Page:Some aspects of the Victorian age.djvu/16

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Macaulay to discuss which was the greater writer—Dickens or Thackeray? Tennyson or Browning? Charlotte Brontë or George Eliot? I think we are all agreed now that comparisons of this kind are, if not futile, at least unprofitable. Men and women of creative genius cannot be labelled and classified, like plants or politicians. Nor do the masterpieces of Victorian fiction, either separately or collectively, belong to any of the recognized schools. As Mr. Chesterton has well pointed out, Dickens and Thackeray combine, each after his own artistic method, both Realism and Romance.

Let me, before I turn to another branch of my topic, say a word more of one whom I mentioned a few moments ago—Charles Kingsley. The great Mirabeau said of his younger brother, who went by the nickname of 'Barrel' Mirabeau: 'In any other family than ours he would be regarded as a scapegrace and a wit.' So, perhaps, if he were not overshadowed by his mightier contemporaries, Charles Kingsley would to-day have a greater reputation both as novelist and poet. Much of his fiction (like some of Mrs. Gaskell's and Disraeli's) is too deeply immersed in the local and passing conditions of Victorian life to be readable now. But he had remarkable powers both of perception and description. In poetry he has left two or three lyrics which are worthy (and this is high praise) to be placed side by side with Tennyson's best. And in the supremely difficult art of writing for Children, which requires, in addition to command over the unexpected and the picturesque, the power of mixing good sense with good nonsense, and letting the one glide imperceptibly into the other, he has not been surpassed; except perhaps by his Victorian