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William M. Thackeray
by [?]

But finally the author of “Jane Eyre” found the combination, and she saw that beneath the brusk exterior of that bulky form there was a woman’s tender sympathy.

Thackeray has told us what he thought of the author of “Jane Eyre,” and the author of “Jane Eyre” has told us what she thought of the author of “Vanity Fair.” One was big and whimsical, the other was little and sincere, but both were alike in this: their hearts were wrung at the sight of suffering, and both had tears for the erring, the groping, and the oppressed.

A Frenchman can not comprehend a joke that is not accompanied by grimace and gesticulation; and so M. Taine chases Thackeray through sixty solid pages, berating him for what he is pleased to term “bottled hate.”

Taine is a cynic who charges Thackeray with cynicism, all in the choicest of biting phrase. It is a beautiful example of sinners calling the righteous to repentance–a thing that is often done, but seldom with artistic finish.

The fun is too deep for Monsieur, or mayhap the brand is not the yellow label to which his palate is accustomed, so he spews it all. Yet Taine’s criticism is charming reading, although he is only hot after an aniseed trail of his own dragging. But the chase is a deal more exciting than most men would lead, were there real live game to capture.

If pushed, I might suggest several points in this man’s make-up where God could have bettered His work. But accepting Thackeray as we find him, we see a singer whose cage Fate had overhung with black until he had caught the tune. The “Ballad of Boullabaisse” shows a tender side of his spirit that he often sought to conceal. His heart vibrated to all finer thrills of mercy; and his love for all created things was so delicately strung that he would, in childish shame, sometimes issue a growl to drown its rising, tearful tones.

In the character of Becky Sharp, he has marshaled some of his own weak points and then lashed them with scorn. He looked into the mirror and seeing a potential snob he straightway inveighed against snobbery. The punishment does not always fit the crime–it is excess. But I still contest that where his ridicule is most severe, it is Thackeray’s own back that is bared to the knout.

The primal recipe for roguery in art is, “Know Thyself.” When a writer portrays a villain and does it well–make no mistake, he poses for the character himself. Said gentle Ralph Waldo Emerson, “I have capacity in me for every crime.”

The man of imagination knows those mystic spores of possibility that lie dormant, and like the magicians of the East who grow mango-trees in an hour, he develops the “inward potential” at will. The mere artisan in letters goes forth and finds a villain and then describes him, but the artist knows a better way: “I am that man.”

One of the very sweetest, gentlest characters in literature is Colonel Newcome. The stepfather of Thackeray, Major Carmichael Smyth, was made to stand for the portrait of the lovable Colonel; and when that all-round athlete, F. Hopkinson Smith, gave us that other lovable old Colonel he paid high tribute to “The Newcomes.”

Thackeray was a poet, and as such was often caught in the toils of doubt–the crux of the inquiring spirit. He aspired for better things, and at times his imperfections stood out before him in monstrous shape, and he sought to hiss them down.

In the heart of the artist-poet there is an Inmost Self that sits over against the acting, breathing man and passes judgment on his every deed. To satisfy the world is little; to please the populace is naught; fame is vapor; gold is dross; and every love that has not the sanction of that Inmost Self is a viper’s sting. To satisfy the demands of the God within is the poet’s prayer.

What doubts beset, what taunting fears surround, what crouching sorrows lie in wait, what dead hopes drag, what hot desires pursue, and what kindly lights do beckon on–ah! “’tis we musicians know.”

Thackeray came to America to get a pot of money, and was in a fair way of securing it, when he chanced to pick up a paper in which a steamer was announced to sail that evening for England. A wave of homesickness swept over the big boy–he could not stand it. He hastily packed up his effects and without saying good-by to any one, and forgetting all his engagements, he hastened to the dock, leaving this note for the kindest of kind friends: “Good-by, Fields; good-by, Mrs. Fields–God bless everybody, says W.M.T.”