Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

studies form and goes by 'the book' is almost certainly a highbrow to the man who bets according to the tips given in the Turf Companion and Family Messenger. And the man who gets special information from the stable is probably a highbrow to the man who has nothing to guide him but the book of form. Again, the man who backed Ruddyglow because, on the way to the bookmaker's, he met a friend with a red nose may justly be looked up to, or down on, as a highbrow by the man who backed Ruddyglow only because he picked it out with a pin.

And, no doubt, if we pursue our researches carefully, we shall find much the same sort of thing in nearly every department of life. We may be sure that there is a highbrowism of the table, for instance. The man who can eat pâté de foie gras by the pound and talk about it by the hour is a highbrow to the man who regards smoked salmon as the greatest delicacy on earth. The man who swallows oysters like pills is a highbrow to the man who chews them for the sake of their exquisite foreshore flavor. I do not know whether it is more highbrow to take thick or clear soup; but, when we reach the fish course, it will be generally agreed that it would be a very lowbrow thing to ask for grilled herrings. Cod, hake, whiting, and haddock may also be reckoned as distinctly lowbrow fish. Among the meat dishes the distinction is equally clear, though there are, perhaps, a greater number of meat dishes that are what the Americans call, in a barbarous word, 'mezzobrow.' Among these may be mentioned mutton, beef, poulet rôti (as opposed to chicken cooked at home), ham, and calves' liver. Purely lowbrow dishes are sausages, black puddings, tripe and onions, rabbit, rissoles, croquettes, and minced veal.

And, if you are a highbrow, it will be

shown in your choice of vegetables as clearly as in your choice of meats. It is impossible to remain a highbrow, in my opinion, if you have a real liking for boiled cabbage and give in to it. Nor will you ever find a genuine highbrow eating parsnips or mashed turnips or bubble-and-squeak except out of courtesy and goodness of heart. I once knew a man who was so great a highbrow that he could not even endure potatoes. On the other hand, it is the mark of the lowbrow not to love broad beans, or young peas, or spinach properly cooked. Then there are two opposing schools of highbrows, one of which maintains that the onion is the prince of vegetables and the other of which holds that it is the vilest vegetable so far created. For the benefit of cooks and hostesses, someone should make out lists of highbrow and lowbrow vegetables, set forth in parallel columns. One may suggest as the basis of such lists: HIGHBROW Onion (?) Young Peas Asparagus Mushrooms Globe Artichoke French Beans Cos Lettuce Celery Spinach Sprouting Broccoli Brussels Sprouts (well cooked) Radishes

LOWBROW Onion (?) Tinned Peas

Sea Kale
Cabbage

Jerusalem Artichoke Scarlet Runners

Cabbage Lettuce

Vegetable Marrow

Leeks Carrots

Brussels Sprouts (cooked anyhow) Beetroot

We could make similar lists of the sweets, setting such exceedingly lowbrow dishes as blancmange, tapioca, and golden-syrup pudding opposite such highbrow delicacies as-what? I hesitate when I come to this part of the meal, for I am not sure that I care enough to be a good judge in such matters. I must consult my nieces on the point. Among the drinks the choice is not so difficult. If there is a more lowbrow drink than the last flagon of

Australian Burgundy I bought, I have yet to discover it. Among the upper ranges of the true, the blushful Burgundy, on the other hand, we breathe a pure highbrow air the whole time. And the same is true of claret. On champagne the opinions of experts differ. But whiskey, save for one particular brand now no longer obtain able, cannot be rated higher than a good sound mezzo-brow drink. There are some men who would put beer among the highbrow liquors, if drunk out of a tankard. But this strikes me as perverse.

When we leave foods and drinks, and come to games, we find that the man who plays Association football regards the man who plays Rugby football as a highbrow. Golf, again, is a highbrow game compared to hopscotch, tipcat, and show-your-light. Shovehalfpenny is the perfect example of a lowbrow game. Chess is a highbrow game, dominoes a lowbrow. But even the dominoes-player seems a highbrow to the player of snap, animal grab, and tiddlywinks.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

that the person to whom you are talking does not enjoy and that he does not believe that you in your heart of hearts enjoy either. But perhaps that is not a sufficient definition. There is also the highbrow who enjoys not enjoying things. The lowbrow is a person who often believes that a bad book is good; the highbrow is a person who as often believes that a good book is bad. At least it is one of the leading amusements of the highbrow to believe that the public consists for the most part of fools and that its tastes are deplorable. The highbrows seem in their attitude to be thanking God that they are not lowbrows, and the lowbrows are much given to thanking God that they are not highbrows. Alas, poor lowbrows! They, too, are probably looked on as mighty highbrows by some honest man who never read a book in his life. Even if you read only penny dreadfuls you are a highbrow to an illiterate savage. Hence we may conclude that the Latin proverb is true which says: Quot homines, tot alta frontes. It is, perhaps, the saddest thing that has ever been said about the human race. The question remains, of course, whether, in a world in which everybody is a highbrow, anybody is a highbrow. I am inclined to think that this is possible. In any case, 'highbrow' is an almost necessary word to civilized men and women for purposes of sneering.

SMOLLETT1

BY J. C. SQUIRE

THE world is suddenly being flooded with Smollett. He deserves it, but the publishers are certainly enterprising. Of all our classic novelists he, with the possible exception of Richardson, is the least read. To the best of my belief, the last collected edition went into remainders; at any rate, somebody gave it to me for a wedding-present.

Is it that the Scots have forgotten that he was a Scotsman? They do not ordinarily neglect their great men, nor deem it a reproach to any of them that he should have left Scotland young in order to conquer lesser breeds without the kilt. Tobias Smollett was born in Dumbartonshire in 1721, was apprenticed to a surgeon-apothecary in Glasgow, and then, at eighteen, migrated to London with little but a tragedy in his pocket. Nobody would produce The Regicide. This led Smollett to cherish a grudge against Garrick, and against Lord Lyttelton, kindest of men but quite unable to use his influence on behalf of so poor a play. The result of the disappointment was that H. M. S. Cumberland sailed off to join the Carthagena expedition with a surgeon of nineteen on its books.

In the West Indies Smollett met and married a Creole girl, Miss Anne Lascelles. In 1744, having gathered material for some of the most vivid nautical chapters in English, he returned to London, left the navy, and set up as a surgeon in Downing Street. His first novel, Roderick Random, was

1 From the Observer (London Moderate Sunday paper), December 18

published in 1748; Peregrine Pickle appeared in 1751; and next year Smollett began to practise in Bath. He appears not to have succeeded. As Mr. Rice-Oxley remarks, 'His bedside manner was probably more of a bunkside manner, redolent of the ungentle methods obtaining in His Majesty's Navy.' The last eight years of his life were crowded with work. Ferdinand Count Fathom, Launcelot Greaves, and The Adventures of an Atom were added to the list of his works of fiction. He published-it is uncertain whether he knew Spanish-a translation of Don Quixote and that History of England which is commonly found, usually on barrows, in combination with Hume's; he edited and partly wrote a Compendium of Voyages in seven volumes; he composed a farce which Garrick produced with success; he directed several periodicals, literary or political; he began a complete translation of Voltaire, and compiled a work of a statistical nature in eight volumes, entitled, very comprehensively, The Present State of All Nations. When excessive work and grief for his daughter's death compelled him to take a holiday abroad the holiday resulted in a book, Travels through France and Italy. He left England finally in 1769, settled at Leghorn, and died in September 1771, a few months after the publication of his last book, Humphrey Clinker.

It has been observed by Mr. Saintsbury and others that there are parallelisms between the lives, and our

knowledge of the lives, of Fielding and also both in moral and in æsthetic Smollett:

Both were men of good family, who experienced but little of the good fortune which in the eighteenth century family connections still, as a rule, brought with them. Both married for love wives of beauty and fortune, of whom we have hardly the faintest personal details. Neither has left any body of letters, though Smollett's are not quite so rare as Fielding's. Each has left a piece of autobiography describing the discomforts of travel, and the sufferings that attend the decline of life. In both cases though again rather less in Smollett's than in Fielding's the notices of contemporaries are scanty and uninforming. Both had learned professions which did them little good, though Law was, latterly at least, rather kinder to Fielding than Medicine ever was to Smollett. Both were driven to novel-writing by their genius, and to other literary or quasi-literary employments by want or died in want or accident. Both died in foreign countries, and at very nearly the same age, though Smollett was a little the older.

[ocr errors]

Yet these resemblances are superficial. In point of industry, versatility, and the quality of his realism, Smollett was closer to Defoe than to Fielding; in the evening mellowness, the gentle comedy of Humphrey Clinker, and the nature of his hack-work he comes closer to Goldsmith. We may think of Fielding when we are reading Smollett's life, but not when we are reading his books. His gifts were not as great as Fielding's, nor his character as attractive. Even in his best books the reader is frequently pulled up by the reflection, 'I do not like this man.' The brutality of his lampoons equals that of Charles Churchill's, and is much more colored than Churchill's (Churchill was a journalistic bravo, thumping people for hire, and because he liked it) by the malignant resentfulness of an exaggerated egoism. Smollett was an ill-tempered man and an habitual grumbler. He was deficient

sensibility. Tom Jones, for all his crudity, never entirely loses our sympathies; Roderick Random scarcely ever succeeds in winning them; and the difference, very conspicuous when the two adventurous young cubs are misconducting themselves, marks the difference between the kindliness, the urbanity, the tolerance, the civilization, of Fielding, and the coarseness, the vulgarity, the ungraciousness, of Smollett. Fielding could on occasion be crude enough to our taste - in his language, and the incidents he chose to depict. But even in Humphrey Clinker, the most restrained of Smollett's books, that in which his comedy became tender and his art elegant, there is one passage the filthiness of which makes one almost physically sick; a passage that Swift might almost have perpetrated in some rage of wounded sensitiveness, but which in Smollett is mere wanton wallowing.

Mr. Saintsbury suggests, and I presume could prove the assertion, that in point of grammar Smollett is superior to Fielding. But grammar is not grace. Smollett had none of that fine perception of style that flowers in Fielding's most felicitous narrative pages and, on the other hand, is attested in his burlesque plays and in those ironic and parodic introductions to chapters, any more than he was capable of the exquisite humanity that is manifest in the most pathetic pages of Amelia. He does occasionally surprise us by lapses into higher things, but in a general way he was a coarse man and a coarse, if easy and racy, writer no fit man for a Fielding to dine with, and not of his rank.

Yet at the head of the next rank. He is extraordinarily readable. His method is the picaresque. There is precious little plot. He begins with a hero's birth, ends with a hero's

marriage, and meanwhile conducts him through as many and varied scenes, largely Hogarthian, as he can, and introduces him to as many 'originals' as he can. If anybody turns up who can provide a sufficiently interesting digression, down the digression goes, however badly it may interrupt the main story. He is even alleged to have inserted one long irrelevant series of adventures because he was paid to do so by the lady who had really gone through them. The reader of Smollett does not mind; he is always racy and vivid, fertile of incident and broad character, free with the scenic brush, sure with the dialogue. Much of his work has been described as journalism, but very little has staled; both at sea and on land he provides us with pictures that for richness may fairly be compared with Hogarth's. It is significant that people can never agree as to how far the autobiographical element is present in his work. There is patently a good deal of it, especially in Roderick Random, where the hero has Smollett's own origin and upbringing, and goes to the West Indies as a surgeon's mate. But the mere lifelikeness of any description or any character never, in Smollett, is certain indication of an actual experience or person; and even the events recorded in those astonishing and terrible chapters about the Old Navy may mostly be typical rather than literally transcribed; he had the imagination for it.

The qualities that give him his stature may well be indicated by a mere mention of the two novelists whom he admittedly most influenced. They are Dickens and Marryat. Pickwick would not have been written as it is, or perhaps at all, had it not been for Smollett; and the Marryat both of Midshipman Easy and of Peter Simple was profoundly in his debt. Not only does Marryat's general conduct of his stories

derive from Smollett, not only does he get from him the conformation of his comic characters, his Chuckses and so forth, but even in detail of style and approach he is influenced. Take the beginning of Peregrine Pickle:

In a certain county of England, bounded on one side by the sea, and at a distance of one hundred miles from the metropolis, lived Gamaliel Pickle, Esq., the father of the hero whose adventures we purpose to record. He was the son of a merchant in London, who, like Rome, from small beginnings, had raised himself to the highest honors of the city, and acquired a plentiful fortune, though, to his infinite regret, he died before it amounted to a plum, conjuring his son, as he respected the last injunction of a parent, to imitate his industry and adhere to his maxims, until he should have made up the deficiency, which was a sum considerably less than fifteen thousand pounds.

Does not one hear the very accents of that in the opening passage about Mr. Easy, though that be admittedly better and fortified by an infusion of ironic epigram from Voltaire?

Humphrey Clinker stands alone. Most generalizations about Smollett scarcely apply to it. It is the greatest and least characteristic of his books, a delicate book conducted with consummate and inconspicuous skill. Many readers have a prejudice against novels written in the form of letters, but no prejudice could survive the first few letters of this charming book, with its variety of amusing character, its agreeable sentiment, its fun, its light presentation of varied scenes, its easy progress to a conclusion. It may be that Pickle and Random, once read by every boy, may not again recover their old popularity. But Humphrey Clinker at least ought to be familiar to everybody who desires to know the best of English fiction, or even who, with no passion for knowledge, desires to read something that he cannot fail to enjoy.

« ForrigeFortsett »