Page:Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day.djvu/112

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Charles Reade.

Dutch figures live; it goes through Germany, and Germany lives; it picks up a French arbalétrier, and the medieval French soldier is alive again. It goes to Home, and the Roman men and women live again.

Compare with this the narrow canvas of 'Romola,' and the faint colours. The petty politics of mediæval Florence made to sit up in the grave, but not to come out of it. The gossip of modern Florence turned on to medieval subjects and called mediaeval gossip. Romola herself is a high-minded, delicate-minded, sober-minded lady of the nineteenth century, and no other. She has a gentle but tame and non-mediæval affection for a soft egotist who belongs to that or any age you like. One great historical figure, Savonarola, is taken, and turned into a woman by a female writer: sure sign imagination is wanting. There is a dearth of powerful incidents, though the time was full of them, as 'The Cloister and the Hearth' is full, of them. There you have the broad features of that marvellous age, so full of grand anomalies: the fine arts and the spirit that fed them; the feasts, the shows, the domestic life, the laws, the customs, the religion; the roads and their perils; the wild beasts disputing the civilised continent with man, man uppermost by day, the beasts by night; the hostelries, the robbers, the strange vows; the convents, shipwrecks, sieges, combats, escapes; a robbers' slaughter-house burnt, and the fire lighting up trees clad with snow. And through all this a deep current of true love—passionate, yet pure—ending in a medieval poem: the battle of ascetic religion against our duty to our neighbour, which was the great battle of the time that shook religious souls. But perhaps we shall be told this comparison is beside the mark; that a dearth of incidents is better than a surfeit, and that it is in the higher art of drawing characters George Eliot stands supreme, and Charles Reade fills an insignificant place. We will abide by that test in this comparison.

What genuine mediæval characters, to be compared with those of Walter Scott, for instance, live in the memory after reading the two works we are comparing?

'The Cloister and the Hearth' is a gallery of such portraits, painted in full colours to the life. 'Romola' is a portfolio of delicate studies. 'Romola' leaves on the memory: 1, a young lady of the nineteenth century, the exact