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execution, not to the cultivation of a subordinate province in novel-writing
But we are digressing from the subject proposed in quoting the above passage from our author, namely, his delineation of manners. By manners we mean the display of the social or unsocial sentiments in conversation, conduct, and deportment towards others. Good manners may be the spontaneous offspring of social dispositions, and they are then pleasing to all persons, whether polished gentlemen and ladies, or clowns and the wives of clowns. And so manners of this origin are pleasing, in whatever subject they are found. It is only the silliest and most frivolous of people, such as either have not qualities enough in mass to come up to what may be ranked as a character, or have overlaid and smothered what little nature they originally possessed, with conventional forms and affectation,
it is only such, who stop at the external signs or modes of indication, whereby the social and unsocial dispositions are manifested. All persons, of even a moderate share of sense, look at the true meaning of the indications. They care whether the meaning is kindness, respect, delicacy and refinement of sentiment; regarding less whether those indications are made in well-trained looks and tones of voice, and easy and graceful, or awkward and angular, movements; as a reader for instruction cares more about the sense itsell, than whether it is expressed in Hebrew, or Greek, or Roman characters. The teachers of manners, accordingly, attempt to embody the tones, expressions, and other external indications of social dispositions, in a system of rules of good breeding. The pupil is taught to simulate those dispositions ; and as, in acting, it is said that those performers who feel least, often personate best, so in manners, those who are conscious of the total want of social impulses, are the most scrupulous cultivators of their external signs. They are polite, in proportion as they are selfish and heartless. While on the other hand it often happens, that persons of great generosity and overflowing philanthropy, not having the most remote apprehension that their real sentiments can be mistaken, are comparatively careless of their formal deportment towards others, and this negligence may occasionally amount to impoliteness. But those of a kind and social nature do not, by any means, always carry their harshness and simplicity to rudeness, or even to negligence; and, on the other hand, those void of all sympathy, do not always affect to conceal their real indifference or malevolence under address and polish. In choosing intimate companions or friends, we ought to regard their real qualities; for mere acquaintances, the exterior indications serve tolerably well as a criterion. Persons incapable of friendship and thorough intimacy, are apt not to seek beyond the external symbols in others; they attach no particular meaning to the word heart, except as the name of a muscle. We see, then, how, people must necessarily disagree respecting the manners of particular individuals, for the superficies of manner is all that some look for, or suppose to exist ; while others are easily satisfied of the truth of external indications, though these may be a lie ; and this deception is not to be wondered at, for simulators and dissemblers, like hypocrites, are the most rigid observers of ceremony. But others again may penetrate, or at least think they penetrate, the thin veil of courtesy, and see, under it, selfishness, paltry cunning, and impertinent egotism ; and to these the same bland, punctilious, and studious practice of the rules of the art of pleasing, as laid down by the best authorities, will sometimes be odious, as it will aggravate the deformity of the dissocial sentiments thus attempted to be dissembled, and, besides, will imply disrespect in supposing that others can be so easily deceived. Accordingly, manners that are quite charming to one, will be insipid or annoying, or seem to be impertinent, to another.
Now Mr. Bulwer dwells very much on the outside of his personages, as already remarked, and as is proved by his elaborate dissertations upon the springs and clock-work, and his pointing out to you the strings he pulls to make the automata work. The delineation of manners is, accordingly, a great part of his undertaking. And in this respect he gives himself a wide field, not hesitating to place bis heroes and heroines in situations, by which his own knowledge of society is very severely tested ; and he does not fail to show his acquaintance with a great variety of forms of social intercourse. He appears to plume himself particularly on his skill in portraying fashionable life and manners. But in whatever scene he puts bis persons, the manners are not the spontaneous incidents to the characters. Many of them, at least, as the author candidly confesses in the passage already cited, have no distinctive characters at all. His system is to take some passion, or penchant, or mode of thinking, or foible, and conduct it through various situations and adventures. The conversation and conduct are collateral accompaniments to this passion or abstract quality, foible, or mode of thinking, making a very incoherent, ill-defined whole. In the works of the masters, the manners are natural and characteristic, flowing spontaneously from principles of action and motives and propensities, with which the reader is made familiar, not by a collateral dissertation by the author in the capacity of a looker on, but by the action. In Mr. Bulwer's novels, accordingly, there is an affectation and fastidiousness of manners pervading almost the whole dramatis persona. The lesson of these works is, as already suggested, that veritable bonor, veracity, principle, and sincerity of purpose, if they exist at all, have little to do with the happiness and fortunes of men or women ; that men come in contact only at the superficies, and that our exterior selves, being factitiously superinduced, take the place of our real selves, and, unless counteracted by fatality of circumstances, determine our fortunes. We are accordingly instructed, upon the Chesterfieldian system, to bestow our whole care upon the shell, - that the nucleus, the soul, the mind, the sentiments, and affections, are of liule account. Now as the system of manners in these novels is, in general, avowedly based upon selfishness and prompted by egotism, the effect is similar to that of manners, influenced by the same motives in the actual intercourse of the world, where the disguise is seen through, and the hollowness and hypocrisy detected. For though the author discloses the motives, he does not disapprove of them ; on the contrary, he holds up plotting, designing bienséance, and hypocrisy, practised according to conventional rules and forms, as the true models of manners. A sensible reader, therefore, lays down the book in disgust with its practical doctrines ; a superficial, unprincipled reader, with fantastical notions of men and affairs, on the contrary, finds something quite congenial with himself in the book, and lays it down at the end with a very high opinion of his own and the author's philosophy and knowledge of mankind, and imagines the world to be tolerable, if it be indeed so, because there are so many people in it liable to be gulled, and used by means of their blind sides, follies, foibles, and simplicity. But he is the dupe, and honest, true men are the wise ; for selfishness, egotism, and conceit, and small cunning, carry their just penalty with them; and a life of artifice and manceuvre is barren of all satisfaction, as well as pitiful.
The conduct of the plot is as difficult in a novel as in a drama. It is so difficult that many authors have no plot at all, but merely carry their hero through a series of adventures and scenes, having no connexion or common bearing. The whole is a fictitious journal. Mr. Bulwer makes a plot, but sometimes digresses, which is allowable upon sufficient reasons given. But he has one artifice, which, we think, has an effect contrary to his intention. He apparently pleases bimself with mystifying the reader, by way of working up his interest, instead of which he sometimes fairly runs down his curiosity. He is kept in the dark so long that he becomes indifferent to it; or, if he sees through the design, it is a failure on the part of the author. Thus, in the case of Mordaunt, whom Mr. Bulwer considers a model in his kind, and an answer to some objections that had been made to his novels, he is kept a long time under the disguise of Glendower. The reader indeed suspects who he is, but if this is intended by the author, it is inartificial to affect to keep him in the dark, when that is not the design ; if, on the other hand, he is supposed to be deceived and really is so, he is quite fatigued with following so long the fortunes of one, who apparently has not any connexion with the main plot. So in the same novel, as in some of the others, the author brings up his different divisions of persons from time to time; and for this purpose, to all appearance at the time, stops the progress of the plot. In this way, in the novel just mentioned, the main plot, namely, the disposing of the hero, stands still three quarters of the time, in consequence of the author's keeping his secret so well ; whereas it seems to be more skilful and more exciting, to keep the reader, as he goes along, expressly apprized of some connexion of all the parts, and not leave him merely to suspect it. He must be made to wish most vehemently that Mr. Clarence should marry Miss Clara, and he may be permitted to suspect that it may so turn out, though he is not to be so assured of it, as not to be exceedingly distressed with the difficulties.
Whatever may be thought of these novels in other respects, the literary execution is certainly very fine ; fine, in the better sense of the term, seems to us to give its general character. It is sparkling, brilliant, sententious, and full of classical allusion and antithesis. The stories embody a great mass of superficial knowledge, collected from a very wide circuit.
From this source the reader may bring away something for his pairs.
But, of the philosophy and thinking, which occupy so great a space, we cannot speak in so high terins. These are not books of wisdom in respect to politics, political economy, or the philosophy of history, of society, or of the mind. In all these respects they seem to us to be always quite superficial, and often very false and pernicious.
of the different novels, “ The Pilgrims of the Rhine" is, in our estimation, decidedly the best. The author's brilliant sprightliness is applied, with remarkable success, in the burlesque way, to the fairies; and the digressions are pleasing, and introduced with address.
We should put next in rank, “Pelham ” and “ The Disowned.” In one respect the latter may be classed with the historical novels of “ The Last Days of Pompeii ” and “Rienzi,” and with “ The Duchess de la Vallière," as it professes to give the manners and characteristic modes of thinking of seventy years ago ; but, as a record of the past, we cannot think this, any more than the other historical novels, very successful. A false, fantastical glare is shed over the whole scene, as far as history is concerned. The labored eulogies upon Bolingbroke serve, as it seems to us, rather to depress the eulogist, than to raise the subject of them. The author cannot disengage himself from his own times, and identify himself with other times. It is all but disgusting, for instance, to meet with present Cockney dandyism, in the streets and atria, and Cockney slang, in the pot-houses of Pompeii, antedated some two thousand years, besides being placed far out of their true latitude.
Of “ The Duchess de la Vallière" we have but little to say. It is said to play much more like Mr. Maelzel's automata worked by machinery, than like a genuine, dramatic performance. The attempt at a drama, with all the help of history to supply personages, betrays at once the defect apparent in the author's novels. The character, the individual entity, does not show himself. The persons move with a sort of spasmodic action, more as if they were put in motion by a galvanic battery, than as if animated by Promethean fire.