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He lisped in numbers, for the numbers came," somebody has said. Its length is enormous; it was published in 24 numbers, while Dickens's novels usually took only 20. Its lack of a hero may have been due to a sort of impatience in the author's mindif so harsh a word may be applied to a spirit as gentle as his with the unnatural goodness of Dickens's central characters, for who was ever as unselfish as Pickwick, as manly as Nicholas, or as good a boy as Oliver? At all events the chief character in “ Vanity Fair," Becky Sharp, is bad. In this respect the book differs from all preceding novels except“ Barry Lyndon.” But Thackeray's aim was not to exalt but to expose vice. Becky is contemptible but vastly interesting. Born a pauper and not gifted with much beauty, by sheer force of intellect she obtains in ample measure the only thing she really values, which is money. In so doing she has as her lovers · or rather victims a succession of men. Among these are fat, purseproud, awkward, cowardly Joe Sedley; George Osborne; old Sir Pitt Crawley; Captain Rawdon Crawley, a great heavy stupid dragoon, whom she almost loves and actually does marry; and the great Marquis of Steyne. These people are all bad and true to life. There is also in the book a pair of good people, who are equally natural. These are Amelia Sedley, Joe's sister and George Osborne's wife; and Colonel Dobbin, who is a real man, brave and good. George is killed at Waterloo and Amelia cherishes his unworthy memory for fifteen years before she can bring herself to marry Dobbin. She is not a heroic figure but she is a true loving girl, silly if you please, but absolutely natural. Some critics say that all the clever folks in the story are knaves and all the good ones fools, but no reader ever found it dull. In truth, it is a deep, true, and tragic satire on human nature. Two of its scenes have not been surpassed in vividness. One of them describes the manner in which Rawdon Crawley discovered that his wife had been taking presents from the Marquis of Steyne. This is the other: “No more firing was heard at Brussels. The pursuit rolled miles away. Darkness came down on the field and the city; and Amelia was praying for George, who was lying on his face, dead, with a bullet through his heart.”
Vanity Fair” made Thackeray a personage, a star in the literary heavens. He became thenceforth the companion and friend of the most famous men in London. Though not a good talker in a large party, he was a charming companion. Drawings and pearls of wit emanated constantly from him. He was always versifying for his friends. He once owed Anthony Trollope five pounds, seventeen shillings, and sixpence as his share of a dinner bill at Richmond, and paid it by means of a cheque in rhyme. About this time a truculent Irishman, enraged at Thackeray's portraits of his countrymen, called on him with the intention of thrashing him. Such, however, was the novelist's geniality or size that he desisted from his fell design and they parted friends. Indeed his six feet four of height, his flowing hair already nearly gray, his broken nose, his broad forehead, and his ample chest everywhere inspired both love and respect.
“Pendennis," “ Henry Esmond,” and “ The Newcomes ” followed “Vanity Fair" in 1850, 1852, and 1854.
"Pendennis," one suspects, is to Thackeray as “ David Copperfield " is to Dickens. At all events he is no hero. He thrashed the other boys at school; fell in love with an actress when he, not she, was still at a tender age; was rescued from her toils by his padded old sinner of an uncle, Major Pendennis; at Boniface College, Oxford, spent money which he did not have, gambled, and lied; and narrowly escaped marrying Miss Blanche Amory, who was a sham, very lovely in the evening before a dance but rather yellow and wrinkled in the morning after one. However, Pen had a good mother, a good friend in dear rough old George Warrington, and a guardian angel of a superior kind in Laura, with whom he finally settled down in an elysium of undeserved bliss. In addition to the characters already mentioned, Captain Costigan, the father of Miss Fotheringay, has a rich vein of humor and kindliness that makes him worth knowing. The chapter in which Major Pendennis is bidden to stand and deliver and the chapter in which he yields neither his money nor his life are wonderfully funny and exciting. Read them. They are 67 and 68. “The Newcomes ” is supposed to
” is supposed to be edited by Pendennis. It also is a great though not a pleasant book. The pictures of Runmum Loll, an Indian merchant who masquerades in London as a prince and who, though he is known to have two wives in India, is
worshipped by the London girls; of Mr. Honeyman the clergyman; and of Barnes Newcome are powerful satires. Of Barnes the author writes: “Barnes Newcome never missed a church or dressing for dinner. He never kept a tradesman waiting for his money. He seldom drank too much, and never was late for business, or huddled over his toilet, however brief his sleep or severe his headache. In a word, he was as scrupulously whited as any sepulchre in the whole bills of mortality.” Clive Newcome, the hero, is a mediocre young painter, whose happiness is ruined by his mother-in-law, Mrs. Mack, the Campaigner, a peculiarly odious she-demon. Old Colonel Newcome, however, is altogether lovely and heroic and gentle. Ruined by speculation, he dons the gown of a charity patient—he the soldier, the gentleman, the aristocrat. The picture of his last days Anthony Trollope thought the best thing Thackeray ever did.
“Henry Esmond” is probably Thackeray's greatest novel. The events occur in the age of Queen Anne and the language is an almost perfect imitation of the diction of Addison and Swift. Henry Esmond tells the story and is the hero. There are two heroines, Lady Castlewood and her daughter Beatrix. Esmond is a soldier, but likes books and cannot swear or drink like other soldiers. He loves Beatrix and is loved by her mother. Beatrix, however, does not care to have her dreams of ambition disturbed by such folly as love and becomes engaged to a duke, who is inopportunely killed in a duel. Later she becomes attached to one of the Stuart princes. Esmond marries her mother and settles in Virginia. It is a sad story, but is told with wonderful skill, and the characters of Esmond, Lady Castlewood, and Beatrix are drawn with great art.
“Esmond " appeared 1852. In 1858 Thackeray published a sequel, " The Virginians." Twin lads named Warrington, grandsons of Henry Esmond, are the central figures. While the book has no vacant or dull pages, it lacks the unity of Esmond. The best part of it is perhaps the story of the later fortunes of Beatrix Esmond, who had married a bishop, and after his death had become the Baroness Bernstein.
“ The Virginians was Thackeray's last novel. There remain, however, three other important contributions of his to literature. These are his lectures, his burlesques, and his poems.
Of his lectures there are two series, “The English Humorists of the Eighteenth Century” and “ The Four Georges.” He wrote the former 1859 and delivered them in many places both in England and America. The authors treated are Swift, Congreve, Addison, Steele, Prior, Gay, Pope, Hogarth, Smollett, Fielding, Sterne, and Goldsmith. What he says of them is pre-eminently interesting to grown-up students of literature, but not particularly so to young people. The lectures on the Georges are as entertaining as they could be in view of the inherent dullness of the subject.
His burlesques, on the other hand, are delicious. They were collected 1869 into one volume, which contains “Novels by Eminent Hands,” “ Jeames's Diary," “ The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan," " A Legend of the Rhine," and "Rebecca and Rowena." Of these the last three are the best fun. Major Gahagan is as good a liar as Baron Munchausen or Mark Twain. He keeps a barrel of gunpowder under his bed, with a candle burning for fear of accidents, and eats the leg of a horse in Spain, being so hungry that he inadvertently swallows both hoof and shoe. “The Legend of the Rhine" is full of gems like this description of the escape of a fallen knight's horse: “ Away, ay, away! Away amid the green vineyards and golden cornfields; away up the steep mountains, where he frightened the eagles in their eyries; away down the clattering ravines, where the flashing cataracts tumble; away through the dark pine-forests, where the hungry wolves are howling; away over the dreary wolds, where the wild wind walks alone; away through the splashing quagmires, where the will-o'-the-wisp slunk frightened among the reeds. Brave horse! Gallant steed! Snorting child of Araby! On went the horse, over mountains, rivers, turnpikes, applewomen; and never stopped till he reached a livery stable in Cologne, where his master was accustomed to put him up!
But the best of these burlesques is “Rebecca and Rowena, which is a continuation of Scott's “Ivanhoe.” Ivanhoe after his marriage to Rowena is so henpecked that he leaves home, finds King Richard fighting Moors in France, twits the monarch for palming off as his own a song of Charles Lever's, himself composes and sings a wonderful ballad about King Canute, is killed by Sir Roger de Backbite, and is made the subject of this magnificent Latin epitaph, which was translated by Wamba into equally graceful English:
“Hic est Guilfridus, belli dum vixit avidus.
But, though he was buried and Rowena married to Athelstane, Ivanhoe was not dead. After being in bed for six years, he returns to England sad of heart, kills countless robbers, forces King John to sign Magna Charta, and beats off the royal army, which has attacked Rotherwood. In the fight Athelstane is killed. Rowena, on her deathbed, tries to get her former spouse to promise never to marry a Jewess, but in vain. Then he puts her son to school at Dotheboys Hall, takes ship in Bohemia, goes to Spain, kills 50,000 Moors, rescues Rebecca from incarceration in the back kitchen, and makes her Mrs. Ivanhoe.
Thackeray is seldom called a poet, yet he wrote some of the most agreeable verses that our language boasts. They consist of a mixture of skillful metrification, rollicking fun, imagination, and genuine feeling the like of which cannot be found elsewhere. Peg of Limavaddy,” “ The White Squall,” “ The Age of Wisdom,” “ The Canebottomed Chair," "At the Church Gate," “ The End of the Play," “The Pen and the Album," “ The Sorrows of Werther," "Little Billee, ," “ The Merry Bard,” “ King Canute,” “ The Willow Tree,” “The Rose of Flora," “ Larry O'Toole," "Mr. Molony's Account of the Ball,” and “ The Ballad of Bouillabaisse” are all too good, as Izaak Walton might have said, for any but anglers or very honest people.
Thackeray's last great work was the editorship of “The Cornhill Magazine," which was founded 1859. Of the first number over 110,000 were sold. It was no wonder, for it included the first installments of Anthony Trollope's novel " Framley Parsonage," a paper on “ The Chinese and Outer Barbarians," by Sir John Bowring, the first number of Thackeray's "Lovel the Widower," " Studies in Ani