It is as a novelist that Bulwer is really famous, although as a dramatist, a poet, and an essayist he will compare favorably with many of his contemporaries. Of his novels those best known are "Pelham," which he wrote while quite young, and which first made him a reputation; "My Novel," "The Caxtons," "What will he do with it?" and "The Last of the Barons." "Eugene Aram," a book severely censured at the time of its publication because the characters were "taken from Newgate," is well worth the perusal, and, though it represents an uncommon phase of character, it has nothing peculiarly extravagant or unnatural about it, as has been alleged.
In Bulwer the desire for effecting political ends is not so patent, if it exists at all, as in the works of D'Israeli and other novelists in public life. Society, and even history, are Bulwer's debtors.
His dramatic works are not numerous, but many of them rank well. "The Lady of Lyons" and "Richelieu" are the two most worthy his genius. Little has been left unsaid in praise of this latter work, which portrays so faithfully the characters of the weak sovereign, Louis XIII., and his powerful ecclesiastical statesman, Richelieu, - a man who made whole nations feel his power.
"Calderon, the Courtier," a short story and one little read, is excellently told, and is replete with information concerning the conspiracies and intrigues connected with the court of Charles V. of Spain.
"King Arthur" deserves, perhaps, to rank first among the poems of Bulwer, as being the most elaborate. He deals with the same subjects and times as Tennyson, in his "Morte d'Arthur," and still can in no instance be accused of imitating the poet laureate. He obtains much of his information from different sources, and has worked these into a poem that really does not compare unfavorably with Tennyson's creation. Many passages in this play have been considered by some people worthy of Shakespeare.
The works of Bulwer in nearly all departments are very numerous, and deserve to be better known than is now the case. His "Athens: its Rise and Fall," although of little value as a history, contains some original and vigorous thought with regard to her institutions, legal and literary.
Most of the innumerable political and social essays which Bulwer produced were on topics of the day, and their interest waned with the questions of which they treated. His "Art in Fiction" and "Present State of Poetry" contain much that is true and wholesome.
An essay on the "Influence and Education of Woman" is especially interesting at present. At the time of its publication he had much stronger public prejudice to combat than exists now. In speaking of the influence of woman, he says: "We do not wish to increase that influence, but to direct it to loftier and more salutary purposes." This, it seems to me, is the true spirit in which to undertake reform in woman's condition.
Bulwer was, undoubtedly, a good classical scholar, though he has bequeathed us but little in that department. Leaving the beaten track followed by most Englishmen of position and education, and foregoing the pleasure of rendering into English the works of Homer, he has been content with a translation of Horace's Odes and Epodes. The translation is, as a rule, very literal, and the renderings excellent; the beauty of the work has been marred by an attempt to preserve in the English all the original metres of the Latin.
We understand that at the time of his death Bulwer was engaged on a work that was expected to far surpass his previous efforts. In his public life he has been successful, and has been prominently connected with numerous Parliamentary measures for educational and social reform.
The writer cannot but feel how little he has said that was not already known to the majority of readers. His surprise, however, at being unable to find more than one or two of Bulwer's productions at several of the leading bookstores, and that the College Library was so scantily supplied with them, prompted him to write this.