Some work of distinction, actually later than hers in date, is older in kind. This is the case not only with the later books of her Irish elder sister. Miss Edgeworth (see last chapter), but with all those of her Scotch younger one, Miss Ferrier, who wrote Marriage just after Sense and Sensibility appeared, but did not publish it (1818) till after Miss Austen’s death, following it with The Inheritance (1824) and Destiny (1831). Miss Ferrier, who had a strong though rather hard humour and great faculty of pronounced character-drawing, is better at a series of sketches than at a complete novel—only The Inheritance having much central unity. And there is still eighteenth-century quality rather than nineteenth in her alternations of Smollettian farce-satire and Mackenziefied sentiment. She is very good to read, but stand a little out of the regular historic succession, as well as out of the ordinary novel classes.
THE SUCCESSORS—TO THACKERAY
A person inexperienced in the ways of life and literature might expect that such developments as those surveyed and discussed in the last chapter must have immediate and unbroken development further. Scott had thrown open, and made available, the whole vast range of history for the romancer: Miss Austen had shown the infinite possibilities of ordinary and present things for the novelist. And such a one might contend that, even if the common idea of definite precursorship and teachership be a mistake, the more subtle doctrine that such work as Scott’s, and as Miss Austen’s, is really the result of generally working forces, as well as of individual genius, would lead to the same conclusion. But the expectation would show his inexperience, and his ignorance of the fact that Art, unlike Science, declines to be bound by any calculable laws whatsoever.
It was indeed impossible that Scott’s towering fame should not draw the nobler sort, and his immense gains the baser, to follow in his track: and they promptly did so. But, as he himself quoted in the remarkable comments (above alluded to) on his early imitators in the Diary, they had “gotten his fiddle, but not his rosin”—an observation the truth of which may be shown presently. Miss Austen’s immediate influence in the other direction was almost nil: and this was hardly to be regretted, because a tolerably stationary state of manners, language, etc., such as her kind of novel requires, had not quite, though it had nearly, been reached. At any rate, the kind of ebb or half ebb, which so often, though not so certainly, follows flood-tides in literature, came upon the novel in the twenties and thirties. Even the striking appearance of Dickens and Pickwick in 1837 can hardly be said to have turned it distinctly: for the Dickensian novel is a species by itself—neither strictly novel nor strictly romance, but, as Polonius might say, a picaresque-burlesque-sentimental-farcical-realist-fantastic nondescript. Not till Vanity Fair did the novel of pure real life advance its standard once more: while the historical novel-romance of a new kind may date its revival with—though it should scarcely trace that revival to—Esmond, or Westward Ho! or both.