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Novelists, however, often debase fiction by obtruding their personal vanities, favoritisms, fanaticisms, and antipathies. We had, the other day, a novel, the author of which introduced himself almost by name as a heroic character, with a description of his own personal appearance, residence, and habits, as fond fancy painted them to himself. There is a novelist, who is a man of fashion, and who makes the age of the heroes in his successive novels advance with his own, so that at last we shall have irresistible fascination at threescore years and ten. But the commonest and the most mischievous way in which personality breaks out is pamphleteering under the guise of fiction. One novel is a pamphlet against lunatic asylums, another against model prisons, a third against the poor-law, a fourth against the government offices, a fifth against trade-unions. In these pretended works of imagination, facts are coined in support of a crotchet, of an antipathy with all the license of fiction; calumny revels without restraint, and no cause is served but.that of falsehood and injustice. A writer takes offense at the excessive popularity of athletic sports; instead of bringing out an accurate and conscientious treatise to advocate moderation, he lets fly a novel painting the typical boating-man as a seducer of confiding women, the betrayer of his friend, and the murderer of his wife. Religious zealots are very apt to take this method of enlisting imagination, as they think, on the side of truth. We had once a high Anglican novel in which the Papist was eaten alive by rats, and the Rationalist and Republican was slowly seethed in molten lead, the fate of each being, of course, a just judgment of heaven on those who presumed to differ from the author. Thus the voice of morality is confounded with that of tyrannical petulance and self-love. Not only is Scott not personal, but we cannot conceive his being so. We cannot think possible that he should degrade his art by the indulgence of egotism, or crotchets, or party piques. Least of all can we think it possible that his high and gallant nature should use art as a cover for striking a foul blow.
V. The Lamp of Purity.—I heard Thackeray thank Heaven for the purity of Dickens. I thanked Heaven for the purity of a greater than Dickens—Thackeray himself. We may all thank Heaven for the purity of one still greater than either—Sir Walter Scott. I say still greater morally, as well as in power as an artist, because in Thackeray there is cynicism, though the more genially and healthy element predominates; and cynicism, which is not good in the great writer, becomes very bad in the little reader. We know what most of the novels were before Scott. We know the impurity, half-redeemed, of Fielding, the unredeemed impurity of Smollett, the lecherous leer of Sterne, the coarseness even of Defoe. Parts of Richardson himself could not be read by a woman without a blush. As to French novels, Carlyle says of one of the most famous of the last century, that after reading it you ought to wash seven times in Jordan; but after reading the French novels of the present day, in which lewdness is sprinkled with sentimental rosewater, and deodorized, but by no means disinfected, your washings had better be seventy times seven. There is no justification for this; it is mere pandering, under whatever pretense, to evil propensities; it makes the divine art of fiction "procuress to the Lords of Hell." If our established morality is in any way narrow and unjust, appeal to Philosophy, not to Comus; and remember that the mass of readers are not philosophers. Coleridge pledges himself to find the deepest sermons under the filth of Rabelais; but Coleridge alone finds the sermons, while everybody finds the filth. Impure novels have brought and are bringing much misery on the world. Scott's purity is not that of cloistered innocence and inexperience, it is the manly purity of one who had seen the world, mingled with men of the world, known evil as well as good; but who, being a true gentleman, abhorred filth, and teaches us to abhor it too.
VI. The Lamp of Humanity.—One day we see the walls placarded with the advertising woodcut of a sensational novel, representing a girl tied to a table and a man cutting off her feet into a tub. Another day we are allured by a picture of a woman sitting at a sewing-machine and a man seizing her from behind by the hair, and lifting a club to knock her brains out. A French novelist stimulates your jaded palate by introducing a duel fought with butchers' knives by the light of lanterns. One genius subsists by murder, as another does by bigamy and adultery. Scott would have recoiled from the blood as well as from the ordure, he would have allowed neither to have defiled his noble page. He knew that there was no pretense for bringing before a reader what is merely horrible; that by doing so you only stimulate passions as low as licentiousness itself—the passions which were stimulated by the gladiatorial shows in degraded Rome, which are stimulated by the bullfights in degraded Spain, which are stimulated among ourselves by exhibitions the attraction of which really consists in their imperiling human life. He knew that a novelist had no right even to introduce the terrible except for the purpose of exhibiting human heroism, developing character, awakening emotions which, when awakened, dignify and save from harm. It is want of genius and of knowledge of their craft that drives novelists to outrage humanity with horrors. Miss Austen can interest and even excite you as much with the little domestic adventures of Emma as some of her rivals can with a whole Newgate calendar of guilt and gore.
VII. The Lamp of Chivalry.—Of this briefly. Let the writer of fiction give us humanity in all its phases, the comic as well as the tragic, the ridiculous as well as the sublime; but let him not lower the standard of character or the aim of life. Shakespeare does not. We delight in his Falstaffs and his clowns as well as in his Hamlets and Othellos; but he never familiarizes us with what is base and mean. The noble and chivalrous always holds its place as the aim of true humanity in his ideal world. Perhaps Dickens is not entirely free from blame in this respect; perhaps Pickwickianism has in some degree familiarized the generation of Englishmen who have been fed upon it with what is not chivalrous, to say the least, in conduct, as it unquestionably has with slang in conversation. But Scott, like Shakespeare, wherever the thread of his fiction may lead him, always keeps before himself and us the highest ideal which he knew, the ideal of a gentleman. If any one says there are narrow bounds wherein to confine fiction, I answer there has been room enough within them for the highest tragedy, the deepest pathos, the broadest humor, the widest range of character, the most moving incident that the world has ever enjoyed. There has been room within them for all the kings of pure and healthy fiction—for Homer, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Moliere, Scott! "Farewell, Sir Walter," says Carlyle at the end of his essay, "farewell, Sir Walter, pride of all Scotchmen." Scotland has said farewell to her mortal son. But all humanity welcomes him as Scotland's noblest gift to her, and crowns him, as on this day, one of the heirs of immortality.
JOHN LANCASTER SPALDING
[Address by Bishop J. L. Spalding, Roman Catholic Bishop of
Peoria, 111., since 1877 (born in Lebanon, Pa., June 3, 1840; ),
delivered at the opening of the Spalding Institute, Peoria, December 6, 1899.]
How shall I live? How shall I make the most of my life and put it to the best use? How shall I become a man and do a man's work? This, and not politics or trade or war or pleasure, is the question. The primary consideration is not how one shall get a living, but how he shall live, for if he live rightly, whatever is needful he shall easily find. Life is opportunity, and therefore its whole circumstance may be made to serve the purpose of those who are bent on self-improvement, on making themselves capable of doing thorough work. Opportunity is a word which, like so many others that are excellent, we get from the Romans. It means near port, close to haven. It is a favorable occasion, time, or place for learning or saying or doing a thing. It is an invitation to seek safety and refreshment, an appeal to make escape from what is low and vulgar and to take refuge in high thoughts and worthy deeds, from which flows increase of strength and joy. It is omnipresent. What we call evils, as poverty, neglect, and suffering, are, if we are wise, opportunities for good. Death itself teaches life's value not less than its vanity. It is the background against which its worth and beauty stand forth in clear relief. Its dark form follows us like our shadow, to bid us win the prize while yet there is time; to teach that if we live in what is permanent, the destroyer Cannot blight what we know and love; to urge us, with a
Copyright, by A. C. McClurg. Published by permission. 1076