Hall Caine The Man and the Novelist
English Writers of To-day, No. 4
The Man and the Novelist
C. FRED KENYON.
GREENING & CO., LTD.
20 CECIL COURT, CHARING CROSS ROAD
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Dominion of Canada
and in the
United States of America
|II.||Hall Caine’s Childhood and Youth||18|
|IV.||“The Shadow of a Crime,” and “A Son of Hagar”||82|
|VI.||Hall Caine as a Dramatist, Short-Story Writer, Poet and Critic||120|
|XI.||“The Eternal City”||200|
In preparing this monograph on Mr Hall Caine,I have devoted much more attention to his earlierlife than to those years during which he has beenbefore the public as a novelist. The reasons forthis are obvious, the chief one being that theearly life of a famous man, with its strugglesagainst circumstance, and its slow, oft-impededprogress towards success, is of much more interestto the general reader than that part of his lifewhich is passed immediately under the gaze ofall interested in him.
I have to express my thanks to Miss EstherLuffman for considerable assistance in ChaptersVII., VIII. and IX.; to Miss Brown, daughter ofthe Rev. T. E. Brown, for permission to use theletters printed on pages 115-17, 145-6, 182-3; toMiss Pinto Leite, the literary executrix of R. D.Blackmore, for permission to use the lettersprinted on pages 90-2, 94-7, 118-19; to MissHarriett Jay, the literary executrix of RobertBuchanan, for permission to use the letter printed[x]on pages 79-80; and to Mr A. P. Watt, the literaryexecutor of Wilkie Collins, for permission to usethe letters printed on pages 108-10.
These letters, all of them addressed to Mr HallCaine, are used with his consent.
I owe my thanks to two early friends of MrHall Caine, the Rev. Wm. Pierce and Mr GeorgeRose, for the recollections of the boyhood of mysubject which give so much freshness andvitality to my narrative.
In preparing this volume I have sometimesspoken out of my personal knowledge of mysubject, and it may be that without intending itI have appeared to commit him to my ownopinions. If this be so, let me hasten to say thatwhatever the value of what I have said, it iseverywhere and entirely my own, and the lastthing I desire is to charge my own views to mysubject, especially where in any degree theyconcern himself.
After I had finished my work I wished to submitthe manuscript to Mr Hall Caine for the verificationof facts, and I hoped that perhaps he wouldgive me the benefit of a short prefatory notesaying that these were correctly stated. But MrHall Caine could not be induced to meet the latterpart of my request, and to the former part hewould only respond so far as the facts concerned[xi]others than himself. I now feel that this decisionwas the only proper and possible one, but asparagraphs in literary papers have said thatMr Hall Caine has “revised” my biography ofhimself, I find myself reluctantly compelled topublish the following letter:—
“Dear Mr Kenyon,—I have looked over theportion of your manuscript which you sent me,and have made a few comparatively unimportantchanges. They concern what you say about myfriends, living and dead, and therefore I havefelt it to be my duty to set you right where Ithought you were wrong. With what you sayof myself, whether in the way of criticism orbiography, I do not feel that I have any rightto interfere, and I fear I must deny myself thepleasure of writing the Preface which you aregood enough to request. If your view of mylife and my books is to have any value for thepublic, it must stand as your own, without anycriticism or endorsement from me.
“Perhaps I feel that much of a book of thisintimate nature might be better deferred untilthe subject of it is gone, but I can only thankyou for the goodwill with which you have donewhat you set out to do.—Yours very truly,
Therefore, in publishing this monograph on aliving man who is much in the light of publicopinion and still a subject for controversy, Iwish to take every responsibility for whatevererrors of judgment or taste may appear in mywork. My sources of information, with the importantexceptions indicated above, have beenpublic ones, and the subject of my sketch hashad nothing to do either with the origin ofmy book or the way in which it has beencarried out.
C. FRED KENYON.
Ellesmere Park,Eccles, September 24, 1901.
The keynote of Hall Caine’s character, bothas a man and as a novelist, is sincerity, andthe deepest thing in him is love of humanity.He is dominated by the ambition to get outof the realm of thought all that is best andwisest, and from his heart a stream of lovefor suffering, tortured humanity is constantlyflowing. Heart and brain alike areever at work for the good of mankind.“I have a real sense of joy in the thoughtthat I am at least in the midst of thefull stream of life, not in an eddy or backwater,”he said to me one summer day, aswe lay among the ferns of Greeba. Heloves to feel that he is striving with thecomplex forces of these impetuous days ofa new century; loves to feel that he isbeing carried along by the River of Life, forever battling with the torrent, and alwaysstretching out eager hands to help thosewho are weaker than himself. This, Irepeat, is the deepest thing in Hall Caine,both as a man and as a writer, and thecritics who find other interpretations ofeither know both imperfectly.
Thus it comes about that the great bodyof his written work is full of a wonderfulsympathy for his fellow-creatures. Everyman’s sorrow is his sorrow, and every man’sjoy his joy. At no time of his life has hebeen immersed in the study of dead-and-gonelanguages; he has always beenoccupied with the study of humanity—humanityin its multifarious activities,hopes, struggles and fears. He has goneto the root of all things—the souls andhearts of men and women. He is nopsychological analyst of man’s wickedness;rather does he overlook the weakness ofman’s nature in his admiration for all thegood he finds there. “No man is as blackas he is painted,” he has told me, not once,but often; and he does not say this becauseof any inability to perceive sin where itexists, but rather because his clear-sightedintellect detects all the hereditary influences,the hideous power of circumstance, and thetemptation to which men are exposed. Ican think of no English writer, past orpresent, who evinces so broad and generousa sympathy with all mankind, as does HallCaine. His power of sympathy has enabledhim to understand the characters of menwith whom he has come in contact, nomatter of what nationality they have been.Englishman, Icelander, Moor, Italian,German—all are read by him withsympathy and with ease, because heaccepts the fact that the passions of love,hate, sorrow and joy are the same all theworld over. In his works I do not find anysubtle analyses of character; he treats allhis men and women on broad humanprinciples, concerning himself with thestructural basis of their natures, and leavingthe details to take care of themselves. Hehas neither the analytical sense of GeorgeMoore, nor the extraordinary subtlety ofGeorge Meredith; neither the passionatepessimism of Thomas Hardy, nor theepigrammatic cynicism of John OliverHobbes. He is simple, earnest, human.He takes no heed of the tricks by means ofwhich an unwholesome interest is aroused;but his strong dramatic sense takes theplace of these, and enchains the reader’sattention.
I am very far from saying that Hall Caineis without fault as an imaginative writer:he himself would be the first to deprecatesuch a statement. He has the defect of hisqualities. He sees everything on a largescale, no matter how intrinsically insignificantit may be. So great is his absorptionin and love for humanity that he hasdulled his sense of perspective, and whatseems to the average man an ordinary,everyday affair, is to him charged withtragic significance. The consequence is thathe is always writing at white heat: it is areal mental and emotional strain for anyoneto read a novel of his. He expects almostas much from the reader as he gives him.Again, his view of life is often very one-sided;he sees all its tragedy, and little ornothing of its comedy. This is particularlynoticeable in his earlier books. He takeshimself seriously, as every artist should, buthe sometimes forgets that in order to takeoneself seriously it is not necessary to shutone’s eyes to the light and laughter that arein the world. That Hall Caine has humourno one who has read The Deemster, TheChristian, or Cap’n Davy’s Honeymooncan doubt; but his humorous instincts areconstantly kept in check, and subordinatedto the tragic interest of the plot. There isnothing approaching “comic relief” in anyof his works, and for this reason we may begrateful, for, structurally, his novels arealmost perfect, and to have gone out of hisway in order to introduce eccentric andhumorous characters would have been todestroy the symmetry of his plots. No!it is his general outlook on life whichseems at fault: all is tragedy, as black andawe-inspiring as a thundercloud. Thewhite brilliant day is to him never freefrom distant thunders; the sun is alwaysshadowed by a cloud. To quarrel withthis view of humanity would be useless,for it is the man himself, and his work isbut an honest, sincere interpretation of hispersonality.
One of the chief qualities of his work ishis dramatic sense. He uses it powerfullyand, at times, with astounding effect. Inhis earlier novels (The Shadow of a Crimeand A Son of Hagar) he does not employit so skilfully as in, say, The Deemster andThe Bondman; he is so mastered by it,and so much the slave of his own personality,that the written result is often melodramapure and simple. Indeed, it is theopinion of many critics that Mr Caine wasborn a dramatist, and not a novelist, andthe late Mr Blackmore used to insist thatthe success of the author of The Manxmanwould be as nothing compared with whatawaited him as a dramatist. This opinionhas been endorsed by the American public,who were as enthusiastic over the dramatisedversion of The Christian as they were overthe