THE shadow cast over the country at the dawn of the new century by the death of Queen Victoria has colored, more or less observably, the thoughts and achievements of the year; while it has prompted a number of ill-digested but not wholly valueless attempts to measure the progress and define the position of England in the civilized world, during the era on which the door has been so recently closed. Even the bad taste of gushing journalists, driven by cruel necessity to write columns of “ national sentiment” daily, was powerless to obscure the universally personal mourning for a sovereign lady whose youth had excited the chivalrous enthusiasm of our fathers, and whose age retained the affectionately proud respect invariably accorded to conspicuous rectitude and natural dignity in high places. The Queen, in fact, was beloved, not as a typical English mother, — being essentially German in her family life, — but for certain human essentials of character which transcend nationalities, and are confined to no particular social status, no special period of time. Unquestionably feminine in action, outlook, and expression, she yet possessed in no small degree the mental breadth and consistency which characterize statesmen, and always comported herself as the mistress of a great principality. Her profound interest in domesticities, so endearing to many thousands of her subjects, never diminished the public significance of her attitude at every emergency. Along the lines on which she wisely elected to exert it, her influence was firm and unmistakable, working always toward a truthful simplicity of goodness. She held no heroic surprises for her people, yet never disappointed them. She was of the few on whom one could always absolutely depend. On her as surely and as significantly as on her ministers rested the cares of state, and the honor of England never suffered at her hands.
It has been said, indeed, that in recent years the monarchy has risen much in popular estimation, while Parliaments are every day held in less esteem. The closing years of the last reign gave fair occasion for the remark. The loyalty of Englishmen through recent crises has been easier and more stalwart, as it is always more spontaneous and more inspiring, to the throne than to any party the most influential. Soldiers of every rank care little for governments ; in the most literal sense, they have given their lives for their Queen.
The Queen’s influence, however, was no doubt in great part due to the fact of her being so essentially typical, both as woman and as sovereign, of the inner spirit which permeated the Victorian era, — the spirit of complacent pride in conventional respectability and material progress. She assumed, as did all our fathers, that we were everywhere on the right path, and that by going on we must necessarily be going forward. The attitude, of course, was an inevitable sequel to the leaps and bounds in scientific discovery, commercial enterprise, and external civilization which characterized the nineteenth century. At any rate, Englishmen of those days have not forborne to fancy themselves continually marching in triumph along the highroad to human perfectibility. Indeed, the comparatively sudden advances in profound learning of all sorts, combined with an equally marked universality of some education and general knowledge, had been sufficiently dazzling to warrant the assumption that we need only be and do more thoroughly what we had been and were doing to become better, wiser, and happier. One can well understand how few have stopped to doubt and question if this marvelous “ progress ” by which we have been intoxicated were aught less than an adequate ideal for immortal humanity.
Imperialism is the latest and grandest phase of this optimistic complacency. We can only pray that it may be the last. The pride of intellect, morality, and commercialism — in one word, the pride of success — has acquired the enthusiasm of the missionary. Its prophets are inspired by that subtle combination of the lust for power in the exercise of administrative ability with the magic illusion of philanthropy by which a man is led honestly to believe that he is conferring a benefit on others by shaping them after his own image. So have the Western civilizations, with England for pioneer, become the forerunners of the great new gospel, the gospel of success in time, holding on by lip service to the golden keys of eternity.
It is an honest enough creed, presenting many a warrant for noble heroism and high enterprise. It has brought us the legacy of clean thought, strenuous ambition, and a fairly clear-headed code of honor. The secret of success is no idle possession, no fruitless power. Stripped of cant and admitting its spiritual inadequacy, the era behind us shall yet emerge in the pages of world history as a good record. The Victorian deserves his epitaph : —
I shall not look upon his like again.”
But imperialism to - day is stepping from the region of the ideal to that of the practical. It is becoming the instrument of administrators, the field for men of action. Its problems are among the facts of every-day life, for the moment maybe the most pressing; demanding technical knowledge, personal resolution, and the ruling instinct. Politically speaking, democracy must cease to theorize, and evolve the expert. The party landmarks of our infancy are vanishing before our very eyes, and the scaffoldings of new platforms cloud the horizon. New men, new morals, is a sound enough executive maxim, and the electorate must turn its energies to acquiring a grip of “ affairs.”
Meanwhile, the inevitable is also happening. Always as soon as a people have really got hold of an idea and are honestly endeavoring to live up to it, when the gospel has become a convention and the messiahship is bequeathed to stage managers, there arises somewhere the analyst, the critic, the questioner. Imagination, far ahead of action or mass emotion, looks backwards and forwards at one glance ; accepts the lessons of the past, and reads a warning for the future. There is ever a hand writing on the wall.
So it is that thinking men to-day, confronted, for example, with the problems of China and South Africa (the settlement problem, not the war problem), are determined that the claims of imperialism shall not involve a reckless destruction of patriotism or a foolish process of remoulding nations on Birmingham patterns. Without precisely declaring that Western civilization has reached its climax, they are firmly convinced that as itself an all-sufficient motive power its influence is on the wane. In other words, it is now recognized to be valuable only as a means, and it behooves us to consider the end it may legitimately encourage. For the moment, however, the pressing necessity is to check popular enthusiasm from mistaking it for an end; to convince the body politic that the consciences and ideals of other people are at least as permanent and as valuable as our own ; that their ways are not our ways, nor our ways theirs. Nations make poor lecturers, and the arena of diplomacy is an unsteady pulpit. Civilizations are not one, but many, and of to-day’s survivals few are barbarous. The danger of forgetting this truth is both theoretic and practical. The call to arms in Christ’s name denies the doctrine we are professing to inculcate ; the habit of interfering provokes interference. Our grandchildren will hardly thank us for teaching the Chinese to fight, and the zealous promotion of civilization apparently implies the daily commission of barbarities.
“John Chinaman” has spoken with no uncertain voice : —
Unless you of the West will come to realize the truth ; unless you will understand that the events which have shaken Europe are the Nemesis of a long course of injustice and oppression; unless you will learn that the profound opposition between your civilization and ours gives no more ground why you should regard us as barbarians than we you ; unless you will treat us as a civilized power, and respect our customs and our laws ; unless you will accord us the treatment you would accord to any European nation, and refrain from enacting conditions you would never dream of imposing on a Western power, — unless you will do this there is no hope of any peace between us. You have humiliated the proudest nation in the world, — with what results is now abundantly manifest. . . .
“ Our mobs are barbarous and cruel ? Alas! yes. And your troops ? And your troops, nations of Christendom ? Ask the once fertile land from Peking to the coast; ask the corpses of murdered men and outraged women and children ; ask the innocent mingled indiscriminately with the guilty ; ask the Christ, the lover of men, whom ye profess to serve, to judge between us who rose in mad despair to save our country and you who, avenging crime with crime, did not pause to reflect that the crime you avenged was the fruit of your own iniquity.”
The system which has always characterized our home policy of “ blundering on” and “ shaking down ” would seem to suit the national temperament. It is somewhat slow and somewhat laborious, but, as the natural outcome of party government, has certainly produced a steady improvement in all directions, perhaps as thorough and as satisfactory as could have been effected by other more reasonable methods. For our own flesh and blood in the colonies it has also worked fairly well. What led to the foundation of the United States, however undesigned, can scarcely be called a failure, and in India the situation has been saved again and again by the Man on the Spot.
But to-day we are on the threshold of new responsibilities and new enterprises. The commercial greed and roving propensity of the race are confronting us with our equals, or with those who may one day most unexpectedly and unpleasantly prove themselves to be such. The color problem is a long way off from its solution. We are opening the door on nations we cannot mould, who are fully justified in resisting the attempt. Many and great, unquestionably, are the benefits of our so-called civilization, but the assumption that all who cannot appreciate them should be wiped off the face of the earth is sadly primitive and unphilosophical. Strange to say, there are people upon this planet who do not want us and our ways, who will die rather than submit to our fatherly patronage. We cannot afford to everlook the significance of this phenomenon. Here is a library to hand for our politicians of the future. It would become us to hold our breath from teaching, and learn a little; to think an instant on what terms we can take up our heritage ; to pray, perchance, for some humility.
In China, for the moment, all visible eruptions have died away ; and though the war in South Africa continues with all its virulent and discreditable details, the future of the situation is probably drifting into the hands of that group of men with sufficient administrative ability in their finger tips to run the parochial business of England single-handed, who care nothing for parchment suzerainties, and scarcely more for mining financiers. It is difficult for us to realize how they are carrying on the work, and undesirable that it should be completed without our cognizance ; but till something shall knock enough sense into us to shake hands with an honorable enemy the conditions are inevitable.
And meantime, if we are to retain the mildest pretensions to continue a great example, we must begin to look after our own house, and leave off interfering with that of other people. Reform is imperiously demanded for the extraordinary stagnation of public life at home, the absence of statesmen at the helm, and the melancholy failure to determine a vital definition for the noblest word in our political vocabulary, — the word Liberal.”
To-day, the condition of England and of other European countries provides abundant evidence that modern progress is not only inefficient to remove the evils it triumphantly set out to conquer, but is actually creating a new group of most deadly and paralyzing despairs. The close of the Victorian era does not find us a happy and contented people, banishing disease by science, starvation by machinery, or crime by a zeal for humanity. The extension of the franchise has not liberated the sons of toil, education has not demonstrated the nobility of labor, a love of art is not the master passion of the cottage. And every day shows more and more imminent the lust of power excited by acquiring new territories, the loss of honor entailed by speculative commercialism, the moral indifference encouraged by the denial of individual responsibilities, and the stagnation involved in capitalist tyranny. Externally, it would seem that these are not new evils ; but they are assuming new forms, and becoming cruelly intensified by three modern forces of infinite potency : the revival of slavery (on the one hand over so - called inferior races for whom our idol of Success has no significance, and on the other over all home laborers), the numberless and intricate dangers attending life in large towns, and the practically anti-religious materialism — or cash code — which is ruling the civilized world of to-day, as the natural though undesigned outcome of daily increased power to regulate environments. Although of late public attention has been accidentally drawn most forcibly to the first of these, it is the last two which may be more advisedly attacked ; for by such means alone can we readjust our ideal, and prepare ourselves in any measure for imperial or international responsibilities.
Our extraordinary apathy to the problem of large towns, tacitly encouraged by leaders of every sort, arises chiefly from its having come upon us unawares in the gradual and regular process of free development. Even to-day it is difficult to convince the professional politician, imperial or parochial, that he is confronted with a new battlefield, demanding tactics of its own. He will not recognize that a large town has quite other functions than to repeat, over wider areas, the benefits and the accidents of small towns, themselves the healthy outcome of village activity and enterprise. In other words, he cannot or will not admit that “ there is something more in a crowd than a mere collection of individuals : it possesses a character of its own as a whole, so that each person in it finds himself behaving in a manner foreign to his disposition, and experiencing sensations before unknown. A multitude of living beings has a strange intoxicating effect, and awakens the consciousness as of some giant power, latent indeed, but yet visibly felt. Children and adults are alike in this, and, once they have been subjected to this crowd passion, crave for a repetition of the emotion. ... It is possible now to summarize the effect of the whole environment of a town. Physically, it tends to rear an unhealthy race. Mentally, it tends to create a people of quick, superficial intelligence. Morally, it tends to produce excitability, a love of fighting, and untruthfulness.”
Yet here, undoubtedly, is an active force, created by civilization, with which the coming century will have to deal. It presents, as it were, the spiritual side of our economic difficulties.
For enterprise and the increase of knowledge, left to themselves, must centralize labor, and, by hourly demanding less and less from the intelligence of the worker or producer, — on whom we yet ultimately all depend, — must drive him farther and farther from the means of enjoying the good things he produces, and chain him ever more rigidly within the area where he can most economically be kept alive and most readily kept in bondage.
It is probable that this state of things would at last bring in its train a natural economic cure of the very evils it has produced. For the workman’s powers of doing work must so rapidly deteriorate under the strain that the capitalist will be forced, in self-defense, to leash the forces he has awakened, and create a more kindly atmosphere for the necessary proletariat. Already a certain number of factories have been moved into the country, on purely commercial grounds, with beneficial results.
Town life has come to stay ; and if such removals to the country were ever general enough sensibly to diminish the evils that have been mentioned, the good work would move far too slowly along that road. But the conditions of modern existence produce, I had almost said fortunately, a vast aggregate of obvious suffering and crime which, in the first place, is inconveniently expensive, and, in the second, shall utter itself so loudly and so frequently that one day even the just ” citizen can no longer turn a deaf ear.
Even now, while political leaders are severely or contemptuously asleep in this matter, content with “ thinking in continents ” and playing the big game of modern warfare, a small wave of strenuous thought is beating against the rocks of domestic distress. A noteworthy utterance has been put forward this year by a group of young men from Cambridge, which fearlessly confronts the real danger. In a series of papers, aptly styled The Heart of the Empire, they have discussed “ the problems of modern city life in England,” and the work is in every way excellent. Such subjects as Realities at Home, The Housing Problem, The Children of the Town, Temperance Reform, and The Distribution of Industry will carry their own message to thoughtful minds ; and there can be no doubt that each writer has made an honest and very diligent attempt to acquaint himself at first hand with the phenomena and their causes before enunciating a suggestion for their amelioration. The whole volume is informed with a high seriousness of purpose and a candid acceptance of realities. Here are no idle repinings for the good old days, and no æsthetic visions of never to be recovered Utopias, but a plain story and a plain moral. Speaking roughly, the trend of the book is naturally socialistic. In other words, its remedies are by regulations : —
“ In order to extract the kernel of positive warning from the husk of vague pessimism, we must ask what is the difference between the banks of Time which the English used to see and those which they see to-day. The difference is this : in the past life was naturally — that is, by the process of existing social and economic conditions — beautiful and instructive, while to - day life moves in conditions which tend to make it ugly and trivial. It can still be made more beautiful and instructive than ever, but if so it will be by artificial means and by conscious effort of our own. The world on the banks, having become naturally ugly, must be made artificially beautiful. . . . The way back to Nature herself lies now through the dexterous use of artifice and modern inventions toward that end.
“ Such is the law of our modern era. Economy and natural process, unguided, work for evil. But to check them we have in our hands the new powers of science and industry, — Titan forces, themselves neutral in the warfare between gods and demons, but infinitely strong for good, whenever we take the pains to use them for ideal ends.”
In one word, “ the good new world must be made ; it cannot grow.”
The essayists here are typical of much that is most hopeful in English life of to-day. They are infinitely willing to work and fight, splendidly careless of old prejudices. But it is open to question whether their methods, like those of the Fabians, the London County Council, and the School Board, are not too slow and, above all, too restrained. Something is needed to arouse an essentially public feeling, and to awaken a mass emotion. But while the horrors of town life are in all conscience sufficiently sensational to move the most sluggish, it is, unfortunately, equally certain that no proposals yet put forward for their removal have ever seized upon the popular imagination. The watchwords “ Liberalism ” and “ Reform ” have died away in the distance, and no echo has yet fallen upon our ears. Today’s gospel is a gospel of committees, but man can neither swear by a committee nor die for it. Committees, commissions, and societies mean always that we are leaving the business to some one else. Changes of executive, however valuable, must remain in the hands of the expert, round whose flag how few shall rally !
I have mentioned already the third force for evil which dominates modern civilization. We Englishmen have largely ceased to be a religious people. The arrogant assumption of nineteenth-century science, that spiritual values were proved non-existent, has been formally abandoned by the learned ; but its effects on daily thought and conduct are no less powerful. And they have received most unexpected and dangerous support from the fashionable Christian virtues of tenderness and tolerance. Having discovered, to his own entire satisfaction, that nothing is really anybody’s own fault; having noticed, with pardonable pride, that the genius of the English race is invincible ; having arranged, with complacent foresight, that his hospitals and what not shall prevent any serious personal privations, the Anglo-Saxon householder turns contentedly to his newspaper, at once the priest and the Bible of his generation, and tickles his appetite by grumbling over the incapacity of all officialdom. Meanwhile, the souls and bodies of men are left to the officials.
Granted, certainly, that the " conditions of life ” make the influence of the ideal non-existent for the majority; yet it becomes the reformer to herald some more strenuous ideal than the extension of material well-being, whose summons must ever remain powerless to shake the “ seats of the mighty,” or even to “ flutter the dovecots ” of Suburbia, whence should come the helping hand. If the Paradise of the future is to be consciously hand-made, not God-given, let us see to it that the architect thereof is an artist in spiritualities, and no mere cunning craftsman, a seer of visions, a dreamer of dreams. The Jingo imperialist is not only a poor diplomatist, but the missionary of barbarism ; the exploiter of home labor is not only economically and socially, but morally decadent. Further progress along the paths followed by the Victorian age will infallibly lead us to moral and economic chaos. The standards by which we have prospered in growth exceedingly are yet proved dangerous for our own manhood, and are manifestly unfit to elevate the world. And in the meantime, if we can so far improve the social conditions of life that each man shall be free to worship an ideal, let us remember to have ready an ideal for him to worship.
Amid so marked and universal an absence of idealism, it is inevitable that literature and art, which should reflect the finest shades of national spirituality and enthusiasm, have grown chaotic and superficial. Here as elsewhere the technique grows continually more excellent and more widely attainable. A larger number of competent writers are “ discovered ” every season, and the masters of style are more masterly than ever. Yet all of them are mere journalists or recorders. They stand outside life and make “ copy ” of it. They have no revelation, no message. If by chance a deeper chord be touched, its echoes are speedily drowned in the babel of Special Correspondents, the Realist, the Man with Local Color, or the Romanticist. Genuine popularity is achieved by such trivialities as An Englishwoman’s Love Letters or The Visits of Elizabeth, of which the one depends for its effect on an entire absence of sincerity, and the other on the effrontery of gay cynicism.
Meanwhile, Lucas Malet has rivaled Mrs. Voynich, of Gadfly fame, in her fleshly glorification of “ freaks ” entitled The History of Sir Richard Calmady, and Mr. George Moore has laboriously ground out another few hundred pages devoted to the study of a sickly temperament, exhibiting Evelyn Lines as Sister Teresa. The author of Elizabeth and her German Garden has issued another appeal, not inaptly termed The Benefactress, to the inherent snobbishness from which no man can shake himself entirely free.
Mr. Anthony Hope, however, has made the interesting experiment of masquerading as Mr. Henry James. His Tristram of Blent, of course, has every claim to be considered original in subject and treatment, but it is penetrated by all the elusive reserve and sensationally outspoken subtlety which characterize the author of The Americans. The hero and heroine are at once aggressively modern and perversely abnormal; whereas the one passion of respectable modernity is the normal, — in one’s self, — though the abnormal gives pleasure as a spectacle. They are emotionally explosive, yet ridiculously self-conscious ; intent on watching for the effects of their own temperaments, and entirely superior to self-control. The minor characters appear also to have been borrowed from the gallery of Mr. James, with here and there a curio of Mr. Meredith’s ; and the plot is elaborated along the lines of mental coincidence in which these ingenious authors delight. Mr. Hope rides skillfully and gayly enough in this new harness, as his manner is ; yet the work is, after all, no more than a brilliant tour de force.
But Mr. Rudyard Kipling has written a great book, which is an allegory. Kim, indeed, might be quoted effectively against reckless imperialism, for it contains one of the most eloquent vindications of Eastern idealism ever penned ; though of course the parable goes far deeper, being a transcript of universal humanity. For here are shown, with full consciousness of their opposing tendencies, the two influences which must always build up character. Externally, the boy Kim is educated by that roughand-ready method, so dear to our forefathers, of seeing “ the great good-tempered world.” He finds his way everywhere, and understands most things. To the subtlety and picturesque cunning of the conquered races that fostered him he learns to annex that mysterious presence and self-confidence, that instinct for success and rule, which have unquestionably established our empire. But permeating and purifying his young nature, preserving him on the one hand from becoming “ a fearful man ” like the Babu, and on the other from coarsening into an average Sahib, stands that most lovable and saintly of personalities, the Thibetian Lama. He has lived for many years among men, and found “ no need to lie ; ” he holds that “ to abstain from action is well, for all doing is evil.” Totally indifferent to the chances of death or suffering, gazing always upon the world with the wondering joy of an innocent child, he is a true pilgrim, “ following the Middle Way,” going to “ see the Four Holy Places before he die,” seeking “ freedom from the Wheel of Things ” in the “ River of the Arrow,” which “ washes away all taint and speckle of Sin.” Yet he will put aside for years, if need be, the one desire of his heart for the sake of the child ; retracing the journey of many days to give him “wisdom,” enduring much chatter of women, and always patient. Therefore Kim honors him with the loving reverence which human nature must yield to so wholly spiritual a presence. Throughout his rough-andtumble existence, under his boasting, cunning, vitally alive, and intensely curious little being, the “ friend of all the world ” is ever sensitive and loyal to the ideal of which his Lama is the personification. Except for The Brushwood Boy, Mr. Kipling has never before attained so nearly to the reality which is far above realism, the spiritual which embraces and permeates the material, the immortal which transcends mortality. Concerning the general output of literature during the year, we notice an increasing tendency to what may be called “ parochialism in fiction.” The novel deserving to be called a work of art is a composition in character, and its legitimate field is the illustration of human life. The novelist’s ideal must be to create actual beings, of unmistakable, indestructible individuality ; who act and feel according to the law of their own nature, whose experience may be tested by the most universal philosophy. In other words, his dramatis personœ must be persons, and not types; his method must be portraiture, not photography ; his circumstances must be subsidiary, and not dominant. Fiction is only one of many mediums for the expression of ideas, and the craftsman cannot afford to neglect the particular conditions under which his work is to be carried out.
The medium of a prose story, like the humanity it produces, consists of two elements which are equally essential to its verisimilitude and its vitality, — the one spiritual or permanent, the other material or accidental. But the motive or underlying idea cannot be directly exhibited or preached, as in some poems and all essays: the costume or events should not stand for subject, as in histories and other textbooks. Disregard of the first law produces “ the novel with a purpose,” of the second the “ study in local color,” — both freaks of the artistic imagination. Yet the streets of London have lately succeeded the kailyard in popular favor as the novelist’s hunting ground, — once more illustrating the coercion of town life.
The movement might perhaps be called a revival, inasmuch as Charles Dickens and others have “done” London low life in the days of our fathers, while Thackeray and others have “done ” society. But they remained legitimate novelists. Dickens, indeed, must plead guilty to having written several novels with a purpose ; and he was constantly offending the canons of art. This, however, does not affect his superiority to his modern rivals, which comes from the fact that with him London is illustrative of character; with them character is illustrative of London. Dickens put his heart into his heroes, his heroines, his “funny ” men, and his villains. He cared supremely that the public should love or hate the men and women of the piece, should feel a thrill of honest human pleasure at the triumph of injured innocence and the punishment of sin, — commonplace topics, perhaps, but the stuff of daily life. The use of copious detail, resulting from keen observation, was no doubt prominent in his effects ; but as a rule it was subordinated to its proper position of a means rather than an end.
But in his modern rivals or imitators, who cannot shake off the habits of journalism, the normal relation between form and substance is inverted. They are inspired, apparently, by the desire to exhibit an intimate acquaintance with the manners and customs of particular districts, to pursue us into our studies with the hoarse cry of the itinerant newsvender and the shrill laughter of the flower girl. They are redolent of gas lamps, underground stations, and buses; they are cockney to the finger tips. Very similar criticisms may be passed on recent novels of London society, — in disadvantageous comparison, again, with Thackeray’s methods. The denizens of Vanity Fair are more vital, both to author and reader, than the booths round which they dance and weep ; their emotions and misfortunes are universal; their personal growth forms unquestionably the whole fibre and substance of the design. The characters of our older novelists are always living to us, not by virtue of their environment, but for their individual acceptance or conquest of circumstances : and in this distinction lies the root of the matter.
And tyranny of local color is more a positive than a negative evil: its votaries err by commission, not omission. To make a false picture of life is no less than treachery to art and humanity. A novel which is written for the set purpose of exhibiting certain phases of civilization must be essentially false. “ The observer — poor soul, with his documents! — is all abroad. For to look at a man is to court deception. We shall see the trunk from which he draws his nourishment; but lie himself is above and abroad in the green foliage, hummed through by winds and nested in by nightingales. And the true realism were that of the poets : to climb up after him like a squirrel, and catch some glimpse of the heaven for which he lives. And the true realism, always and everywhere, is that of the poets: to find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing.” The novelist who may set aside his high calling, and elect to stand or fall by the brilliant correctness of his furniture-painting, is lending a dangerous grace to the most prominent and the most fatal heresy of our generation, — the worship of materialism.
But it must not be forgotten to-day that the great majority of those whom the careful government of our fathers taught to read care nothing for literature and art. A certain number of this restless contingent are chiefly nourished on that giddy jumble of crammed science and shapeless imagination which does duty for modern romance. The mixture has been most ably prescribed by Mr. Shell’s entirely mad, but almost brilliant Lord of the Sea, — a novel in which the dear old impossible laboring man of fiction (in reality descended from the aristocracy) rushes headlong into the circumstances of the most gorgeous affluence and the most despotic power. Like Mr. Hope’s Tristram, and like the hero of this year’s Drury Lane melodrama, he is floated (in more senses than one) by a miraculous genius for finance, and he shares the sinister good fortune allotted in fiction and on the stage to every member of the Jewish community. The book is absolutely feverish in its sensationalism, and recklessly impossible in every detail of construction, but fatally convincing by reason of its photographic detail and its highly spirited manner. The Lord of the Sea is positively admirable in its kind.
But the religious melodrama affected by Mr. Hall Caine touches a far larger section of the community, — the community of flatland and villadom. Every one has read The Eternal City. Every one remembers this compound of the sensuous and the sacred, these cheap living pictures of crowded and gaudy Italian life, these unsavory intrigues ; with the usual stage villain, the familiar hero-patriot, the “ pure woman ” of untrammeled passions and hysterical piety, the Pope, the baron, and the porter. It is all very clever and quite worthless. Its breathless and inflammable style is entirely sympathetic to the man of the moment. It might be an evening paper of six hundred pages. Virtue appears to triumph, though the sinners exert great powers and enjoy much prosperity. Being wholly superficial, it is generally mistaken for a picture of real life. In reading it, one loses all desire for patience or self-control, all idea of thinking quietly, all ambition for spiritual imaginings. Such is a popular book to-day.
In drama, the most characteristic features of the year have been the return of the problem play, inaugurated last year, and the final disappearance of the hero. Mr. Pinero’s Iris, played with unexpected depth and sympathy by Miss Fay Davis, is far more sincere in feeling than its predecessors. The familiar elements of the “ three - cornered ” tragedy are used not merely for the development of situations, but to betray the inherent weakness of a character not essentially bad. The interest is not centred on any favorite topic of the moment, any passing phase of convention. It touches the permanent limitations of human nature. Iris concerns two men and a woman, while The Mummy and the Humming Bird, at Mr. Wyndham’s, and Mrs. W. K. Clifford’s The Likeness of the Night adopt the variant of a man and two women. So far as I am aware, Mr. Wyndham has discovered a new dramatist in Mr. Isaac Henderson ; and perhaps it is hardly fair to class his admirable production as a “ problem,” since it provides us with the picture — so unusual in stageland — of a husband and wife whose temporary misunderstandings are quite superficial, and of an entirely contemptible number three. The plot, indeed, is commonplace enough ; but its technique is masterly, and furnishes abundant opportunity for Mr. Wyndham’s finished graces and Miss Lena Ashwell’s vigorous emotionalism. Mrs. W. K. Clifford is far less of an adept in stagecraft; but her practice as a novelist has enabled her to create an atmosphere congenial to the finely legitimate method of Mrs. Kendal.
Sherlock Holmes is an abundantly wholesome and refreshing melodrama, but The Great Millionaire at Drury Lane has fallen on evil days. Here, at least, we should expect to find the hero in all his pristine glory : conventional, maybe, but brave, honest, and, above all, frankly absurd. He is nothing of the sort. His difficulties, which should arise from circumstances and the machinations of the villain, are entirely of his own seeking, and betray the decadent. His triumphs, which should be gained by deeds of reckless valor, are prosaically achieved as the indolent and pampered private secretary of a company promoter. It would seem that he shall win the heroine of today who can gain, and retain, the confidence of a “ millionaire.”
Incidentally, this phenomenon is a sign of the times. The prevalent loss of faith in the romance hero is dictated by the enervating cowardice of the moderns, the dread of giving way to simple emotions, the hatred of admitting that any one is actually great. We are haunted today by self-consciousness, a blind respect for sanity and balance, a stupid craving for measuring the proportions of things, which makes it seem almost ridiculous for a man to go on his knees before the God in whom he is not quite certain of believing, or the woman he is not quite certain of loving. He knows that other Gods as great have been worshiped by other men as wise, that other maids as fair have been served by other men as brave.
How melodrama should be the stepping-stone from art to religion. In other words, the melodrama should inculcate virtue in an exciting story, and, by clothing its sermons in a literary form, should familiarize the Philistine with art. The hero must prevail over the villain ; his thoughts and acts must be instinct with the glamour of imagination. Hence the importance of this form for educating and elevating a nation.
Can melodrama be pressed into the service of our present religious needs ? To-day we must raise a plea for reflection and a little holding of the breath in silence. Reticence is needed in thought, speech, and action. The power of vision must be recovered. Stepping aside from the glare and noise of daily life, turning our back awhile on the accumulation of coin, we must seek, till haply we find it, for some genuinely spiritual ideal of sufficient ethical power to inspire enthusiasm. The problem will be to discover a faith which is consistent with tolerance and charity, yet strong enough to govern life. For the most zealous belief in humanity, the very widest tolerance, the most profound learning, will avail nothing without the conviction of right and wrong, the consciousness of struggle, and the assurance of victory.
R. Brimley Johnson.