“There are no better satires than letters. Take a bundle of your dear friend’s letters of ten years back—your dear friend whom you hate now. Look at a pile of your sister’s! How you clung to each other until you quarreled about the twenty-pound legacy!... Vows, love promises, confidence, gratitude,—how queerly they read after a while!...The best ink for Vanity Fair use would be one that faded utterly in a couple of days, and left the paper clean and blank, so that you might write on it to somebody else.”
The phases of life that he describes have had no more subtle interpreter. He does not label his characters with external marks, but enters into communion with their souls. His analytic method of laying bare their motives and actions is strictly modern. His great master, Fielding, would have been baffled by such a complex personality as Becky Sharp. Amid the throng of Thackeray’s men and women, there are but few who are not genuine flesh and blood.
The art of describing the pathetic is unfailing in Thackeray. He never jars upon the most sensitive feelings nor wearies them by too long a treatment. With a few simple but powerful expressions he succeeds in arousing intense emotions of pity or sorrow. He has been wrongly called a cynic; for no man can be a cynic who shows Thackeray’s tenderness in the treatment of pathos.
Thackeray is master of a graceful, simple prose style. In its ease and purity, it most resembles that of Swift, Addison, or Goldsmith. Thackeray writes as a cultured, ideal, old gentleman may be imagined to talk to the young people, while he sits in his comfortable armchair in a corner by the fireplace. The charm of freshness, quaintness, and colloquial familiarity is seldom absent from the delightfully natural pages of Thackeray.
[Illustration: GEORGE ELIOT. From a drawing by Sir E.W. Burton, National Portrait Gallery.]
Life.—Mary Ann Evans, known to her family as Marian and to her readers as George Eliot, was born in 1819, at South Farm, in Arbury, Warwickshire, about twenty-two miles north of Stratford-on-Avon. A few months later, the family moved to a spacious ivy-covered farmhouse at Griff, some two miles east, where the future novelist lived until she was twenty-two.
She was a thoughtful, precocious child. She lived largely within herself, passed much time in reverie, and pondered upon deep problems. She easily outstripped her schoolmates in all mental accomplishments, and, from the first, gave evidence of a clear, strong intellect.
The death of her mother and the marriage of a sister left the entire care of the house and dairy to Marian before she was seventeen years old. Her labors were quite heavy for the neat six years. At the end of that time, she and her father moved to Foleshill, near Coventry, where she had ample leisure to pursue her studies and music. At Foleshill, she came under the influence of free-thinking friends and became an agnostic, which she remained through the rest of her life. This home was again broken up in 1849 by the death of her father. Through the advice of friends she sought comfort in travel on the continent.