31 OCTOBER 1908, Page 20


Ma. RYAN'S Queen Anne is as good a specimen as another of the sugared history which to-day is threatening the popu- larity of the novel. The subject, it is true, is hardly suitable to the prevailing method. Queen Anne had not many consorts, like Henry VIII.; she could not rival Elizabeth in boasting of her lovers ; and Mr. Ryan is unable to follow the common method of his colleagues who are never so happy as when they are involving the Throne in a mist of scandal. 'The good Queen Anne lived and died in the clearer air of - publicity. She did nothing of which she herself or her subjects might be ashamed, and if her career does not inspire admira- tion, it should not arouse curiosity. However, Mr. Ryan has made the most of his opportunity. He has atoned for the absence of scandal by a style of ecstasy, the splendour of which outstrips its accuracy. He sprinkles his pages liberally with "Ah!" and "Oh!" His favourite mark of punctuation is exclamatory. And he is most resolutely dramatic when his knowledge is at fault. "Well hopped, madam! . . . Mind that pool. . . . Egad, you're into it right up to your knees. . . . Ahem! ankles!" These words are put into the mouth of Dorset, and are a fair specimen of the wit and spirit of the new history.

If Queen Anne is not the best excuse for Mr. Ryan's decorative method, we always return to her reign with a certain pride. The greatness to which she herself could not attain was easily reached by her subjects. Hers was, indeed, an Augustan age, and in her own despite. She did nothing to encourage, probably she failed to appreciate, the masterpieces which still shed an accidental lustre on her name. For this she deserves no blame and no praise. Genius comes and goes as it lists, and Royal patronage can do no more than set a momentary fashion. Only two of our Kings have been (lesignea by Nature to be patrons of the arts,—Henry VIII. and Charles L And they won but small glory. Henry VIII. was painted by Holbein, and decapitated Thomas More. Charles L invited Vandyke to England, and looked in vain for poets to encourage. Elizabeth, whose opportunity was the greatest, recognised the men of letters who threw a lustre of glory upon her age as little as her chroniclers recognised them. The tastes and virtues of Victoria were in statecraft, not in literature, and it is honourable to her sense of duty that she avowed her admiration of Martin Tupper, and passed over the rise and fall of new schools in silence. After all, it is the business of Kings to reign. All else is accident, and for Anne it was a happy accident that gathered to her Court men of genius in arts and arms.

Mr. Ryan in his estimate of the Augustan literature seems to have followed too closely the judgment of Thackeray. His Swift is, consciously or unconsciously, Thackeray's Swift. "This great, this little man, this arch-egotist, so clear of vision, yet so blind to the beautiful." Where does this sketch come from if not from the English Humourists ? In fact it Las no warrant. Still worse is Mr. Ryan's estimate of his works. "The man was greater than his works," he says. " Those who spoke with him delighted in him; but what is Left that explains that magnetic power which captured the gentle and fastidious Addison " All is left. Few writers of English prose have so magnificently expressed themselves or their genius as Swift, whose invention equals his irony, and whose political beneficence and insight are obscured only for those who misunderstand the purpose and value of satire. But Addison is Mr. Ryan's hero, and it is not surprising, therefore, that he underrates Defoe as he underrates Swift. " Crusoe was the apotheosis of Defoe's genius," he says. "Its • Queen Anne mid her Court. By P. F. Willi= Ryan. I vols. London Nati/bin:ion and Co. [2ia. net.] sequel was a failure, and in his wilder literary debauches, like Moll Flanders and Colonel Jack, he touched a level to which such an intellectual aristocrat as Addison was incapable of descending." There is a confusion here, no doubt, between the writers and the subjects which they treated. If Addison would not descend to Moll Flanders and Colonel Jack, so he could not rise to them. They are as far beyond his scope as Hamlet or Paradise Lost. Let Mr. Ryan read Colonel Jack again, and ask himself whether the timid, polished author of the Spectator could have written a single paragraph of the opening chapters, from which, as a distinguished writer has said, the art of fiction could be reconstructed if every other novel were abolished from the earth.

We shall not understand the age of Anne unless we remember that in it were mixed strength and elegance, brutality and refinement. It was an age when Mohocks wore ruffles, when courtiers and poets did not disdain to brawl in the streets. In brief, it was the age of Pope, who pictured its triviality with an eloquent perfection in The Rape of the Lock, and who in The Dunciad proved himself a savage, undefeated Mohock of the pen. It was the age of so brilliant a political philosopher as Bolingbroke; of so amiable a wit as Arbuthnot; of so fine a master of prose as Steele; of Gay, who justified his name by a joyous life; of Congreve, the polished and austere ; of Ned Ward, the scurrilous dweller in Grub Street. We have been told that the age was frivolous and small. How, in the presence of these masters, shall we deny its grandeur ? Where, if we remember also the achievements of Isaac Newton, shall we find its compeer?

But if we must choose one man to symbolise the virtues and vices practised in the reign of Anne, our choice must assuredly be John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. He was a legacy from the Restoration, to which on one side of his character he belonged most intimately. But he lived to understand, and even to mould, another age, and in temper and wisdom he was a true Augustan. In him strength and elegance are happily blended. He was the very genius of war. His march of triumph knew no check. From him the gift of victory was never withheld. And what he took by his arras he held by his arts. He was the greatest exponent of the grand manner that ever smiled upon a Court. By his mere address he prevailed with the first King of Prussia to let his troops remain in the army of the Allies. He was "at least as able a negotiator," we have been told, "as a general," and, though "exceedingly ignorant of books, extremely knowing of men?? His character, as sketched by Chesterfield, is typical for good and evil of his time, and nothing will give us a better insight into him and into his contemporaries than this bitter- sweet panegyric :—

" The late Duke of Marlborough," writes Chesterfield, "studied the art of pleasing, because he well knew the importance of it : be enjoyed and used it more than ever man did. He gained whom- ever he had a mind to gain, because he knew that everybody was more or less worth gaining He had wound up and turned his whole machine to please and engage. He had an inimitable sweetness and gentleness in his countenance, a tenderness in his manner of speaking, a graceful dignity in every motion, and an universal and minute attention to the least things that could possibly please the least person. This was all art in him ; the art of which he well knew and enjoyed the advantages; for no man ever had more interior ambition, pride and avarice, than be had."

If the portrait be not amiable, it helps to explain why Marl- borough's period was called "artificial." But with all its faults upon it, it was a glorious age, and its Queen contributed nothing to its glory save her name.