THE FICTION OF YESTERDAY—CONCLUSION
In regard to a large part of the subject of the present chapter the present writer possesses the knowledge of a reviewer, week by week and almost day by day, of contemporary fiction between 1873 and 1895. It so happened that the beginning of this period coincided very nearly with the beginning of that slightly downward movement of the nineteenth-century novel which has been referred to at the end of the last chapter: and he thus had opportunities of observing it all along its course, till we parted company. It must again, and most strongly, be insisted that this “downward movement,” like such movements generally in literature, is only so to be characterised with considerable provisos and allowances. Literary “down-grades” are not like the slopes of an inclined plane: they are like portions of a mountain range, in which isolated peaks may shoot up almost level with the very highest of the central group, but in which the table lands are lower, the average height of the hills inferior, and the general sky-line a nearer and nearer approximation to the plain. At the actual death of Dickens there was no reason for any one less hopelessly pessimist than Peacock’s Mr. Toobad, or Sydney Smith’s Tuxford waiter, to take a gloomy view of the future of the novel. Of the greater novelists mentioned in the last chapter Charlotte Bronte and Mrs. Gaskell were indeed dead, and if Kingsley had not wholly ceased writing novels, he had, before ceasing, given signs that he had better do so. Yet, at least to the admirers of “George Eliot,” she was at her most admirable; some of the very best stuff of Trollope was but just past, and some of all but his best was still to appear; Charles Reade was writing busily with that curious unsatisfactory genius of his; others were well at work.