Imágenes de página

alike a right to demand that means be placed within their reach for learning in the best possible way to fulfil such duties as devolve on them in the body politic. And nothing will be found so effectual a cure for our social evils — nothing will, by God's blessing, so well unite the different parts of our social system and make them all work together for the country's good -as a vigorous determination on the part of our rulers to secure that it shall be their own fault if all are not well instructed and well trained. That statesman of our age will have the highest claim on the gratitude of posterity who shall have most forwarded the cause of an enlightened religious education in every class of rich and poor.

ART. VI.- 1. Vanity Fair : a Novel without a Hero. By Wil

LIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY. London: 1849. 2. The History of Pendennis. By WILLIAM MAKEPEACE

THACKERAY. London: 1849. 3. The History of Henry Esmond, a Colonel in the Service of

Her Majesty Queen Anne. Written by himself. London:

1853. 4. The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century: a Series


London : 1853. W e had intended to review the whole of Mr. Thackeray's

writings; but when we came to examine the twelve volumes which have been poured forth from the New York Press, and considered that they were only the forerunners of the three great novels which we have placed at the head of this Article, we felt that, if we attempted to criticise all, we must treat each superficially. We have resolved, therefore, to confine ourselves to the works on which Mr. Thackeray's fame really rests, and to leave Fitz-Boodle, and Barry Lyndon, and Men's Wives, and the Snobs, and the Yellow Plush Papers, and the Prize Novelists, and Mr. Brown's Letters, and Mr. Titmarsh's Travels, under the anonymous or pseudonymous veils in which their author thought fit to envelope them. We shall begin, therefore, with Vanity Fair.

We cannot tell what Mr. Thackeray's genius and diligence may still have in store for us; but of their numerous products up to the present time, Vanity Fair appears to us by far the best, the fullest of natural and amusing incident, and of characters with bold and firm outlines, and fine and con

sistent details. It is called “A Novel without a Hero;' and certainly, if a hero or a heroine be a person fitted to attract the affection or to rouse the admiration of the reader, if he or she is to be reverenced or to be adored, there is none such in Vanity Fair. There are, however, two marked figures which so far act the part of heroines as to be the props on which the whole tissue of the narrative is suspended, the centres which give to the plot the amount of unity which it possesses. These, of course, are Amelia and Becky. Their outward circumstances have much similarity. Each is born in middle life: they are educated at the same school; each marries, and, at the same time, a military man; each loses her husband, though not by similar causes, and is left with a single boy; each struggles with poverty; and each withdraws at the end of the story in affluence. An ordinary writer would have found it difficult to keep distinct characters so similar in their fortunes. In Mr. Thackeray's hands there the resemblance ends. In every other respect they are not merely different, but contrasted. One is the impersonation of virtue without intellect, the other that of intellect without virtue. One has no head, the other no heart. .

Amelia Sedley is amiable by instinct. It is her nature to love all those with whom she comes in contact, just as it is the nature of a spaniel to caress every visitor. But her love, being founded on propinquity, not on judgment, is, like that of the spaniel, indiscriminating. She likes best those whom she has known longest, — her father, her mother, her husband, and her son, — and simply, as far as can be ascertained from their characters, because she has known them longest; for in themselves the first three are among the most unloveable specimens of this rich collection of deformities. The father is an ignorant, vulgar stock-broker, coarse and insolent_in prosperity, and utterly beaten down by adversity. There are few passages in the work more highly finished than the interview between Sedley after his bankruptcy and his old protégé Captain Dobbin : -'

"“I am very glad to see you, Captain Dobbin, Sir,” said he, after a skulking look or two at his visitor. “How is the worthy alderman, and my lady, your excellent mother, Sir ?" He looked round at the waiter as he said, “my lady," as much as to say, Hark ye, John, I have friends still, and persons of rank and reputation too. “My wife will be very happy to see her ladyship. I've a very kind letter here from your father, Sir, and beg my respectful compliments to him. Lady D-- will find us in rather a smaller house than we were accustomed to receive our friends in; but it's snug, and the change of air does good to my daughter, who was suffering in town rather

you remember little Emmy, Sir ? — Yes, suffering a good deal.” The old gentleman's eyes were wandering as he spoke, and he was thinking of something else, as he sate thrumming on his papers and fumbling at the worn red tape.

("You're a military man,” he went on; “I ask you, Bill Dobbin, could any man ever have speculated upon the return of that Corsican scoundrel from Elba ? When the allied sovereigns were here last year, and we gave 'em that dinner in the city, Sir, and we saw the Temple of Concord, and the fireworks, and the Chinese bridge in St. James's Park, could any sensible man suppose that peace wasn't really concluded, after we'd actually sung Te Deum for it, Sir? I ask you, William, could I suppose that the Emperor of Austria was a damned traitor — a traitor, and nothing more? I don't mince words - a double-faced infernal traitor and schemer, who meant to have his son-in-law back all along. And I say that the escape of Boney from Elba was a damned imposition and plot, Sir, in which half the powers of Europe were concerned, to bring the funds down, and to ruin this country. That's why I'm here, William. That's why my name's in the Gazette. Why, Sir ? -because I trusted the Emperor of Russia and the Prince Regent. Look here. Look at my papers. Look what the funds were on the 1st of March, - what the French fives were when I bought for the account, - and what they're at now. There was collusion, Sir, or that villain never would have escaped. Where was the English Commissioner who allowed him to get away? He ought to be shot, Sir, - brought to a court-martial, and shot, by Jove."

"We're going to hunt Boney out, Sir," Dobbin said, rather alarmed at the fury of the old man, the veins of whose forehead began to swell, and who sate drumming his papers with his clenched fist. “We are going to hunt him out, Sir, — the Duke's in Belgium already, and we expect marching orders every day."

6«Give him no quarter. Bring back the villain's head, Sir, Shoot the coward down, Sir,” Sedley roared. “I'd enlist myself, by — ; but I'm a broken old man — ruined by that damned scoundrel - and by a parcel of swindling thieves in this country whom I made, Sir, and who are rolling in their carriages now." (Pp. 173, 174.)

Mr. Sedley is merely contemptible. His wife is equally contemptible, but, having a stronger will, is also odious. Mr. Thackeray has delightfully sketched her whole character in the scene in which she quarrels with Amelia for exclaiming that her child shall not be poisoned with Daffy's Elixir.

Mr. Thackeray adds :

*Till the termination of her natural life, this breach between Mrs. 'Sedley and her daughter was never thoroughly mended. The quarrel gave the elder lady numberless advantages which she did not fail to turn to account with female ingenuity and perseverance. For instance, she scarcely spoke to Amelia for many weeks afterwards. She warned the domestics not to touch the child, as Mrs. Osborne 'might be offended. She asked her daughter to see and satisfy herself that there was no poison prepared in the little daily messes that were concocted for Georgy. When neighbours asked after the boy's health, she referred them pointedly to Mrs. Osborne. She never ventured to ask whether the baby was well or pot. She would not touch the child, although he was her grandson, and own precious darling, for she was not used to children and might kill it.' (P. 345.)

The person, however, who holds the first place in Amelia's heart is George Osborne, her husband. Mr. Thackeray has painted him at full length, with relentless truth and detail. He is first introduced to us as a young lieutenant, the accepted lover of Amelia, fond of her person, and pleased by her admiration, but ashamed of her family, and very much inclined to think that he is throwing himself away — that with his beauty and talents and expectations (his father is great in the tallow trade), he might aspire to something higher than a stock-broker's daughter. Then come three events simultaneously. He gets his company, Amelia is ruined, and she releases him from his engagement. He tries on his new uniform, and thinks it becomes him much; weeps over the trinkets and hair locket which she sends back to him; and tells Dobbin, with some despondency, that all is over between them.'

Dobbin, however, disapproves of his friend's easy acquiescence, carries him back to his betrothed, and never leaves him until the knot has been tied, and the new couple are on their road to Brighton.

One of the most powerful portraits in the work is that of old Osborne, George's father. If it have a defect, it is that it is too uniformly black. It is made up of arrogance, vanity, malignity, vindictiveness, ingratitude; in short, of all the bad passions and bad tendencies that are capable of coexistence. Of course he disapproves of the match, and notifies to George that he has nothing to expect, except what he cannot be deprived of, a couple of thousand pounds, his share of his mother's fortune.

These are the comments of the bridegroom in the first week of his honeymoon:

(“A pretty way you have managed the affair," said George, looking savagely at William Dobbin. “Look there, Dobbin," and he flung over to the latter his parent's letter. “A beggar, by Jove, and all in consequence of my d d sentimentality. Why couldn't we have waited ? A ball might have done for me in the course of the war, and may still, and how will Emmy be bettered by being left a beggar's widow? It was all your doing. You were never easy until you had got me married and ruined. What the deuce am I to

rching the contem live in

do with two thousand pounds ? Such a sum won't last two years. I've lost a hundred and forty to Crawley at cards and billiards since I've been down here. A pretty manager of a man's matters you are, forsooth. Do you suppose a man of my habits can live on his pay and a hundred a year? How the deuce am I to keep up my position in the world upon such a pitiful pittance? I can't change my habits. I must have my comforts. I wasn't brought up on porridge like Mac Whirter, or on potatoes like old O'Dowd. Do you expect my wife to take in soldier's washing, or ride after the regiment in a baggage waggon?”' (P. 211.)

The regiment is ordered abroad, and the scene changes to Brussels. George neglects his bride, wastes in a few weeks the little capital which was to have been her only support, tries to seduce her friend, hurries from the Duchess of Richmond's celebrated ball to Quatre Bras, and dies at Waterloo.

The amiable ridiculous character in the drama is Dobbin; and one of his absurdities is, that at first sight, and knowing that she is engaged to his friend George, he falls in love with Amelia. Year after year, during her widowhood, he urges his suit- but in vain. Her heart is filled by the recollection of

that departed saint,' her husband. At length it suits Becky that Amelia should marry, and thus she effects her purpose.

«« Listen to me, Amelia,” said Becky, marching up and down the room before the other, and surveying her with a sort of contemptuous kindness. “I want to talk to you. You are no more fit to live in the world than a baby in arms. You must marry, or you and your precious boy will go to ruin - you must have a husband, you fool; and one of the best gentlemen I ever saw has offered to you a hundred times."

"“I tried , I tried my best, indeed I did, Rebecca,” said Amelia deprecatingly, “but I could not forget — and she looked up at George's portrait.

6"Could not forget him," cried Becky; "that selfish humbug, that low-bred cockney dandy, that padded booby, who had neither wit, nor manners, nor heart. - Why, the man would have jilted you, but that Dobbin made him keep his word. He never cared for you. He used to sneer about you to me time after time, and made love to me the week after he married you."

““It's false! It's false !” said Amelia, starting up.

““Look there, you fool,” Becky said, still with provoking good humour, and taking a little paper out of her belt flung it into Amelia's lap. “You know bis hand-writing; he wrote that to me, — wanted me to run away with him, — gave it to me under your nose the day before he was shot, - and served him right,” Becky repeated.'. (Pp. 618, 619.)

Amelia, as usual, obeys, and marries Dobbin a week after. Amelia's boy is one of the least marked characters. Indeed

« AnteriorContinuar »