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THE WORKS OF MRS. GASKELL.*
"QUAND une lecture vous êlève l'esprit, et qu'elle vous inspire des sentiments nobles et courageux, ne cherchez pas une autre règle pour juger de l'ouvrage; il est bon, et fait de main d'ouvrier." This dictum of Jean de la Bruyère is peculiarly applicable to the works of Mrs. Gaskell, whose too brief literary career was closed by death early in the past year. It is hardly possible to read a page of her writing without getting some good from it. The style is clear and forcible, the tone pure, the matter wholesome. Under her guidance we are always taken into cleanly company, and
1. Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life.
2. North and South.
4. The Grey Woman, and other Stories. 5. Round the Sofa.
Old Series Compiete in 63 vois.
need never feel ashamed to say where we have been a comfortable consciousness that does not remain with us after the perusal of certain younger authors, who yet set up for moralists. She is never afraid of degrading her subject by homely details, and on whatever she touches she leaves the artist - mark of reality. Other novel - writers of her generation have more poetry, more scholarship, more grace, eloquence and passion, but in the art of telling a story she has no superior -perhaps no equal.
It is nineteen years since Mrs. Gaskell made her first essay in fiction in "MARY BARTON," a tale of Manchester Life, which but yesterday was adapted to the stage under the name of the "Long Strike,"a remarkable testimony to its abiding popularity. Novels have been styled Week-day Sermons, novelists Week-day Preachers, and in more than one of her stories, Mrs. Gaskell takes up the parable of Dives and Lazarus with the avowed object of telling one half the world how the other half lives, that knowledge may breed sympathy, and sympathy bring about redress for those sufferings
which arise from ignorance, misconception or wilful wrong. She by no means thinks it her mission simply to amuse. For motto to "MARY BARTON" she takes these words of Carlysle: "How knowest thou,' may the distressed Novel-wright exclaim, that I, here where I sit, am the foolishest of existing mortals; that this my Longear of a fictitious Biography shall not find one and the other, into whose still longer ears it may be the means, under Providence, of instilling somewhat?' We answer, None knows, none can certainly know: therefore, write on, worthy Brother, even as thou canst, even as it is given thee."" Thus encou raged Mrs. Gaskell does write on, and does instill somewhat, well worth hearing and laying to heart; and that her words, and others like them, have been laid to heart, and have brought forth the fruit of good deed, witness the universal charity that prevailed during the recent cotton famine, and contrast it with the angry distrust that existed between rich and poor during the calamitous years of 184647-48 when she first began to teach and to preach.
"Words are things; and a small drop of ink, Falling, like dew, upon a thought, produces That which make thousands, perhaps millions, think."
Those were days of great trouble and upsetting both in the social and the political world. In Ireland there was famine and rebellion; in France there was revolution, out of which rose the Second Empire; in England there was commercial distress, such as always bears inost heavily on the multitudes whose daily labor is their daily bread. In the preface of the cheap edition of "MARY BARTON" Mrs. Gaskell tells us how, living in Manchester, she learned to feel a deep sympathy with the care-worn men thronging its busy streets, who looked as if doomed to struggle through their lives in strange alternations of work and want, tossed to and fro by circumstances, apparently in even a greater degree than other men ; she tells us how this sympathy opened to her the hearts of one or two of the more thoughtful amongst them; how she saw that they were sore and irritable against the prosperous, especially against the masters whose fortunes they had helped to build up; and how they were possess
ed of a strong belief that the privations and miseries that they suffered were the result of the injustice and hardness of the rich, the even tenor of whose seeming happy lives appeared to increase the anguish caused by the lottery-like nature of their own. She saw the thoroughness of this belief manifested from time to time in acts of deadly revenge; and the consequences were so cruel to all parties, that the more she reflected on them the more anxious she became to give utterance to the dumb agony of the people, and to disabuse them of their bitter misapprehensions; for they seemed to her to be left in a state wherein lamentation and tears were put aside as useless, but in which the lips were compressed for curses, and the hand clenched and ready to smite.
Mrs. Gaskell's vocation was that of a peacemaker. She compels us to feel not how different men are, but how much they are alike when the accidents of wealth and poverty are put by. She utters her voice often through tears, but always to a most wise and Christian purpose, and throughout "MARY BARTON" her cry is for Patience with the Poor. The discussions she strove to pacify, the difficulties she strove to smooth, are cropping up again in these days with quite another light upon them, and it is not always easy to get at her original point of view, but when we do get at it, we see that it was the just point for that time, whatever modifications and changes twenty years may have wrought in the respective positions of masters and men. The literary merits of the story are great, but the moral of it, the deep, direct, earnest intention that underlies the story, which has performed its mission and become out of date, is its most forcible part.
The conversion of the masters is accomplished now. Their power is effectually circumscribed by public opinion and public government; their consciences are better informed than they were half a century ago, and few rich men would care to assert at this hour an absolute right to do what they like with their own. The individual artisan also is wiser, abler, more willing to see straight than his fathers were; but bodies of artisans banded in trades' unions are what they always
were-parts of a machine without heart, without brain, without conscience. Terrible trade outrages, the perpetrators of which remain undiscovered, still occur at intervals, startling the nation with a revival of the worst symptoms of a treacherous old disease, and almost justifying the belief of the unaffiliated, that it is radical in the constitution of these societies.
Such an outrage is one of the leading events in the story of "MARY BARTON." The plot is woven on the back-ground of a long strike, Mary, her father, and her two lovers being the most prominent actors in it. John Barton is a busy member of his union, a man not naturally harsh or bitter, but one whose sufferings have turned the milk of human kindness in his heart to gall. His mother had died of want, his little lad had "clemmed to dead" before his eyes. Hating factory work for women, he had 'prenticed his dear little Mary to a dressmaker, and she grew up so bonny, blithe, and attractive that she not only engaged the affections of Jem Wilson, a suitor in her own rank of life, but also drew on herself the less honorable admiration of young Mr. Carson, the son of a wealthy cotton spinner. She let her fancy run on the notion of being a lady, and discour ages Jem, though she does not love his rival, and while matters stand in this position comes the crisis of the story-the murder of young Carson in fulfilment of a unionist oath of vengeance against the masters, and the arrest of Jem Wilson for the crime. The circumstances that immediately preceded its commission we will quote. The first scene is a meeting of masters, and delegates from the men, with a view to putting an end to the strike which was ruining both.
"The door was opened, and the waiter announced that the men were below, and asked if it were the pleasure of the gentlemen that they should be shown up. They assented, and rapidly took their places round the official table. Tramp, tramp, came the heavy clogged feet up the stairs, and in a minute five wild, earnest-looking men stood in the room. Had they been larger-boned men you would have called them gaunt; as it was, they were little of stature, and their fustian clothes hung loosely on their shrunk limbs. In choosing their delegates, the operatives had more regard to their brains and power of
speech than their wardrobes. It was long since many of them had known the luxury of a new article of dress; and the air-gaps were to be seen in their garments. Some of the masters were rather affronted at such a ragged detachment coming between the wind and their nobility; but what cared they?
"At the request of a gentleman hastily chosen to officiate as chairman, the leader of the delegates read, in a high-pitched, psalmsinging voice, a paper containing the operatives' statement of the case at issue, their complaints and demands, which last were not remarkable for moderation. He was then de
sired to withdraw for a few minutes, with his fellow-delegates, to another room, while the masters considered what should be their definitive answer. The masters would not consent to the advance demanded by the workmen. They would agree to give one shilling per week more than they had previously offered-the delegates positively declined any compromise of their demands.
"Then up sprang Mr. Henry Carson, the head and voice of the violent party amongst the masters, and addressing the chairman, even before the scowling operatives, he proposed some resolutions-firstly, declaring all communication between the masters and that particular trades' union at an end; secondly, declaring that no master should employ any workman in future, unless he signed a declaration that he did not belong to any trades' stood listening with lowering brows of defiunion. Considering that the men who now
ance, were all of them leading members of the union, such resolutions were in themselves sufficiently provocative of animosity; but not content with simply stating them, Harry Carson went on to characterize the conduct of the workmen in no measured looks more livid, their glaring eyes more terms, every word he spoke rendering their fierce.
"Now there had been some by-play at this meeting. While the men had stood grouped near the door, on their first entrance, Mr. Harry Carson had taken out his silver pencil, and had drawn an admirable caricature of them-lank, ragged, dispirited and faminestricken. Underneath he wrote a hasty quotation from the fat knight's well-known speech in Henry IV. He passed it to one of his neighors, who acknowledged the likeness instantly, and by him it was sent round to the others, who all smiled and nodded their heads. This proceeding was closely observed by one of the men. He watched the masters as they left the hotel (laughing, some of them were), and when all had gone, he went to the waiter, who recognized him-There's a bit on a picture up yonder, as one of the gentlemen threw away; I've a little lad at home as dearly loves a picture; by your leave I'll go up for it.'"
Having obtained possession of the caricature he produces it the same evening in an assembly of working-men-like himself out of work-John Barton being amongst them.
"The heads clustered together to gaze at and detect the likenesses.
"That's John Slater! I'd ha' known him anywhere by his big nose. Lord! how like; that's me, by God, it's the very way I'm obligated to pin my waistcoat up, to hide that I've gotten no shirt. That is a shame, and I'll not stand it!'
"Well!' said John Slater, after having acknowledged his nose and his likeness; "I could laugh at a jest as well as e'er the best on 'em, though it did tell agen mysel', if I were not clemming, and if I could keep from thinking of them at home, as is clemming,' (his eyes filled with tears; he was a poor, pinched, sharp-featured man, with a gentle and melancholy expression of countenance); 'but with their cries for food ringing in my ears, and making me afeard of going home, and wonder if I should hear 'em wailing out if I lay cold and drowned at th' bottom of th' canal, there-why, man, I cannot laugh at aught. It seems to make me sad that there is any as can make game on what they never knowed; as can make such laughable pictures on men whose very hearts within 'em are so raw and sore as ours were and are, God help us.'
"John Barton began to speak; they turned to him with great attention. 'It makes me more than sad, it makes my heart burn within
me, to see that folks can make a jest of starving men; of chaps who comed to ask for a bit o fire for th' old granny as shivers i' th' cold; for victuals for the childer whose little voices are getting too weak to cry aloud wi' hunger. I have seen a father who had killed his child rather than let it clem before his eyes; and he were a tender-hearted man!'"'
Brooding and talking over this wound to their self-love kindles their vindictive passions. Barton suggests that instead of beating poor "knobsticks," or blinding them with vitriol, they should "have at" the masters-set him to serve out the masters and see if he will stick at aught.
"And so with words, or looks that told more than words, they built up a deadly plan. Deeper and darker grew the import of their speeches, as they stood hoarsely muttering their meaning, and glaring with eyes that told the terror their own thoughts were to them, upon their neighbors. Their clenched fists, their set teeth, their livid looks, all told the sufferings which their minds were voluntarily undergoing in the contemplation of crime,
and in familiarizing themselves with its details.
"Then came one of those fierce, terrible oaths which bind members of trades' unions
to any given purpose. Then under the flaring
gaslight they met together to consult further. With the distrust of guilt each was suspicious of his neighbor, each dreaded the treachery of another. A number of pieces of paper (the identical letter on which the caricature had been drawn that very morning) were torn up, and one was marked. Then all were folded up again, looking exactly alike. They were shuffled together in a hat. The gas was extinguished; each drew out a paper. gas was re-lighted. Then each went as far as he could from his fellows, and examined the paper he had drawn without a word, and with a countenance as stony and immoveable as he could make it.
"Then, rigidly silent, they each took up their hats and went every one his own way. He who had drawn the marked paper had drawn the lot of the assassin! and he had sworn to act according to his drawing. But no one, save God and his own conscience, knew who was the appointed murderer."
Harry Carson is the victim selected; and the evening but one after the swearing of the secret oath, he is shot dead on his way home. At this crisis the dramatic interest of the story quite runs away with its morality. Jem Wilson falsely accused of the murder and brought to trial, gets a safe deliverance in one of the finest scenes in the book, but the real criminal goes unpunished of human justice, the wickedness of his act is dissimulated, and the law is mocked. That such crimes, done in the supposed interest of communities, occasionally evade discovery, is a fact too patent to be denied, but in a work of fiction, written ⚫ for a great purpose, where points are strained here and strained there, to fit immaginary circumstances, we would rather this point had been strained also, and that the murderer of Harry Carson had expiated his crime upon the gallows, a warning and example to others, tempted and tried as he was tempted and tried, at whatever cost of feeling to writers and readers. The book, as we have said, still enjoys a wide popularity, and as we have allowed to it the credit of having wrought true sympathy for the poor in the hearts of their richer neighbors, we venture also to express a fear that it may have wrought real mischief in the