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DEBIT AND CREDIT.
A NOVEL ushered in by a Preface from Chevalier Bunsen demands some peculiar attention. The Introduction itself is not without a grave and political interest, nor can it be said to be an unnecessary appendix to the novel; for not only does it give us the assurance that we have here before us a literary work esteemed by intelligent Germans, but we meet with observations which assist the English reader in appreciating the scope and purpose of the narrative he is about to peruse. The Chevalier has also delivered some critical opinions, both on the novel, as a species of literary composition, and on some of our own modern novelists, which, coming from so distinguished a man, cannot fail to be read with curiosity at least, if not with implicit
The novel of Debit and Credit is one which we can safely commend to the English reader, because he will find himself transported into new scenes, new positions, and gain some insights into the social condition and social movements of a foreign country. But whatever its rank may be in the higher literature of Germany, it can take only a secondary place amongst English novels. Germany, which is so rich in works of profound learning, of historical research, and historical criticism, may very cheerfully confess her inferiority in this department of novel-writing; nor could there be a clearer proof of this inferiority than the great success which has attended Debit and Credit-Soll und Haben -in its own country. Merits it undoubtedly has, but they are rather the merits of a practised writer conscientiously working out his purpose, than of the man of genius writing from his own abundant and irrepressible spontaneity of thought and feeling. It is often dull, and never very interesting.
The Chevalier Bunsen has particularly commended the work of Gustav Freytag as a faithful portraiture of
an existing state of society (in which light it will be chiefly acceptable to the English reader), and he also lays great stress on the artistic development of the whole story, and its skilful dénouement. Here he introduces some general observations on the novel which are worthy of our attention, and to which we shall venture to append an observation of our
"In all this the author proves himself to be a perfect artist and a true poet; not only in the treatment of separate events, but in the far more rare and higher art of leading his conception to a satisfactory development and dénouement. As this requirement does not seem to be generally apprehended, either by the writers or the critics of our modern novels, I shall take the liberty of somewhat more earnestly attempting its vindication.
"The romance of modern times, if at all deserving of the name it inherits from its predecessors in the romantic middle ages, represents the latest stadium of the epic.
"Every romance is intended or ought to be a new Iliad or Odyssey; in other words, a poetic representation of a course of events consistent with the highest laws of moral government, whether it delineate the general history of a people, or narrate the fortunes of a chosen hero. If we pass in review the romances of the last three centuries, we shall find that those only have arrested the attention of more than one or two generations, which have satisfied this requirement. Every other romance, let it moralise ever so loudly, is still immoral; let it offer ever so much of so-called wisdom, is still irrational. The excellence of a romance, like that of an epic or a drama, lies in the apprehension and truthful exhibition of the course of human things."
To this last sentence we most cordially subscribe: fidelity to nature, as an essential truth of representa
Debit and Credit. Translated from the German of GUSTAV FREYTAG by L. C. C. With a Preface by CHRISTIAN CHARLES JOSIAS BUNSEN.
tion, is the first and indispensable requirement. But has not the Chevalier mingled together, in this passage and in others that follow, two very different things-that artificial completeness at which the artist aims in the structure and winding-up of his narrative, and that faithful adherence to truth and probability, both of character and events, which may very well cohere with a slovenly or careless construction of the plot? We do not say for a moment that the Chevalier has, in his own thoughts, confounded these two together, but merely that he seems to have left to us the task of carefully discriminating between them.
We presume that nothing more is meant by a course of events consistent with the highest laws of moral government," than is conveyed in that other expression, “a truthful exhibition of the course of human things." A really faithful exhibition of life-in the feelings as well as the external fortunes of the actor-cannot be otherwise than consistent with the laws of moral government. It is not the old-fashioned poetical justice or retribution at the end of the fifth act, that the Chevalier is contending for; on this matter all men are pretty well agreed the real morality of a fiction depends on the nature of the characters we have been brought to sympathise with, and very little on the list of deaths and marriages that closes the narrative. If an artist, by false representations, or by those half revelations of a man which are the most dangerous kind of falsehood, engages our sympathies in behalf of misanthropes and coxcombs, voluptuaries and murderers, he is doing us all the evil he possibly can; and the evil will not in the least be remedied by any amount of hanging and quartering, or any sentence he chooses to pass upon them in the few words which dismiss them from the scene. The novelist has the same power over us as the poet he can make us, if he pleases, for hours together, the wisest and most generous of men; and something of that virtuous enthusiasm he has kindled in us may remain after the book is closed, and follow us into our daily life. It is therefore as a true and complete reflection of the
inner as well as the outer life of man, that the high morality of any work of fiction is to be found.
Now this fidelity to nature, this representation of human character and human events as they really do exist, as they really do follow each other in this world of God's creation, is, we repeat, of the utmost value and importance. But that skilful dénouement or development of a story which our artists and our critics are said to be neglectful of, is quite another matter, and, in our opinion, a very subordinate business. An artist may be unable to collect together the various threads of his narrative so as to exhibit a neat and rounded whole within the compass of his novel, and yet the actors and their doings, so far as he has depicted them, may have the highest truth of representation; or, on the other hand, he may very dexterously combine and interweave events that are in themselves improbable, and by the very dexterity with which he makes them dovetail the one into the other, disguise from us their inherent falsehood. A painter who has been unable to group all his figures within the limits of his canvass, and who at both ends of his picture leaves a straggling procession of men and animals, some of them curtailed of half their proportions, may be sadly deficient in the art of composition, and yet may exhibit throughout his work a genuine love of nature and of truth. There may be as much fidelity to real life in a story fashioned on the type of the Arabian Nights, as in one constructed on the model which the Author of Waverley gave to the world. The painter or the novelist who is in every respect a consummate master of his art, must, of course, take the highest place in the world's admiration; but there is a vast difference between the several merits that raise him to that high pre-eminence. We, from our critical chair, are not about to promulgate the heresy to all our rising novelists, that they may throw to the winds all care and toil about the plot and structure of their works. But we are heretics enough to concern ourselves very little about this so-called artistic structure. We demand of a
novelist that he shall not be falsewe demand, also, that he shall not be dull; we give him wide discretion, or indiscretion, if you please, as to the manner in which he amuses us, and, in amusing, instructs.
The Chevalier gives a lofty description of what our modern novelists are to accomplish, and we hope they will profit by it. Homers they are to be, every one of them. And if mere construction of a story would constitute a resemblance to the old bard, we will venture to say-however profanely this may sound to the classical ear-that many a novelist, whose work has lived its year or two in the circulating library, and then been heard of no more, has out-plotted the Iliad. Indeed, when we read on, and observe the examples which the learned critic gives us of what he conceives to be the wellconstructed novel, we feel at a loss to understand what construction, after all, can be otherwise than good. Gil Blas, it seems, is one pattern of excellence, and Gil Blas is nothing but a string of adventures, or collection of separate stories. You have as much sense of completeness if you read half the novel, as if you read the whole; and we suspect that you will carry away the best impression of the book by contenting yourself with somewhat less than half.
In our own literature, the novel (regarded as a skilfully-constructed narrative, whose predominant interest lies in the issue of events) reached its perfection in Sir Walter Scott. In his works we have the utmost variety of character; we have political and religious opinions of various shades brought before us, though generally evoked from the past; we have kings and priests, Cavaliers and Roundheads; we have even the learning of the antiquary embodied in the Laird of Monkbarns, but over all rises predominant the interest of the story, and we are carried on, if not with the force of a torrent, yet with the swift unpausing current of a strong river. We look at the scene we traverse, we admire the personages we meet, but still we hurry on with breathless curiosity. So perfect is the art of narration, so skilfully are the incidents linked together,
and interwoven with the progress of the story, that if there should be occasionally an improbability in the events or in the dialogue, the whole looks so true that the improbability is not detected. It does not seem possible that events could have happened in any other way than is there recorded.
After the school which the Author of Waverley may be said to have founded, had lasted for some time, our modern novel developed itself in two new directions. 1. The past was discarded for the present, persons from the lower classes were brought prominently forward, and portraiture was aimed at more than narrative. 2. The interest both of narrative and character was subor
dinated to some thoughtful purpose, or some system of opinions which the author was desirous of forwarding or expounding.
Sir Walter Scott had many worthy successors: he who rose to found a new dynasty was Charles Dickens. Enough of history, enough of courts; enough of your Stuarts, their piety or their profligacy; the stream of life is passing by us, broader than ever, and we can look at it with our eyes: let us look at our own profligates, they may be quite as well worth studying as those of the Stuart dynasty; and whereas the life of ladies and gentlemen, young and old, appears to be almost exhausted, let us look at large over mere men and women; haply wherever there is a face grinning with delight, or wan with sorrow, there may be something worth our knowledge, our sympathy, perhaps our admiration. Dickens led the Muse out into the street, or the Muse led him; she took her course up Fleet Street, dived into the Borough, and turned into the courtyard of a miserable old inn; there she found Sam Weller cleaning boots. Many an elegant novelist, while the travelling-carriage stopped to change horses, had glanced at some such figure, and noted an accidental oddity of manner or of speech; Charles Dickens loitered up the yard, entered into conversation, got into the very heart of the man, chose him for his hero, and presented him before the world at large. The world
at large received him with open arms. The Pickwick Papers not only have no skilfully-constructed plot, but a disaster occurred to such plot or plan as had been formed, and it stands before us like a half-built house, of which one wing only has been completed. No one troubles himself about this; no one seems at all afflicted by this imperfect dénouement, this "arrested development" of the story. Every reader will tell you that all he knows about the matter is, that he has made acquaintance with Sam Weller and several other remarkable persons, and that he shall never forget them as long as he lives. There lies the greatest triumph a novelist can have. A more artistic structure would have been an additional charm, and other novels of Dickens possess this additional merit; but it is a merit we scarcely think of; we are engrossed with a few favourite personages, are delighted when they appear, look with eagerness for their return, and, when the book is closed, have some vague impression that we may possibly catch sight of them somewhere about the world. The truthful representation, and the artistic structure of the story, are, we see, two very different things. Sir Bulwer Lytton will excuse us for passing over his name here. He is not easily classified; he disturbs, by the variety of his works, the neatness of our programme, and so accomplished an author will at once admit the validity of this excuse. He may, perhaps, be said to represent the transition period. By the skilful conduct of his narrative he belongs to the Waverley school; by the great diversity of scenes and characters he has portrayed, to all schools. Just when his critics had satisfied themselves that they had duly catalogued and described him, he broke loose from all bounds, and produced a new variety, and the most charming of all his works, the Caxtons.
Contemporaneously with the establishment of the Pickwickian dynasty, another development of the novel was taking place. It was used as a vehicle for setting forth the author's opinions, political or religious. Ward and Disraeli, and the many writers
of religious novels, adopted this form of composition as a mode of diffusing their speculative opinions.
Now, whether this is a legitimate use of fiction, depends entirely on the manner in which the design is executed. If, to the total disregard of faithful representation of men and women, and the circumstances of life, an author makes his characters mere puppets-mere mouthpieces for the exposition of his views his work is neither essay, nor novel, nor any describable production whatever. A mere tendency novel," says Chevalier Bunsen, "is in itself a monster; and we presume that by a mere tendency novel is meant the sort of composition we have been describing, where everything is sacrificed to the tendency of the work. But if a faithful representation is given of any section of society; if men, so far as they differ in their sentiments or their creeds, are truly portrayed; if the influence upon our social relations of diversities of speculative opinion is accurately traced, then the reflective or the "tendency novel takes a legitimate and a high place in literature. But here also we may notice that, in this species of composition, the artistic structure, or dexterous evolution of the incidents of the story, becomes a very subordinate matter. Consciously or unconsciously, the artist tones down the interest of his narrative. An anxious interest in the dénouement, such as the Author of Waverley excites in us, would be incompatible with his main purpose; for if he should once raise in us this breathless curiosity in the issue of events, we can no longer be patient listeners to any of that reflective wisdom he wishes to instil into us. We cannot go upon a geological excursion, examining strata and collecting specimens, and feel at the same time that it is a matter of life and death that we push on with all speed to the end of our journey. The story being thrown thus in the background, it is no wonder that both writer and critic become very lax in their requirements as to a satisfactory or skilful development.
Our canon of criticism is here, therefore, very brief and very indulgent. We require truthfulness
fidelity to human nature. What shall be represented, or in what manner, the artist must determine at his own peril. Here it is he who teaches the critic-teaches him what can be done. A Tristram Shandy is a thing altogether unknown till a Sterne writes it. From the Iliad down to the narrative of Esther Summerson in Bleak House (which, as an artistic invention, would be pronounced utterly indefensible, but over which old men's eyes have filled with tears), it is the poet who teaches us what can be done or created in art. The critic, we will presume, is a philosopher who has had his eye on man and on the history of man, who has studied human nature, its passions, its prejudices, its grandeurs, and its follies, and who will therefore know, when the poet's creation comes before him, how far it resembles the original. But what the poet can create he must learn from the poet himself. In fine, we are obliged to come to the conclusion that everything must be permitted to the novelist except the fault of being untruthful, and that other fault, which perhaps is considered by most men as still more heinous that of being dull. For ourselves, we give carte blanche to the whole tribe, in all their agreeable varieties, to be amusing, exciting, instructive, in whatever way they think fit. Let them mingle narrative and reflection in whatever proportions they please portray whatever suits them in finished picture or unfinished sketch-we will heartily forgive them for ministering to our delight, though in the most irregular manner. There are some remarks of Chevalier Bunsen's on our own novelists and on their comparative merits, which we should have liked, in a friendly spirit, to have canvassed; but we have a long task before us, We should prefer to linger over the Preface, but we must proceed, as in duty bound, to the novel itself of Gustav Freytag. Yet there is one critical judgment of the Chevalier's which cannot but occasion an expression of surprise. Hope's Anas tasius, it seems, is vastly superior to the Rob Roy and Guy Mannering of Scott. We half suspect that our
grave Chevalier disguised some sly humour and love of mischief here, and that he delivered himself of this decree-just as some of our countrymen indulge themselves, in their travels, in certain eccentricities-" to astonish the natives." The eloquent writing of Anastasius has always received its full share of praise; but a delineation of character which resolves itself into the mere black and white of unrestrained passion, has never amongst us been exalted above the portraiture of subtler shades and more complex varieties of human character, whether national or individual. If mere breadth and universality is to prevail, shall we not end at last by proclaiming that Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, is the greatest novel in the English language? What is still more embarrassing, we find that "the only work worthy to be named along with Anastasius,”– is Kingsley's Hypatia. The Chevalier gives us too many riddles at once. We hardly know which is the greater difficulty, to discover the resemblance between Anastasius and Hypatia, or the superiority of Kingsley to Scott.
The purpose of Debit and Credit may be broadly stated to be this: to exalt the middle and commercial classes in their own appreciation; to teach them that they essentially form the State; to give them confidence in themselves as one of the first requisites for political freedom, or what we term, in modern days, a constitutional government. The purpose is good and highly rational, and we in this country, of whatever shade of politics, can raise no objection to it. We presume that the middle classes in Germany need this lesson; we do not. Here in England the commercial community has not the least want of confidence in itself; neither, on the other hand, is there the least pretension, on the part of the nobility or the landed proprietors, to the exclusive exercise of political power. There is an understood copartnership between commercial and territo rial wealth; and though the partners do occasionally contend with much apparent animosity, there is on both sides a strong unshaken conviction that each is necessary to the other. Such political partnership does not