the Steynes and Newcomes, the Beckys and Blanches, Captain Costigan and F. B., and the Chevalier Strong - all that host of friends imperishable — you must survive with Shakspeare and Cervantes in the memory and affection of men.
TO CHARLES DICKENS.
SIR,- It has been said that every man is born a Platonist or an Aristotelian, though the enormous majority of us, to be sure, live and die without being conscious of any invidious philosophic partiality whatever. With more truth (though that does not imply very much) every Englishman who reads may be said to be a partisan of yourself or of Mr. Thackeray. Why should there be any partisanship in the matter; and why, having two such good things as your novels and those of your contemporary, should we not be silently happy in the possession? Well, men are made so, and must needs fight and argue over their tastes in enjoyment. For myself, I may say that in this matter I am
what the Americans do not call a "Mugwump," what English politicians dub a "superior person"—that is, I take no side, and attempt to enjoy the best of both.
It must be owned that this attitude is sometimes made a little difficult by the vigor of your special devotees. They have ceased, indeed, thank Heaven! to imitate you; and even in "descriptive articles" the touch of Mr. Gigadibs, of him whom "we almost took for the true Dickens," has disappeared. The young lions of the Press no longer mimic your less admirable mannerisms do not strain so much after fantastic comparisons, do not (in your manner and Mr. Carlyle's) give people nicknames derived from their teeth, or their complexion; and, generally, we are spared second-hand copies of all that in your style was least to be commended. But, though improved by lapse of time in this respect, your devotees still put on little conscious airs of virtue, robust manliness, and so forth, which would have irritated you very much, and there survive some press men who seem to have read you a little (especially your later works), and never to have read anything else. Now, familiarity with the pages of "Our Mutual Friend" and "Dombey and Son" does not precisely constitute a liberal education, and the assumption that it does is apt (quite unreasonably) to prejudice people against the greatest comic genius of modern times.
On the other hand, Time is at last beginning to sift the true admirers of Dickens from the false. Yours, Sir, in the best sense of the word, is a popular success, a popular reputation. For example, I know that, in a remote and even Pictish part of this kingdom, a rural household, humble and under the shadow of a sorrow inevitably approaching, has found in "David Copperfield " oblivion of winter, of sorrow, and of sickness. On the other hand, people are now picking up heart to say that "they cannot read Dickens," and that they particularly detest "Pickwick." I believe it was young ladies who first had the courage of their convictions in this respect. "Tout sied aux belles," and the fair, in the confidence of youth, often venture on remarkable confessions. In your "Natural History of Young Ladies" I do not remember that you describe the Humorous Young Lady. She is a very rare bird indeed, and humor generally is at a deplorably low level in England.
Hence comes all sorts of mischief, arisen since you left us; and it may be said that inordinate philanthropy, genteel sympathy with Irish murder and arson, Societies for Badgering the