English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History eBook

Henry Coppée
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 540 pages of information about English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History.

ESTIMATE OF HIS POWERS.—­Thackeray’s excellences are manifest:  he was the master of idiomatic English, a great moralist and reformer, and the king of satire, all the weapons of which he managed with perfect skill.  He had a rapier for aristocratic immunities of evil, arrows to transfix prescriptions and shams; and with snobs (we must change the figure) he played as a cat does with a mouse, torturing and then devouring.  In the words of Miss Bronte, “he was the first social regenerator of the day, the very master of that working corps who would restore to rectitude the warped system of things.”  But this was his chief and glorious strength:  in the truest sense, he was a satirist and a humorist, but not a novelist; he could not create character.  His dramatic persons do not speak for themselves; he tells us what they are and do.  His mission seems to have been to arraign and demolish evil rather than to applaud good, and thus he enlists our sinless anger as crusaders rather than our sympathy as philanthropists.  In Dickens we are sometimes disposed to skip a little, in our ardor, to follow the plot and find the denouement.  In Thackeray we read every word, for it is the philosophy we want; the plot and personages are secondary, as indeed he considered them; for he often tells us, in the time of greatest depression of his hero, that it will all come out right at the end,—­that Philip will marry Charlotte, and have a good income, while the poor soul is wrestling with the res augusta domi.  Dickens and Thackeray seemed to draw from each other in their later works; the former philosophizing more in his Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend, and the latter attempting more of the descriptive in The Newcomes and Philip.  Of minor pieces we may mention his Rebecca and Rowena, and his Kickleburys on the Rhine; his Essay on Thunder and Small Beer; his Notes on a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo, in 1846, and his published collection of smaller sketches called The Roundabout Papers.  That Thackeray was fully conscious of the dignity of his functions may be gathered from his own words in Henry Esmond.  “I would have history familiar rather than heroic, and think Mr. Hogarth and Mr. Fielding. [and, we may add, Mr. Thackeray,] will give our children a much better idea of the manners of that age in England than the Court Gazette and the newspapers which we get thence.”  At his death he left an unfinished novel, entitled Dennis Duval.  A gifted daughter, who was his kind amanuensis.  Miss ANNE E. THACKERAY, has written several interesting tales, among which are The Village on the Cliff and The Story of Elizabeth.



   Charles Lamb.  Thomas Hood.  Thomas de Quincey.  Other Novelists.  Writers
   on Science and Philosophy.

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