It is not easy to see why I should have been most liberal to the man of least pretensions. Perhaps some cowardice withheld me from the proper warmth of tone; perhaps it is easier to be just to those nearer us in rank of mind. Such at least is the fact, which other critics may explain. For these were all men whom, for one reason or another, I loved; or when I did not love the men, my love was the greater to their books. I had read them and lived with them; for months they were continually in my thoughts; I seemed to rejoice in their joys and to sorrow with them in their griefs; and behold, when I came to write of them, my tone was sometimes hardly courteous and seldom wholly just.
R. L. S.
I. VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES II. SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS III. WALT WHITMAN IV. HENRY DAVID THOREAU: HIS CHARACTER AND OPINIONS V. YOSHIDA-TORAJIRO VI. FRANCOIS VILLON, STUDENT, POET, AND HOUSE-BREAKER VII. CHARLES OF ORLEANS VIII. SAMUEL PEPYS IX. JOHN KNOX AND WOMEN
CHAPTER I - VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES
Apres le roman pittoresque mais prosaique de Walter Scott il lestera un autre roman a creer, plus beau et plus complet encore selon nous. C'est le roman, a la fois drame et epopee, pittoresque mais poetique, reel mais ideal, vrai mais grand, qui enchassera Walter Scott dans Homere. - Victor Hugo on QUENTIN DURWARD.
VICTOR HUGO'S romances occupy an important position in the history of literature; many innovations, timidly made elsewhere, have in them been carried boldly out to their last consequences; much that was indefinite in literary tendencies has attained to definite maturity; many things have come to a point and been distinguished one from the other; and it is only in the last romance of all, QUATRE VINGT TREIZE, that this culmination is most perfect. This is in the nature of things. Men who are in any way typical of a stage of progress may be compared more justly to the hand upon the dial of the clock, which continues to advance as it indicates, than to the stationary milestone, which is only the measure of what is past. The movement is not arrested. That significant something by which the work of such a man differs from that of his predecessors, goes on disengaging itself and becoming more and more articulate and cognisable. The same principle of growth that carried his first book beyond the books of previous writers, carries his last book beyond his first. And just as the most imbecile production of any literary age gives us sometimes the very clue to comprehension we have sought long and vainly in contemporary masterpieces, so it may be the very weakest of an author's books that, coming in the sequel of many others, enables us at last to get hold of what underlies the whole of them - of that spinal marrow of significance that unites the work of his life into something organic and rational. This is what has been done by QUATRE VINGT TREIZE for the earlier romances of Victor Hugo, and, through them, for a whole division of modern literature. We have here the legitimate continuation of a long and living literary tradition; and hence, so far, its explanation. When many lines diverge from each other in direction so slightly as to confuse the eye, we know that we have only to produce them to make the chaos plain: this is continually so in literary history; and we shall best understand the importance of Victor Hugo's romances if we think of them as some such prolongation of one of the main lines of literary tendency.
When we compare the novels of Walter Scott with those of the man of genius who preceded him, and whom he delighted to honour as a master in the art - I mean Henry Fielding - we shall be somewhat puzzled, at the first moment, to state the difference that there is between these two. Fielding has as much human science; has a far firmer hold upon the tiller of his story; has a keen sense of character, which he draws (and Scott often does so too) in a rather abstract and academical manner; and finally, is quite as humorous and quite as good- humoured as the great Scotchman.