Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 28.djvu/235

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225
MASSON'S INTERPRETATION OF CARLYLE.

no room here to state the case as fully as it is presented in these lectures. Mr. Froude was the official custodian of all the Carlylian documents, and held the great man's reputation in the hollow of his hand. Professor Masson is justly severe upon him (as have also been many others) for his lack of sympathetic discrimination in dealing with the private expressions of his deceased friend, and giving to the public much to which it had no right, which was undoubtedly never intended for publication, and which was an inexcusable outrage upon innocent persons. Mr. Froude was incompetent for his editorial task: though an intimate and life-long friend of Carlyle, he was constitutionally incompetent to understand and do justice to his character. This is well illustrated by the following passage from Professor Masson's first lecture:

"Another cause which has contributed not a little to the unhappy general effect of the nine volumes is the prevailing somberness and lugubriousness of those portions of them which come from Mr. Froude's own pen. In the 'Reminiscences' and the 'Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle' these consist, of course, but of casual editorial notes and explanations; but, in the four volumes of the 'Biography,' they form the text of narrative and comment in which the fragments of documentary material for all the eighty-five years of Carlyle's life are imbedded. Now, wherever Mr. Froude himself thus becomes the narrator or commentator, his mood is too uniformly like that of a man driving a hearse.

"The contrast in this respect between what is from his own pen and much of the documentary material he digests and edits is very remarkable. There is gloom enough, seriousness enough, in the matter of the documents; but they are not all gloomy or serious. They abound with the picturesque, the comic, the startlingly grotesque, or the quaintly pleasant; some of them actually swim in humor, or sparkle with wit. These Mr. Froude faithfully prints, and perhaps relishes; but they do not seem to have any influence on his own gait or countenance in his office of biographer. This is unfortunate. No mind not profoundly in earnest itself could understand Carlyle, or represent him properly to others; but, if ever there was a life that required also some considerable amount of humor in the bystander for correct apprehension and interpretation of its singularities, it was Carlyle's. Those about him that knew him best, always felt that the most proper relation to much that he said and did was to take it humorously or suffuse it with humor; and that he himself had the same feeling and authorized it in others appeared in the frequency, almost the habitual constancy, with which he would check his conscious exaggerations at the last point with some ludicrous touch of self-irony, and would dissolve his fiercest objurgations and tumults of wrath in some sudden phantasy of the sheerly absurd and a burst of uproarious laughter. Without a recollection of this, many a saying of his, many a