Adventures in Criticism eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 306 pages of information about Adventures in Criticism.


For all this, page after page of Eothen gives evidence of deliberate calculation of effect.  That book is at once curiously like and curiously unlike Borrows’ Bible in Spain.  The two belong to the same period and, in a sense, to the same fashion.  Each combines a tantalizing personal charm with a strong, almost fierce, coloring of circumstance.  The central figure in each is unmistakably an Englishman, and quite as unmistakably a singular Englishman.  Each bears witness to a fine eye for theatrical arrangement.  But whereas Borrow stood for ever fortified by his wayward nature and atrocious English against the temptation of writing as he ought, Kinglake commenced author with a respect for “composition,” ingrained perhaps by his Public School and University training.  Borrow arrays his page by instinct, Kinglake by study.  His irony (as in the interview with the Pasha) is almost too elaborate; his artistic judgment (as in the Plague chapter) almost too sure; the whole book almost too clever.  The performance was wonderful; the promise a trifle dangerous.

The “Invasion.”

“Composition” indeed proved the curse of the Invasion of the Crimea:  for Kinglake was a slow writer, and composed with his eye on the page, the paragraph, the phrase, rather than on the whole work.  Force and accuracy of expression are but parts of a good prose style; indeed are, strictly speaking, inseparable from perspective, balance, logical connection, rise and fall of emotion.  It is but an indifferent landscape that contains no pedestrian levels:  and his desire for the immediate success of each paragraph as it came helped Kinglake to miss the broad effect.  He must always be vivid; and when the strain told, he exaggerated and sounded—­as Matthew Arnold accused him of sounding—­the note of provinciality.  There were other causes.  He was, as we have seen, an English country gentleman—­avant tout je suis gentilhomme anglais, as the Duke of Wellington wrote to Louis XVIII.  His admiration of the respectable class to which he belonged is revealed by a thousand touches in his narrative—­we can find half a score in the description of Codrington’s assault on the Great Redoubt in the battle of the Alma; nor, when some high heroic action is in progress, do we often miss an illustration, or at least a metaphor, from the hunting-field.  Undoubtedly he had the distinction of his class; but its narrowness was his as surely.  Also the partisanship of the eight volumes grows into a weariness.  The longevity of the English Bench is notorious; but it comes of hearing both sides of every question.

After all, he was a splendid artist.  He tamed that beautiful and dangerous beast, the English sentence, with difficulty indeed, but having tamed, worked it to high achievements.  The great occasion always found him capable, and his treatment of it is not of the sort to be forgotten:  witness the picture of the Prince President cowering in an inner chamber during the bloodshed of the Coup d’Etat, the short speech of Sir Colin Campbell to his Highlanders before the Great Redoubt (given in the exact manner of Thucydides), or the narrative of the Heavy Brigade’s charge at Balaclava, culminating thus—­

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Adventures in Criticism from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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