» » Partial Portraits_ Emerson, The Life of George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, Anthony Trollope, Robert Louis Stevenson, Miss Woolson, Alphonse Daudet, Guy de Maupassant, Ivan Turgénieff, George du Maurier, The Art of Fiction

Partial Portraits_ Emerson, The Life of George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, Anthony Trollope, Robert Louis Stevenson, Miss Woolson, Alphonse Daudet, Guy de Maupassant, Ivan Turgénieff, George du Maurier, The Art of Fiction

Partial Portraits_ Emerson, The Life of George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, Anthony Trollope, Robert Louis Stevenson, Miss Woolson, Alphonse Daudet, Guy de Maupassant, Ivan Turgénieff, George du Maurier, The Art of Fiction
Author: James Henry
Title: Partial Portraits_ Emerson, The Life of George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, Anthony Trollope, Robert Louis Stevenson, Miss Woolson, Alphonse Daudet, Guy de Maupassant, Ivan Turgénieff, George du Maurier, The Art of Fiction
Release Date: 2018-12-14
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 110
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First Edition 1888. Reprinted 1894


The following attempts at literary portraiture originally appeared, withthree exceptions, in American periodicals—The Atlantic Monthly, TheCentury, and Harper’s Weekly. The paper on Emerson was contributed toMacmillan’s Magazine, that on “The Art of Fiction” to Longman’s andthat on M. Guy de Maupassant to The Fortnightly Review. Thereminiscences of Turgénieff were written immediately after his death,the article on Anthony Trollope on the same occasion, before thepublication of his interesting Autobiography, and the appreciation ofAlphonse Daudet before that of his three latest novels. The date affixedto the sketch of Robert Louis Stevenson is that of composition.


II.The Life of George Eliot37
III.Daniel Deronda: A Conversation65
IV.Anthony Trollope97
V.Robert Louis Stevenson137
VI.Miss Woolson177
VII.Alphonse Daudet195
VIII.Guy de Maupassant243
IX.Ivan Turgénieff291
X.George du Maurier327
XI.The Art of Fiction375



Mr. Elliot Cabot has made a very interesting contribution to a class ofbooks of which our literature, more than any other, offers admirableexamples: he has given us a biography[1] intelligently and carefullycomposed. These two volumes are a model of responsible editing—I usethat term because they consist largely of letters and extracts fromletters: nothing could resemble less the manner in which the merebookmaker strings together his frequently questionable pearls andshovels the heap into the presence of the public. Mr. Cabot hasselected, compared, discriminated, steered an even course betweenmeagreness and redundancy, and managed to be constantly and happilyillustrative. And his work, moreover, strikes us as the better done fromthe fact that it stands for one of the two things that make an absorbingmemoir a good deal more than for the other. If these two things be theconscience of the writer and the career of his hero, it is not{2}difficult to see on which side the biographer of Emerson has foundhimself strongest. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a man of genius, but he ledfor nearly eighty years a life in which the sequence of events hadlittle of the rapidity, or the complexity, that a spectator loves. Thereis something we miss very much as we turn these pages—something thathas a kind of accidental, inevitable presence in almost any personalrecord—something that may be most definitely indicated under the nameof colour. We lay down the book with a singular impression ofpaleness—an impression that comes partly from the tone of thebiographer and partly from the moral complexion of his subject, butmainly from the vacancy of the page itself. That of Emerson’s personalhistory is condensed into the single word Concord, and all thecondensation in the world will not make it look rich. It presents a mostcontinuous surface. Mr. Matthew Arnold, in his Discourses in America,contests Emerson’s complete right to the title of a man of letters; yetletters surely were the very texture of his history. Passions,alternations, affairs, adventures had absolutely no part in it. Itstretched itself out in enviable quiet—a quiet in which we hear thejotting of the pencil in the note-book. It is the very life forliterature (I mean for one’s own, not that of another): fifty years ofresidence in the home of one’s forefathers, pervaded by reading, bywalking in the woods and the daily addition of sentence to sentence.{3}

If the interest of Mr. Cabot’s pencilled portrait is incontestable andyet does not spring from variety, it owes nothing either to a sourcefrom which it might have borrowed much and which it is impossible not toregret a little that he has so completely neglected: I mean a greaterreference to the social conditions in which Emerson moved, the companyhe lived in, the moral air he breathed. If his biographer had allowedhimself a little more of the ironic touch, had put himself once in a wayunder the protection of Sainte-Beuve and had attempted something of ageneral picture, we should have felt that he only went with theoccasion. I may overestimate the latent treasures of the field, but itseems to me there was distinctly an opportunity—an opportunity to makeup moreover in some degree for the white tint of Emerson’s careerconsidered simply in itself. We know a man imperfectly until we know hissociety, and we but half know a society until we know its manners. Thisis especially true of a man of letters, for manners lie very close toliterature. From those of the New England world in which Emerson’scharacter formed itself Mr. Cabot almost averts his lantern, though wefeel sure that there would have been delightful glimpses to be had andthat he would have been in a position—that is that he has all theknowledge that would enable him—to help us to them. It is as if hecould not trust himself, knowing the subject only too well. This adds tothe effect of extreme discretion that we find in his{4} volumes, but it isthe cause of our not finding certain things, certain figures and scenes,evoked. What is evoked is Emerson’s pure spirit, by a copious, siftedseries of citations and comments. But we must read as much as possiblebetween the lines, and the picture of the transcendental time (tomention simply one corner) has yet to be painted—the lines have yet tobe bitten in. Meanwhile we are held and charmed by the image ofEmerson’s mind and the extreme appeal which his physiognomy makes to ourart of discrimination. It is so fair, so uniform and impersonal, thatits features are simply fine shades, the gradations of tone of a surfacewhose proper quality was of the smoothest and on which nothing wasreflected with violence. It is a pleasure of the critical sense to find,with Mr. Cabot’s extremely intelligent help, a notation for suchdelicacies.

We seem to see the circumstances of our author’s origin, immediate andremote, in a kind of high, vertical moral light, the brightness of asociety at once very simple and very responsible. The rare singlenessthat was in his nature (so that he was all the warning moral voice,without distraction or counter-solicitation), was also in the stock hesprang from, clerical for generations, on both sides, and clerical inthe Puritan sense. His ancestors had lived long (for nearly twocenturies) in the same corner of New England, and during that period hadpreached and studied and prayed and practised. It is impossible{5} toimagine a spirit better prepared in advance to be exactly what itwas—better educated for its office in its far-away unconsciousbeginnings. There is an inner satisfaction in seeing so straight,although so patient, a connection between the stem and the flower, andsuch a proof that when life wishes to produce something exquisite inquality she takes her measures many years in advance. A conscience likeEmerson’s could not have been turned off, as it were, from onegeneration to another: a succession of attempts, a long process ofrefining, was required. His perfection, in his own line, comes largelyfrom the non-interruption of the process.

As most of us are made up of ill-assorted pieces, his reader, and Mr.Cabot’s, envies him this transmitted unity, in which there was no mutualhustling or crowding of elements. It must have been a kind of luxury tobe—that is to feel—so homogeneous, and it helps to account for hisserenity, his power of acceptance, and that absence of personal passionwhich makes his private correspondence read like a series of beautifulcirculars or expanded cards pour prendre congé. He had the equanimityof a result; nature had taken care of him and he had only to speak. Heaccepted himself as he accepted others, accepted everything; and hisabsence of eagerness, or in other words his modesty, was that of a manwith whom it is not a question of success, who has nothing invested orat stake. The investment, the stake, was that of the race, of all thepast Emersons{6} and Bulkeleys and Waldos. There is much that makes ussmile, to-day, in the commotion produced by his secession from the mildUnitarian pulpit: we wonder at a condition of opinion in which anyutterance of his should appear to be wanting in superior piety—in theessence of good instruction. All that is changed: the great differencehas become the infinitely small, and we admire a state of society inwhich scandal and schism took on no darker hue; but there is even yet asort of drollery in the spectacle of a body of people among whom theauthor of The American Scholar and of the Address of 1838 at theHarvard Divinity College passed for profane, and who failed to see thathe only gave his plea for the spiritual life the advantage of abrilliant expression. They were so provincial as to think thatbrilliancy came ill-recommended, and they were shocked at his ceasing tocare for the prayer and the sermon. They might have perceived that hewas the prayer and the sermon: not in the least a seculariser, but inhis own subtle insinuating way a sanctifier.

Of the three periods into which his life divides itself, the first was(as in the case of most men) that of movement, experiment andselection—that of effort too and painful probation. Emerson had hismessage, but he was a good while looking for his form—the form which,as he himself would have said, he never completely found and of which itwas rather characteristic of him that his later years (with theirgrowing refusal to give him the word), wishing{7} to attack him in hismost vulnerable point, where his tenure was least complete, had in somedegree the effect of despoiling him. It all sounds rather bare andstern, Mr. Cabot’s account of his youth and early manhood, and we get animpression of a terrible paucity of alternatives. If he would be neithera farmer nor a trader he could “teach school”; that was the mainresource and a part of the general educative process of the young NewEnglander who proposed to devote himself to the things of the mind.There was an advantage in the nudity, however, which was that, inEmerson’s case at least, the things of the mind did get themselvesadmirably well considered. If it be his great distinction and hisspecial sign that he had a more vivid conception of the moral life thanany one else, it is probably not fanciful to say that he owed it in partto the limited way in which he saw our capacity for living illustrated.The plain, God-fearing, practical society which surrounded him was notfertile in variations: it had great intelligence and energy, but itmoved altogether in the straightforward direction. On three occasionslater—three journeys to Europe—he was introduced to a more complicatedworld; but his spirit, his moral taste, as it were, abode always withinthe undecorated walls of his youth. There he could dwell with that ripeunconsciousness of evil which is one of the most beautiful signs bywhich we know him. His early writings are full of quaint animadversionupon the vices of the place and time,{8} but there is something charminglyvague, light and general in the arraignment. Almost the worst he can sayis that these vices are negative and that his fellow-townsmen are notheroic. We feel that his first impressions were gathered in a communityfrom which misery and extravagance, and either extreme, of any sort,were equally absent. What the life of New England fifty years agooffered to the observer was the common lot, in a kind of achromaticpicture, without particular intensifications. It was from this table ofthe usual, the merely typical joys and sorrows that he proceeded togeneralise—a fact that accounts in some

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