22 APRIL 1882, Page 16

EDITIONS DE LUXE.—FIELDING- AND DICKENS.*: THESE volumes are what publishers

call " editions de lwce," the English tongue being, we suppose, inadequate to express the attractions of works so beautifully "got up." It is, perhaps, scarcely necessary to observe that both print and paper are of the rarest quality. The art of Mr. H. K. Browne is familiar to all readers of Dickens, and the clever illustrations of Mr. William Small, "printed on real china paper, and mounted on plate paper," are fairly creditable productions. It may be due to the prejudice arising from early associations, but we venture to think that George Cruikshank is a better interpreter of Fielding than Mr. Small, whose art, though it shows ability, and some- times great ability, lacks the spirit and the humour which are such distinctive characteristics of Fielding. The size and weight of these volumes do not, in our judgment, add to their attractive- ness. Dr. Johnson no doubt appreciated the value of a big book, when he knocked down his bookseller with a folio ; but it was Johnson who remarked, in that age of quartos, that the most useful books were those which a man could carry in his hand, or put into his pocket. We admit the charm of library editions and of tall copies, but a library edition of an English classic is by no means unmanageable. We can take an octavo volume in the hand, we can read it without requiring the sup- port of a table, we can place it in our portmanteau without the fear of paying excess for luggage. A handsomer edition of Charles Dickens's works than the one here presented to the public- in thirty volumes, it would be difficult to imagine. Of its kind, it is superb, and every one who likes to accumulate fine works will' be glad to place this noble edition by the side of the equally hand- some and weighty " Thackeray," which, in its twenty-four colossal volumes, forms a striking tribute to the genius of that great writer. Such editions de luxe deserve a place of honour in great libraries, and will receive it; but just as in reading Scott we prefer the "author's edition" to the "Abbotsford," so, in reading Fielding and Dickens, we shall continue to select copies that can be lifted without calling in the assistance of a light- porter.

There is nothing new to be said of Dickens's masterly Tale of Two Cities ; the famous History of a Foundling and Amelia are even less open to fresh criticism. Fielding's incomparable works,

• The Works of Henry Fielding. In ten volumes. Edited, witIta Biographical Essay, by Mr. Leslie Stephen. "Tom Jones," volumes I. and II. i Amelia," volume III. London : Smith, Elder, and Co.

The Works of Charles Dickens. In thirty volumes. Volume Xi, " A Tale of Two Cities." With Illustrations by H. K. Browne. London; Chapman and Hall..

„...........2ever, are not known as the works of Dickens are known to readers of the present age. By his grossness, he has ostracised himself from refined society. He is too often coarse in conception and coarse in expression, and his Tom Jones, like Sheridan's Charles in the School for Scandal, has his vices con- doned, in consideration of his virtues. Because he is a kind- hearted, brave, and generous fellow, and because his open, manly character affords a pleasing contrast to that of the selfish, hypocritical Blifil, the reader is led to think but lightly of his faults. If he is vicious, he is not treacherous ; if he goes astray, he suffers for his fall ; and it may at least be said that his failings lean to virtue's side. These are the arguments generally urged in favour of Fielding's hero. They are more specious than sound. Fielding, unlike Smollett, endeavours, no doubt, to give a moral tone to his writings. He felt the beauty of goodness ; and that he felt it sufficiently to stimulate and purify his imagination, is proved by the beautiful portraits of Allworthy, of Amelia, and of Parson Adams. Richardson, Fielding's great rival, professed also to write with a highly moral purpose. He, unlike Fielding, had lived a respectable life, indulging only in the minor vices of envy, vanity, and un- charitableness. To all appearance, judging from his correspond- ence, the author of Pamela had the mind of a small tradesman, —filled with his own importance, and bigoted to his own ways. His style is mean and verbose ; he is the prosiest of novelists, but for tragic power, and for insight into character, he is one of the greatest. His novels, however, despite his pious intentions, are far from healthy reading ; and if he intended to point a moral in making Pamela resist the overtures of a rake in order that she might marry him at last and ride in a glass coach, we prefer the morality of Joseph Andrews. Coleridge thought Fielding a healthier writer, and therefore a better moralist, than Richardson. His superiority in point of style is incon- testable. He is a master of language, and his books read as if they had been written in the open air. The freshness of tone and the robust vigour of Fielding's representations are all the more wonderful, when we recollect that they are the works of a man broken in health and fortune. Mr. Leslie Stephen alludes to this fact, and observes very justly that in spite of depressing circumstances acting on a very affectionate nature, there are no books in the language which show less traces of dejection or flagging spirits than the novels of Fielding :—

"He is as hearty and vigorous throughout," Mr. Stephen writes, " as he appears in his journal when he is leaving his native country, worn out with disease, and all but at his last gasp. He takes life in a gallant spirit, he is indomitably hopeful and kindly ; there is not a whine nor a sour speech throughout his writings ; the world has not treated him particularly well, but he is not, therefore, disposed to rail at it, and still less to slander it. His judgment of men and things is fair and generous to the end."

There were, no doubt, points in his character, for good or ill, which resemble his famous hero, Tom Jones ; and with all his faults, he was, both in his books and in his life, a thoroughly genial fellow.

Mr. Stephen's elaborate estimate of Fielding's life and genius seems to have been written with much care. A great deal is said about the novelist's plays, probably because they are almost unknown in the present day, even to men of letters, and we hear much also of his disinterested and intelligent efforts as a police magistrate. Of his place among the novelists of his country, comparatively little is said. In the art of con- structing a plot, Fielding probably has no equal, except Scott ; and as a broad humourist, we venture to think, in spite of Humphrey Clinker, that his only rival is Dickens. In some respects, he stands far below either. Sir Walter's range is immeasurably wider, and his tales are glorified throughout by a poetical imagination. In the highest sense of the term, Scott is always the gentleman,—chivalrous, gentle, pure-minded, avoiding by the finest instinct the coarse animalism of Fielding, and touching evil as a child might, without degrading himself, or suggesting what is offensive to his readers. Very similar praise may be awarded to Dickens, who, if he often oversteps the limits of good-taste, never panders to a prurient imagination. He is occasionally mawkish, and so, also, is Fielding, who, in Tons Jones, makes his heroine faint away on every convenient opportunity, while Tom himself invariably finds relief from his calamities in floods of tears. Like Dickens, Fielding is a little weak in his love-affairs.. Sophia is a charming girl—Mr. Short, by the way, represents her on one occasion a.0 a finetownlady—but neither she nor Tom knows bow to make love with the ease required in a novel. He falls " a trem- bling, as if he had been shaken with the fit of an ague," tells his Sophia that the fever of love is preying on his vitals, and then the young pair " totter and tremble along" to the house, where Sophia retires to her chamber, and summons " Mrs. Honour and the hartshorn " to her assistance.

No English novelist ever received more noteworthy praise than Gibbon awarded to Fielding. In spite of what Mr. Stephen justly calls the "indelible stains in his writing," he must ever remain a great English classic, for his characters have as much life in them as Shakespeare's. At the same time, he has rendered himself well-nigh unreadable by the men and women whose affection a great novelist should covet most. It may be true, as Coleridge said, that he is not an immoral writer, and that his purpose, unlike that of Sterne and Smollett, is not to minister to evil passions ; it may be true, also, that he represents "certain aspects of contemporary society with a force and accuracy not even rivalled by any other writer ;" but the grossness of these representations is such, that a reader is repelled rather than attracted. It is not the tendency of Field- ing's novels that disgusts us, it is rather the presentation in brilliant colours of scenes which many a less moral writer would shrink from placing before the public.

A word or two, in conclusion. Mr. Stephen has seldom any- thing to say about a great man of letters that is not thoughtful and suggestive. His view of literature is almost always a sound one, and, perhaps, no critic of our day has shown greater capacity for appreciating and enjoying works of genius. Like Mr. Matthew Arnold, however, Mr. Stephen has also very strong views with regard to the theology commonly known as orthodox. An Evangelical dogma acts upon him like a red flag upon a skittish Scottish bull, and his theological opinions are expressed in the most unexpected places. What such a writer as Fielding believed or disbelieved, is not of the slightest in- terest to the world. He was a great genius, but he was not a serious thinker, nor, so far as we know, troubled by obstinate questionings. Certainly, it could never be said of him that,— "Perplexed in failh, bat pure in deed, At length he beat his music out."

Mr. Stephen admits that the kind of reflections by which the highest minds are preoccupied are entirely alien to such a writer as Fielding :—" He is a man amongst ordinary men, occupied with the daily business of taverns and courts of justice, and with such reflections as they suggest ; he never re- tires to the desert, or looks down upon mankind from the lonely mountain-tops of thought. You would as soon think of discuss- ing philosophical principles on the Stock Exchange, or of quoting Hegel to the House of Commons, as of entering upon similar matters with Fielding." This is very true ; yet Mr. Stephen thinks it worth while to dwell at some length on the novelist's views of morality and religion, though he is good enough to avoid, as he says, the free-will controversy, since "some readers might object to find themselves starting from Tons Jones, and landed in a debate with Jonathan Edwards." Yet he does not refrain from a long statement,. highly characteristic of the writer, as to Fielding's probable views of Methodism and of conversions. The remarks are curiously out of place, but they allow Mr. Stephen an oppor- tunity of praising Fielding's "vigorous sense." In real life, he supposes the novelist to say, men do not, and cannot, change ; and he is inclined to think that police magistrates in the pre- sent day would express a similar opinion. "How far they would be right," he adds, " is a matter which I need not dis- cuss, though, for my part, I should find it difficult to say much in answer." Mr. Leslie Stephen is never a flippant writer; though in the present instance he seems to write flippantly. On the contrary, he is perfectly aware that if his curtly-uttered sarcasm be true, it disposes at once of the supernatural claims. of Christianity.