Зображення сторінки

truth is that the temperaments of the two men and their methods as artists are more like than those of any two men of anything like equal genius. Both loved life in all its manifestations, loved adventure, oddity, humour, goodness. Each was a fighter and a patriot. Scott was as proud of his volunteering—all the fighting that his lameness allowed him to do—as Cervantes of Lepanto or Aeschylus of Marathon. But these, we suspect or know, are the only sort of adventures they cared about. For the adventures of the spirit they seem to have had little taste. We cannot imagine either of them to have had in him a Hamlet or a Romeo. They admired the lovers and the heroes and the saints but for themselves they liked the middle way of good sense and kindliness, orthodoxy and prosperity. Both were men who took life in the main as they found it, used it, enjoyed it, went through it laughing and talking, loving and winning love every day of their lives, serving themselves and others in their generation, doing the work that came to their hands generously, valiantly and well. One cannot fancy either of them turning aside to interest himself in problems of pure speculation, least of all in such speculations as might turn the world upside down. Both are utterly unlike the sort of temperament exhibited in Tolstoy's life and Dostoievsky's novels. Theirs is the way of acceptance, not the way of revolt: neither of them would have felt at all inclined to quit the familiar paths of life for any dreamland whether of Plato or of St. Francis or of Rousseau. The visions of the first two they would have thought partly beautiful, but also partly impracticable, and therefore false : in the third, the equal barbarism of Rousseau, they would have seen neither beauty nor truth. Only, I take it, Cervantes had more of the idealist than Scott. Only one who understood something of the idealist temper could have created such a figure as Don Quixote, one side of whom is only to be perfectly understood by the saints.

Cervantes and Scott are also very close to each other in their methods as artists. Not the self-torturing search after perfection of a Flaubert ? or a Henry James, not the delicate and unerring felicity of a Jane Austen, but a large and easy exuberance, moving like a great river, and like a great river sometimes overflowing its banks and out of its very exuberance producing lifeless floods and fat marshes. Both broke rules and wrote carelessly : each could half accidentally write as noble a prose as the world has seen. There are details of resemblance too. How those prefaces of Cervantes show the way to the mystifications which Scott loved! The supposed Cid Hamete Benengeli and his translator are just what Jedediah Cleishbotham and the rest are : pleasant phantoms enabling the author to talk innocently about his own books and to exhibit that final mark of humour, the gift of laughing at oneself. Nothing, for instance, could be more exactly in the vein which Scott loved than the opening of Chapter XXIV of the Second Part in which the supposed Spanish translator of the supposed Cid Hamete Benegeli apologizes for inserting such extravagances as Don Quixote's account of his adventures in the Cave, and leaves the reader to decide between the improbability of the story and the equal improbability that Don Quixote, 'a knight of the most worth of any of his time,' should have allowed himself to depart from the truth.

There are also differences to be noted. Heine 2 has spoken of the superiority of Cervantes to Scott in his greater possession of the epic spirit. He suggests that Cervantes may have owed that great 'epic peace of the soul which floats like a heaven of crystal over all his gay pictures of life’ to the serenely assured outlook which he owed to his Catholicism, and which was inevitably lacking in Scott who belonged to a race which has long made religion a matter of argument and dispute. There is, I think, some truth in this : though Scott seldom gives the impression of being much ruffled by the disputes he describes : and he was, I should fancy, at least as happy a man as Cervantes. A more indisputable difference between the two is the extent of their creative range, There is no doubt of the greatness of Scott's creations. But the remarkable thing about them is less the single greatness of any one than their astonishing numbers and variety. Cervantes, on the other hand, lives mainly by two figures. But each is absolutely supreme in its kind. The whole range of fiction knows no such gentleman as Don Quixote, no such servant as Sancho Panza.

1 And yet for all the unlikeness of his method Flaubert, like Scott, was from childhood a passionate lover of Don Quixote. We find him writing (Correspondance, II, 148): 'ce qu'il y a de prodigieux dans Don Quichotte c'est l'absence d'art, et cette perpétuelle fusion de l'illusion et de la réalité qui en fait un livre si comique et si poétique. Quels nains que tous les autres à côté ! Comme on se sent petit, mon Dieu !'

2 I have to thank Mr. Hewitt of Nottingham University for drawing my attention to Heine's essay, which is to be found in Vol. XII of his works.

I have not said much of Sancho, and yet it is quite possible that Scott cared at least as much for the man as for the master. And Cervantes himself makes the priest say: 'the madness of the master would not be worth a farthing without the follies of the man'. So too Don Quixote, when discussing the First Part of the history, says that 'the most difficult character in comedy is that of the fool and he must be no simpleton who plays that part ’. Certainly it was no simpleton who created Sancho. Observe the skill of the central conception. Sancho would not have been half so delightful as he is if he had either wholly believed or wholly disbelieved in Don Quixote. As it is, he wholly disbelieves where the things asserted are things that belong to his own world : he knows that the basin is not a helmet nor Dulcinea a princess. But he is simple enough where his interest unites with his ignorance, as in the affair of the island. And one hardly knows whether his ignorance and simplicity are less necessary to the story than

his shrewdness and commonsense. The torrent of his proverbs, against which Don Quixote is always protesting, may be said to belong to both. It is no rare, subtle or learned view of life that they represent, it is the view taken by the plain man. And no novel which leaves that out will achieve immortality. For the business of the novel is that ancient holding the mirror up to life ; a magnifying mirror, no doubt, as Flaubert said, but still a mirror. Even books that are not novels need something of that. We cannot keep long away from the life that we know. It is the limitation of some of the greatest writers in the world—Marcus Aurelius, for instance, and still more the author of The Imitation—that they keep us too continuously and too far away. We need them and their like : we need to be stimulated, strengthened, chastened, purified, by them. But we cannot live permanently in an atmosphere so inhumanly rarified. We feel that this bodily life of ours is and ought to be a more genial and enjoyable thing than such writers either depict or desire : and we turn again to Homer and Shakespeare and Scott and Cervantes, where our own life, as we know it, is touched to a greater happiness, beauty, and goodness, not denied or destroyed.

That seems to me the defect of the novelist who is perhaps the greatest of the moderns-Dostoievsky. No novelist, I suppose, has ever given the life of the spirit as he gives it : and the Brothers Karamasov may in that way have some claim to be the greatest novel in the world. None that I know gives us so visible a presence of the divine in human life. But human life is not all divine and we are not all spirit. Can we be satisfied by a picture of life which gives us the two extremes, those of the spirituality of the spirit and of the brutality of the body, but very little of the human harmony of body, mind and soul, of happiness, good sense and good conduct, which Greece and Rome taught to the Western nations and which the Western Church itself has

[ocr errors]

not altogether disdained or repudiated ? It was a Catholic writer, who lived much in Russia, who said : recherchons tout ce qui peut donner de la grâce, de la gaieté, du bonheur dans la vie. . . . La gaieté clarifie l'esprit, surtout la gaieté littéraire.' After all, we of the West are not Orientals and have no wish to be : and we cannot be perfectly content with a book which has in it so little of the natural man and seems to alternate between the violence of virtue and the violence of vice. We cannot but ask for a little more of the golden middle, some of the natural man's innocent gaiety and content with his lot as it has come to him : even for some pleasures of the mind to be set by the side of all this fierceness of the soul and body. And so we turn back from it to Molière or Dickens or Don Quixote : or even, as I myself actually did when I laid the book down, to the intellectual delights of the autobiography of Gibbon. From Dostoievsky to Gibbon is a very long journey, but when the spirit of reaction seizes us we must expect long journeys. Only with the true classics reaction has nothing to do. It is extravagance, eccentricity, violence, that provoke reaction, and they are just the things which the classics avoid. The note of the classic is centrality and sanity. Homer, Sophocles, Horace, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Molière, Scott: none of these were cranky men. If the Slav wishes to be of their company he must learn to add some geniality and commonsense to his heights and depths, to be healthier and more Catholic in his savour of life.

1 That, at any rate, is the point of view from which I have been trying to present Cervantes to you. It is as a classical masterpiece that I have spoken of Don Quixote. The aspects of the book to which I have chiefly aimed at drawing attention are its relations to life and to its fellow-classics. It is those relations-relations both of substance and form

1 This conclusion of the lecture was added when I delivered it before a meeting of the English Association at Nottingham in 1922.

« НазадПродовжити »