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THE EXTREMITY OF SATIRE.
with his wife's hand clasping his own cold and clammy palm, as the flickering spirit went out into the darkness of death, and life and the world passed away from him.
"As for Arthur Pendennis, after that awful shock which the sight of his dead father must have produced on him, and the pity and feeling which such an event no doubt occasioned, I am not sure that in the very moment of grief, and as he embraced his mother and tenderly condoled her, and promised to love her for ever, there was not springing up in his breast a feeling of secret triumph and exultation. He was the chief now, and lord. He was Pendennis, and all around about him were his servants and handmaids. In the midst of the general grief and the corpse still lying above he had leisure to conclude that he would have all holidays for the future, that he wouldn't get up till he liked, or stand the bullying of the doctor, and had made a hundred such day-dreams and resolves for the future. How one's thoughts will travel, and how quickly our wishes beget them! When he, with Laura in his hand, went into the kitchen on his way to the dog-kennel, the fowl-houses, and his other favorite haunts, all the servants assembled there in great silence with their friends, and the laboringmen with their wives, and Sally Potter, who went with the post-boy to Clavering—all there assembled and drinking beer on the melancholy occasion-rose up on his entrance, and bowed and curtsied to him. They never used to do that last holidays, he felt at once and with indescribable pleasure. The cook cried out, ‘O Lord!' and whispered, How Master Arthur do grow!' Thomas, the groom, in the act of drinking put down the jug, alarmed before his master. Thomas' master felt the honor keenly. He went through and looked at the pointers. As Flora put her nose up to his waistcoat, and Ponto, yelling with pleasure, hurtled at his chain, Pen patronized the dogs, and said, 'Poo Ponto! poo Flora!' in his most condescending manner. And then he went and looked at Laura's hens, and at the pigs, and at the orchard, and at the dairy. Perhaps he blushed to think that it was only last holidays he had in a manner robbed the great apple-tree and been scolded by the dairy-maid for taking cream.”
If anything equal to this can be found in another book purporting to represent highly respectable people, imaginary or real, we do not know where. Yet this youth grows up to be a fine gentleman, become a favorite of the author, be an author himself, a great author, charming the best society, marry a sweet girl-that is, sweet enough, we judge; the same Laura, indeed, who went tripping it along with him on that same morning, patronizing the servants, and dogs, and chickens, and pigs. Why not? What has he done that we would be above doing in the same circumstances? We are told over and over again, by the author, that we need not turn away with disgust from the sight of such things, and congratulate ourselves that we would not and could not do them. He looks us calmly in the face and asserts that we both could and would, and that we actually do them constantly. One of us may have a rosy-cheeked, full-eyed boy, in
whom he may believe to see the promise of a manhood that will rise fully to the needs of his time. As he looks into those full eyes he may believe he sees the filial love that is desired and professed to be in the boy's breast, and that when himself shall come to die that fair son, even if yet a boy, will grieve away down in the depths of his true heart, will sometimes repair to his father's tomb to weep there, and ever afterwards remember him with pious, sweet regret. If we who are parents could not thus believe, we should pity and almost feel like cursing ourselves that God had not made us childless.
Such sarcasms, the very quintessence of bitterness, abound throughout Thackeray's works, and we are sometimes made to feel how insultingly they are turned from the meanest characters and inflicted upon ourselves. He seemed to take a special pleasure in recounting the quarrels of married persons. Bad as such things may be, we dare not express our disgust, because we foresee that we are to be told, almost apace, that we are not better-nor happier-than those whom we think we despise or compassionate; that our "silly-headed" wives, when they seem most affectionate, have least concern for us, and that all of us, husbands and wives, are but "pairs of infinite isolations, with some fellow-islands a little more or less near between us." Alas! there be some, too many, who thus outrage the holy estate of matrimony, and lose or trample upon the good influences and the pure enjoyments that it was designed to impart. But it is a poor lesson that such persons learn when they read in a famous book by a famous man that their own lives are but miniatures of the world around them. They have weak incentives to amendment when they are taught by such high authority that such amendment is not only unnecessary but impossible. Human nature wants supports and incentives from every source whence they can be brought. Out of harmony as is this lower life, beset with perfidies and wrong-doings of many sorts, it would be intolerable if, in the absence of all real, we should be forbidden to contemplate imaginary good examples. If these evils abound in us and among those we know around us, we might be allowed, at least, to hope that somewhere, beyond the pale of our poor acquaintance, there are some, if only a few, among whom vulgarity and lies and perfidy have no abiding-place. Such sarcasms, therefore, even if they were just, would do harm. But they are not just. In every society there are husbands and wives who not only love but respect one another, and there are boys and girls who love and honor their parents sincerely, heartily weep
THE EXTREMITY OF Satire.
when they die, and feel a sense of loss that only God can repair. Every where there are thousands upon thousands, of both sexes and all conditions and all ages, among whom the appearances and avowals of love and friendship and honor are not mockeries and lies; and such persons become more numerous as the world grows older and approaches the fulness of the times of God.
As Thackeray grew older his writings afforded somewhat more comforting, at least less despairing, views of human life. In The Newcomes Mr. Arthur Pendennis seemed to have moderated considerably since the day when he strutted about his possessions close to the yet unfilled grave of his father. Yet in this most studied and consummate story and in Henry Esmond there are flings against society in general which show that, if the bitterness was subdued, the lack of any confidence yet remained. The latter work, with all its splendid writing and its several instances of profound feeling, is a great, broad satire on life. Our hearts had been made sick in Vanity Fair by the contest of a father and his son for the love of the same woman, and we had strengthened ourselves, as well as we could, by reflections that such hideous monstrosities were to be seen only in the ruder of the sexes; but in Henry Esmond this sickness returns and seems destined to come nigh unto death when we see a young man, who has been jilted by the girl of his choice, seeking and finding consolation in the arms of that girl's mother! O shade of Sir Pitt Crawley! thou wast defeated in that unnatural strife with thy son for the possession of Rebecca Sharp; but it might have subtracted somewhat from the anguish and the shame of defeat hadst thou foreseen that, in such another struggle, age in its turn would triumph, the young daughter fall down, and the mother rise upon her ruin! We may have thought it had been enough for us to be made to contemplate the horrible history of the family of Laius of Thebes-a history made in obedience to the decrees of Fate, and which, though in a barbaric age, filled mankind with consternation, drove Jocasta to suicide, and Edipus to tear out his eyes with his own hands. Yet now in Christian times, in high society, we are made to look upon careers not very far less revolting, entered upon and run deliberately, and not only see the runners not ashamed, but be forbidden to feel, or at least to express, shame for ourselves for being in such presence.
If what we have said of the purpose of fiction be just, that it was to aid in consoling for the want of harmony and the wrongdoings in this life, then we must conclude that Mr. Thackeray, with all his pre-eminent talents, if he did not pervert and dis
honor his art, at least came short of its noblest behests. From the contemplation of his masterpieces we turn with sadder instead of more cheerful views of life, with less instead of more cordial charity for mankind, with diminished instead of enhanced confidence in men and hope for ourselves, with lowered instead of exalted aspirations for the good. In that series of powerful creations by Hogarth, The Harlot's Progress, we are led along in natural, inevitable gradation from little Kate, innocent as a flower in her native Yorkshire, alighting from the old wagon at the "Bell Inn" in Cheapside, to that last scene of Dolours and Death in the garret of Drury Lane, and we turn away shuddering for the sure end of vicious living. A mournful lesson, but not without its benefits. But what if the artist had retired her into decent widowhood, or-many, many times worse-if he had accosted us at the door of his studio, as, exhausted with horror and pity, we were making our way out, and, grinning the while at our excited state, charged us, and not only us but all the world else, with being no better than his picture, and declared that our escape thus far from a fate unhappy as that of her whom he named "the creature of the pest-pit and perdition" was due, and our possible escape from it hereafter would be due, either to the want of sufficient temptation or the absence of detection? Alas! that we should be allowed to look upon no good examples, real or imaginary, and even be discouraged from making them of ourselves. If Mr. Thackeray in his work had motives which were meant to be generous, we can conceive of none other than that he believed the only way possible to amend mankind was to render everybody contemptible in the eyes of everybody else and his own. besides. The latter, indeed, is in harmony with the teachings of the church, which always commends to its children to be modest, even lowly, in mind. But the former is a dangerous method of instruction. It is, indeed, an evil disease to which the remedy to be applied is worse than itself. Nothing is more salutary than humility, but for its best uses it must be in the heart of him who "in the midst of reproaches remaineth in great peace." "Never think that thou hast made any progress until thou feel that thou art inferior to all." In order to avail of this counsel of Thomas à Kempis one must have set before him a standard of excellence of some sort, be made to believe that outside of himself there is good, and that it is attainable by persistent endeavor. Otherwise his humility must turn back upon, rend, and drive him to despair-of all conditions for the human heart the most deplorable.