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municate to men the higher kinds of knowledge, complaining that he is not paid like successful confectioners or ballet dancers, and sending round his hat for coppers. The man who makes it his sole object to amuse, and has talents of extraordinary power, be he novelist or play actor, will be more handsomely remunerated, in the way he can value, than the man whose ambition it is to elevate and improve his fellows. The novelist himself who aims high, both in means and end, must submit to see his gains small in proportion. The public, however, let us add in a corner, has the option of doing that for men of lofty aspirations, which it is not becoming, which in some sense it is not possible, for them to do for themselves!
But it may be questioned, in the next place, whether the facts with which we set out, facts of which, in themselves, there cannot be any doubt, do not indicate chiefly a change in the proportion borne by one set of literary works to another, and not solely, if at all, a diminution either in the production or the perusal of those of the higher orders. It may be that though more novels are produced than treatises in history or science, though more fiction is read than philosophy or poetry, the reading public has been so much increased by the influence of novels, that the condition of higher literature is really improved. And to this consideration we may add the hope, that novels may in future do still more to promote this end, awakening the frivolous and indifferent to some sort of mental exertion, and handing them on to nobler studies. Still further it may be here urged, that there are not wanting, at present, novels, which themselves convey wholesome instruction, and which can hardly exercise an enervating influence. Such novels as those of Currer Bell, Kingsley, and Thackeray, are not to be confounded with the productions of the Minerva Press.
After all, the most pertinent remark which can be made as to this unexampled efflorescence of fictitious literature seems to be that it is a fact, and that it may be pronounced unalterable. This alone makes it worthy of consideration. It were very strange, too, if a phenomenon so vast in extent and so powerful in influence, had no real meaning and could be turned to no account. It may be that, by looking into the matter somewhat closely, we may discover some principle by which the man, who is conscientiously and resolutely bent upon a self-culture as complete as his faculties admit and his time affords, may safely and profitably undertake an incursion into fictitious literature.
What is a novel? The question seems exceedingly easy, and may be so. But it is well to have precise ideas as to its answer, for when you know accurately what a thing is, you have got, in germ, all that it is most important to know concerning it. What, then, we repeat, is a novel?
In every production of Art there are two principal elements, whose unity gives the result. The one is the original type presented in nature, the other the modification the curtailment, addition, or transformation effected by the free will and imaginative energy of the artist. Thus, in the art of painting, the type from which the artist sets out is some natural appearance, a landscape, a building, a face. If he is only a daguerreotypist, he records merely the literal facts of nature in their real localities. If he is a true artist, the daguerreotype can do no more than furnish him with studies, and only when he has combined these as he chooses and breathed into them the spirit of his own genius, has he produced a picture. In all Art this distinction holds good.
It is not difficult to discover the original type on which the novel is founded. If we consider, we shall find some
thing not unlike it in life, though by no means the same. The direction in which to turn is manifestly that of history; the first thing that strikes us in a novel is its narrative. It may be profitable to look for a moment at history. If he has a true sense of his Art, the historian will find himself, in certain important respects, resembling the novelist. We do not allude to his depicting manners, or adopting a picturesque style. The similarity lies deeper; in the very materials with which he works. In the life of nations, as well as in that of individuals, are found circumstances corresponding to those which afford the novelist his coloring, and suggest to him his plot. These may serve the historical artist none the worse that the laws by which he works are those of stern realism. Incidents more stirring than imagination ever dreamed, characters more strange and puzzling than novelist ever portrayed, plot more dark and mysterious than ever artist devised, may be already provided him. He may lead us, in earnest curiosity, along the path of Providence, not blunting, by any anachronism of anticipation or disclosure, the feelings of wonder and admiration, with which, at the right moment, we behold the curtain rise. And, be it remarked, the more completely he thus imitates the recognized method of the novelist, the more emphatically does he bring before us the great lessons which it is his duty to teach. In the warlike contendings or peaceful labors of nations, in their growth and decline, in their birth, glory, and destruction, certain grand monitions are providentially addressed to us, constituting one principal portion of that system of education, practical or theoretic, by which nature is pervaded. We all acknowledge that the office of the historian is august and important. But the slightest reflection will make it plain, both that the sphere of the historian is not precisely that of the novelist,
and that there is a sphere in which the latter may convey instruction of a value equal to that conveyed by the former. The historian does not and cannot descend into domestic. life. Nations in their national capacity and in their national doings are his theme; with battles, sieges, treaties, senates, cities, he deals. He may paint manners; but only in the mass. He may give details of private life; but only to exhibit the hidden strings which guide the men who guide nations. But domestic life has also its instructive lessons. Here, too, Providence teaches. In the festal assemblage and by the household hearth, beside her who is wreathed with orange flower and by the deathbed, the footsteps of Provi dence may be traced, the voice of Providence may be heard. Warnings, examples, encouragements, intimations, which, if known, prized, and used, would be more precious than rubies, are being ever presented in the common course of life. If it is right to strengthen and widen our powers of intellectual vision, by watching the dealings of God with nations, it is assuredly right, also, to have an accurate and extensive knowledge of domestic life, to gain a wider acquaintance, than our own circle affords, with the perils which beset our private walk, with the modes in which the problems of individual and family life have already been solved. To occupy a field thus rich and thus distinctly marked off, the biographer steps forward. And it will not be called in question that, in the biography, the original type of the novel is found. There is, however, in the circumstances of the case, a reason for fictitious biography, which does not exist for fictitious history. The most interesting and instructive series of incidents may occur in private life, yet cause appear why the actors should be vailed in secresy. The fictitious form provides the vail. In some such series of incidents as we have supposed, lies the realistic ground
work on which the novel should be constructed. By this it is connected with the world of fact. This is to it as the knowledge of the features of a locality, its leading geological lines, its distinctive botanical products, is to the artist who paints a landscape. If the novelist proceeds without such realistic basis, his work is sure to be worthless. The wing of imagination flaps at once in a vacuum. Weak sentimentality takes the place of manly feeling, faded commonplace is offered instead of fresh truth, the whole wears a flabby, sickly aspect, if only the novelist ignores fact and trusts solely to fancy. We do not know any instance of imaginative power on which we would more willingly rely, which we could more absolutely trust, than that of Dickens. Yet when he leaves the alleys of St. Giles and the office in Bow Street, which he has seen, and sets himself to depict what he merely imagines to exist, how strange is the work he produces! Literature does not contain a more false, foolish, preposterous character than Mrs. Clennam. Mr. Dickens fancied this must be what evangelical religion was; and if he had informed us that a Fakir or other Indian devotee swung himself daily in the air, by a hook attached to the top of Nelson's monument, he would not have committed a greater absurdity. We are quite sure there are as many persons in England who believe they will go to heaven by swinging by the foot, as there are who propose to compass that end by abstaining from their usual allowance of oysters. But if the necessity of a realistic basis is distinctly recognized, the function of the novelist is vindicated from all assault, the novel is worthy of respect and attention. The nominally fictitious author becomes the recorder of Providence in domestic life, the historian of the fireside, the philosopher of the family circle. The recognition of this necessity has of late