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    I. to W. M. Thackeray

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    Sir,--There are many things that stand in the way of the critic when he has a
    mind to praise the living. He may dread the charge of writing rather to vex a
    rival than to exalt the subject of his applause. He shuns the appearance of
    seeking the favour of the famous, and would not willingly be regarded as one
    of the many parasites who now advertise each movement and action of
    contemporary genius. 'Such and such men of letters are passing their summer
    holidays in the Val d'Aosta,' or the Mountains of the Moon, or the Suliman
    Range, as it may happen. So reports our literary 'Court Circular,' and all our
    _Pre'cieuses_ read the tidings with enthusiasm. Lastly, if the critic be quite
    new to the world of letters, he may superfluously fear to vex a poet or a
    novelist by the abundance of his eulogy. No such doubts perplex us when, with
    all our hearts, we would commend the departed; for they have passed almost
    beyond the reach even of envy; and to those pale cheeks of theirs no
    commendation can bring the red.

    You, above all others, were and remain without a rival in your many-sided
    excellence, and praise of you strikes at none of those who have survived your
    day. The increase of time only mellows your renown, and each year that passes
    and brings you no successor does but sharpen the keenness of our sense of
    loss. In what other novelist, since Scott was worn down by the burden of a
    forlorn endeavour, and died for honour's sake, has the world found so many of
    the fairest gifts combined? If we may not call you a poet (for the first of
    English writers of light verse did not seek that crown), who that was less
    than a poet ever saw life with a glance so keen as yours, so steady, and so
    sane? Your pathos was never cheap, your laughter never forced; your sigh was
    never the pulpit trick of the preacher. Your funny people--your Costigans and
    Fokers--were not mere characters of trick and catch-word, were not empty comic
    masks. Behind each the human heart was beating; and ever and again we were
    allowed to see the features of the man.

    Thus fiction in your hands was not simply a profession, like another, but a
    constant reflection of the whole surface of life: a repeated echo of its
    laughter and its complaint. Others have written, and not written badly, with
    the stolid professional regularity of the clerk at his desk; you, like the
    Scholar Gipsy, might have said that 'it needs heaven-sent moments for this
    skill.' There are, it will not surprise you, some honourable women and a few
    men who call you a cynic; who speak of 'the withered world of Thackerayan
    satire ;' who think your eyes were ever turned to the sordid aspects of
    life--to the mother-in-law who threatens to 'take away her silver bread-
    basket;' to the intriguer, the sneak, the termagant; to the Beckys, and Barnes
    Newcomes, and Mrs. Mackenzies of this world. The quarrel of these
    sentimentalists is really with life, not with you; they might as wisely blame
    Monsieur Buffon because there are snakes in his Natural History. Had you not
    impaled certain noxious human insects, you would have better pleased Mr.
    Ruskin; had you confined yourself to such performances, you would have been
    more dear to the Neo-Balzacian school in fiction.

    You are accused of never having drawn a good woman who was not a doll, but the
    ladies that bring this charge seldom remind us either of Lady Castlewood or of
    Theo or Hetty Lambert. The best women can pardon you Becky Sharp and Blanche
    Amory; they find it harder to forgive you Emmy Sedley and Helen Pendennis. Yet
    what man does not know in his heart that the best women--God bless them--lean,
    in their characters, either to the sweet passiveness of Emmy or to the
    sensitive and jealous affections of Helen? 'Tis Heaven, not you, that made
    them so; and they are easily pardoned, both for being a very little lower than
    the angels and for their gentle ambition to be painted, as by Guido or
    Guercino, with wings and harps and haloes. So ladies have occasionally seen
    their own faces in the glass of fancy, and, thus inspired, have drawn Romola
    and Consuelo. Yet when these fair idealists, Mdme. Sand and George Eliot,
    designed Rosamund Vincy and Horace, was there not a spice of malice in the
    portraits which we miss in your least favourable studies?

    That the creator of Colonel Newcome and of Henry Esmond was a snarling cynic;
    that he who designed Rachel Esmond could not draw a good woman: these are the
    chief charges (all indifferent now to you, who were once so sensitive) that
    your admirers have to contend against. A French critic, M. Taine, also
    protests that you do preach too much. Did any author but yourself so
    frequently break the thread (seldom a strong thread) of his plot to converse
    with his reader and moralise his tale, we also might be offended. But who that
    loves Montaigne and Pascal, who that likes the wise trifling of the one and
    can bear with the melancholy of the other, but prefers your preaching to
    another's playing!

    Your thoughts come in, like the intervention of the Greek Chorus, as an
    ornament and source of fresh delight. Like the songs of the Chorus, they bid
    us pause a moment over the wider laws and actions of human fate and human
    life, and we turn from your persons to yourself, and again from yourself to
    your persons, as from the odes of Sophocles or Aristophanes to the action of
    their characters on the stage. Nor, to my taste, does the mere music and
    melancholy dignity of your style in these passages of meditation fall far
    below the highest efforts of poetry. I remember that scene where Clive, at
    Barnes Newcome's Lecture on the Poetry of the Affections, sees Ethel who is
    lost to him. 'And the past and its dear histories, and youth and its hopes and
    passions, and tones and looks for ever echoing in the heart and present in the
    memory--these, no doubt, poor Clive saw and heard as he looked across the
    great gulf of time, and parting and grief, and beheld the wonmn he had loved
    for many years.'

    _For_ever_echoing_in_the_heart_and_present_in_the_memory:_ who has not heard
    these tones, who does not hear them as he turns over your books that, for so
    many years, have been his companions and comforters? We have been young and
    old, we have been sad and merry with you, we have listened to the mid-night
    chimes with Pen and Warrington, have stood with you beside the death-bed, have
    mourned at that yet more awful funeral of lost love, and with you have prayed
    in the inmost chapel sacred to our old and immortal affections,
    _a'_le'al_souvenir!_ And whenever you speak for yourself, and speak in
    earnest, how magical, how rare, how lonely in our literature is the beauty of
    your sentences! 'I can't express the charm of them' (so you write of George
    Sand; so we may write of you): 'they seem to me like the sound of country
    bells, provoking I don't know what vein of music and meditation, and falling
    sweetly and sadly on the ear.' Surely that style, so fresh, so rich, so full
    of surprises --that style which stamps as classical your fragments of slang,
    and perpetually astonishes and delights--would alone give immortality to an
    author, even had he little to say. But you, with your whole wide world of fops
    and fools, of good women and brave men, of honest absurdities and cheery
    adventurers: you who created the Steynes and Newcomes, the Beckys and
    Blanches, Captain Costigan and F. B., and the Chevalier Strong--all that host
    of friends imperishable--you must survive with Shakespeare and Cervantes in
    the memory and affection of men.
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