Here must end our remarks on the admirable writings of a great man. Could it be hoped, that by what has been said, any readers, and especially any thinkers, will be led to give them the attention they require, but also deserve, in this there would be ample repayment, even were there not at all events a higher reward, for the labour, which is not a slight one, of forming and assorting distinct opinions on a matter so singular and so complex. For few bonds that unite human beings are purer or happier than a common understanding and reverence of what is truly wise and beautiful. This also is religion. Standing at the threshold of these works, we may imitate the saying of the old philosopher to the friends who visited him on their return from the temples—Let us enter, for here too are gods.
WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY
There can be no occasion to enlarge upon this generous tribute of one of the greatest of our Victorian novelists to another. Considering how inevitably the critic is driven to compare these two, if not to set one up against the other, we can experience no feeling but pleasure and pride in humanity, before the evidence of their mutual appreciation. The Cornhill “In Memoriam” article of Charles Dickens may well stand beside this burst of glowing enthusiasm.
We have retained, by way of illustrating our general subject, a paragraph from the earlier part of the article, in which Thackeray falls foul of reviewers in general, for characteristics from which he himself was singularly free.
The brilliant versatility of Kingsley’s work will prepare us, in some measure, for his virile impatience, here revealed, with elements in the romantic revival of poetry among his contemporaries, which were an offence to his “muscular” morality. “There are certain qualities which may be called moral in all his work, evincing a literary faculty of the highest kind. Always instructive without being exactly instructed, always argumentative without being very guarded in argument, he yet displays a marvellously contagious enthusiasm for his own creeds, and surrounds his own ideals with an atmosphere of passionate nobility. We forgive the partisanship for the sincerity of the partisan.”
* * * * *
Alexander Smith (1830-1867) was a poet and essayist of some distinction; though A. H. Clough also criticises his exclusive devotion to the “writers of his own immediate time”; and calls him “the latest disciple of the school of Keats.” The volume of essays entitled Dreamthorp “entitles him to a place among the best writers of English prose.”
There is a similarity, and a difference, between this summary of Christmas literature and Thackeray’s. The personal criticism lacks his special geniality, revealing rather a tone which would have perfectly suited Blackwood or the Quarterly. Lytton was a favourite subject of abuse to his contemporaries.