Kenelm Chillingly. His Adventures and Opinions. By E. L. BULWER (LORD LYTTON), author of "Pelham," "Last of the Barons," "The Caxtons." Harper & Brothers. 1873. New York.
THE last works of an author so prolific as Bulwer are often repetitions in part of former ones, and, even if they lose nothing in freshness and originality, they are likely to embody some fanciful theory or a leaning towards sentimentality in one form or another, - to be pervaded throughout, in short, by the particular weakness inherent in the author, which has been all along suppressed by whole-some criticism, or the fear of it, only to break out when the strength of his reputation renders him superior to the reviewers. But Kenelm Chillingly shows neither of these faults. It has all the vigor and novelty of a first attempt, and all the gracefulness and ease which only come after the writing of many books. In its hero Bulwer seems to be thoroughly at home, taking as much delight in him as any reader will do, and through him giving expression to the choicest bits of learning and wisdom which he had himself acquired throughout his long, busy, and thoughtful life. There is a picture in Punch of a little girl, discovering that her doll is stuffed with sawdust, exclaiming that the world is hollow and that she wants to be a nun. So Kenelm Chillingly very early in life discovers that everything is vanity or humbug, and falls into that cynicism of the nobler sort, - possible only in a generous disposition, - which despises not men, but only what is mean and false in men. His character is consistent throughout, and a great though peculiar one. While he is as noble a man as is to be met with once in an age, still it is perhaps more pleasant to have that meeting take place in a book than in real life. He is one of those persons who are always misjudged, and judged only by the poorer side of their characters. Should we meet him tomorrow, we should set him down as a prig, and perhaps be right in doing so. But if he is a prig at all, his priggishness is only a blemish, and not the mainspring of his character.
Almost any great creation of fiction can be made out a type of something or other. Kenelm Chillingly would appear to be the type of culture; though, in adding this to an already great array, we are shamefully conscious of taking our very little share in that too hot pursuit of types which is said to be a failing of the present age. Kenelm Chillingly is distinguished from other men by his love of independence, not an independence of order and proper restraint, but an independence of cant and conventionality; by his love for learning and contempt for pedantry; by his charity for all men, and by his desire for a thorough cultivation of both mind and body. And these are the leading characteristics of culture. He is none the less a type of culture because he sneers at the word. Culture, regarded as a means, becomes the developer of all that is good in a man. Culture, considered as an end, runs into egotism, self-conceit, and a "learned ignorance," which Socrates was the first to expose. It is of the first that Kenelm Chillingly is a type. It is the second that he takes pains to deride. We have no room to speak of the other characters of the book, - of Lilly, for whose death no one can lament, for by such a woman the hero would have been influenced in the direction of his weakness rather than in that of his strength; of Mivers, and his Londoner, so like in principle to a periodical nearer home. The incidents with which the book abounds are all very interesting, though many of them are improbable. Even want of space cannot prevent our referring to the fete-day speech of the hero; when he wished his father's tenants a speedy death, as the greatest good which could happen to them. One can almost see the honest British yeomen, wiping the beer from their big mouths, and gazing in stupid wonder at the young philosopher who assured them that death was better than even the roast-beef and plum-pudding of Merry England.
To those who read novels merely to get at the plot, to find out how the hero fell into this scrape, and how he was helped out of that, and by what device the heroine is enabled to survive the agony she suffers or the crime she commits, - to all such persons the book will prove a tedious one; but those who enjoy philosophizing of the pleasantest and lightest sort, illumined at every step by some thought as striking and original as true, will find all this and much more, in Kenelm Chillingly.
From want of room we are obliged to defer notice of other books, from the same publishers, until our next number.