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MAN can no more do without works of fiction than he can do without clothing, and, indeed, not so well; for, where climate is propitious, and manners simple, people often manage to loiter down the road of life without any of the “lendings” that Lear cast away from him; yet, nevertheless, with nothing between the blue heaven and their polished skins, they will gather in a circle round some dusky orator or vocalist, as his imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, to the entertainment and elevation of his hearers. To amend our first proposition, then, works of fiction being more necessary, and universally disseminated, than clothing, they still resemble clothing in this, that they take different shapes and fashions in different ages. In the days of Chaucer —

“First warbler, whose sweet breath
Preluded those melodious bursts that fill
The spacious times of great Elizabeth
With sounds that echo still” —

didactic and descriptive poetry was almost the only recognized vehicle of fiction. Then came the bursts that Chaucer preluded; and in Shakspere's days the dramatic form prevailed over all others. For some time afterwards every kind of feeling and thought found its expression in miscellaneous verse; and (though he was, of course, not the first novelist) Fielding, probably, set the fashion of that literary garment of the imagination, which has since been almost exclusively worn — the novel. In the shape of novels, then, civilised man, at the present day, receives the greater part of the fictitious clothing necessary to cover the nakedness of his mind; and our present inquiry is into the feasibility of obtaining the material for this sort of manufacture from Australian soil. We are not, of course, questioning the practicability of writing novels in Australia. Thackeray might have begun “The Newcomes” in Kensington, and finished the book in Melbourne, as well as on the Continent. Our inquiry is into the feasibility of writing Australian novels; or, to use other words, into the suitability of Australian life and scenery for the novel writers' purpose and, secondly, into the right manner of their treatment.

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A reference to the second topic almost forestalls the necessity of our stating the distinct conviction by which we are possessed, that genuine Australian novels are possible; and, as a corollary from their being possible, it follows, with apparent obviousness, that they are desirable, inasmuch as it is desirable that the production of things necessary or comfortable to humanity should be multiplied and increased.

First, however, we must deal with the possibility; for, it has been our lot to fall in with men, by no means altogether given over to stupidity, who deem, what Signor Raffaello calls, “this bullock-drivers' country” to present a field, not by any process whatsoever to be tilled and cultivated so as to produce novels, for some ages to come. The real reason, we take it, why our incredulous acquaintances arrived at the opinion they expressed, is, that such cultivation has not yet prospered to any remarkable extent; and that it is always difficult to believe in the possibility of anything of which there is no existing example and type. But, as this particular reason for disbelief is one which, while it has much actual weight over men's minds, is not often openly advanced, some more specific and respectable arguments were required, and, accordingly, were soon forthcoming.

In the first place, then, it is alleged against Australia that it is a new country, and, as Pitt said, when charged with juvenility, “this is an accusation which I can neither palliate nor deny.” Unless we go into the Aboriginal market for “associations,” there is not a single local one, of a century old, to be obtained in Australia; and, setting apart Mr. Fawkner's pre-Adamite recollections of Colonel Collins, there is not an association in Victoria mellowed by so much as a poor score of years. It must be granted, then, that we are quite debarred from all the interest to be extracted from any kind of archeological accessories. No storied windows, richly dight, cast a dim, religious light over any Australian premises. There are no ruins for that rare old plant, the ivy green, to creep over and make his dainty meal of. No Australian author can hope to extricate his hero or heroine, however pressing the emergency may be, by means of a spring panel and a subterranean passage, or such like relics of feudal barons, and refuges of modern novelists, and the offspring of their imagination. There may be plenty of dilapidated buildings, but not one, the dilapidation of which is sufficiently venerable by age, to tempt the wandering footsteps of the most arrant parvenu of a ghost that ever walked by night. It must be admitted that Mrs. Radcliffe's genius would be quite thrown away here; and we must reconcile ourselves to the conviction that the foundations of a second “Castle of Otranto” can hardly be laid in Australia during our time. Though the corporation may leave Collins-street quite dark enough for the purpose, it is much too dirty to permit any novelist (having a due regard to her sex) to ask the White Lady of Avenel, or a single one of her female connections, to pass that way.

Even if we survive these losses, the sins of youth continue to beset us. No one old enough for a hero can say,

“I remember, I remember the house where I was born,”

apropos of a Victorian dwelling. The antiquity of the United States quite

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puts us to shame; and it is darkly hinted that there is not so much as a “house with seven gables” between Portland and Cape Howe.

Mr. Horne, in his papers on dramatic art, observed very truly, that one does not go to the theatre (or the novel) for a fac simile of nature. If you want that you can see nature itself in the street or next door. You go to get larger and more comprehensive views of nature than your own genius enables you to take for yourself, through the medium of art. In the volume of Shakspere's plays, for example, is compacted more of nature than one man in a million perceives in a life's intercourse with the world. Shakspere, like all the kings of fiction, was a great condenser. We are not detained by him, except occasionally, and, for subsidiary artistic purposes, with mere gossip about the momentary affairs of the men and women brought upon the scene. A verbatim report of a common evening's conversation would fill a book, and the greater part of what would be reported would be quite uninteresting, uninstructive, and unconducive to the purposes of art. The author of genius leaves no apparent gaps in the discourse; and brings about in the reader's mind a half-illusion that he is listening to a complete and unstrained dialogue; whereas, in fact, the speeches are so concise, and in such sequence, that we only have the essence of any possible conversation. Conversation is one of the essential processes of the writer of fiction, whatever form he may adopt — otherwise the description of years of life would take years to read.

Now, in the old world, we are accustomed to this kind of conversation; to conversations not reported verbatim, but artistically. From Shakspere downwards hundreds of authors have performed this service with admirable general fidelity; and have, at the same time, with artistic skill, concealed the evidences of their own labor as effectually as the sculptor does, in whose smooth and finished marble no mark of the chisel is to be discerned. This much, which is entirely due to the manner of the narrative, we have suffered ourselves to believe an attribute of the matter; and, because daily life, which is not much more prosaic on one part of the earth's surface than on another, has been, in the old world, so often and so admirably converted to the purposes of art, we fancy it to be peculiarly adapted to those purposes. Here we have not been accustomed to see nature through the medium of art, but directly; and though, to the eye of genius, “the earth and every common sight” possesses a “glory and a freshness,” and needs no abridgement or coloring, yet to possess such powers of perception is the privilege only of one among thousands. The great mass of mankind can only hope to catch glimpses of the glory of “every common sight,” when genius holds it up for them in the right light. This genius has not yet done for Australian nature. Most of us have had more than enough of positive Australian dialogue, but we have never read an Australian dialogue artistically reported. We have heard squatter, and bullock-driver, and digger, talk, and we think it would be very uninteresting, no doubt; and a verbatim report of the conversation of Brown, Jones, and Robinson, in the old world, would be equally uninteresting, but we know by experience that genius can report it so as to be interesting — yet to leave it the conversation of Brown, Jones, and Robinson still. The first genius that performs similar service in Australia will dissipate our incredulity, as to this matter, for ever.

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It is not to be assumed that, if the life going on about us seem somewhat slow and tedious, the picture of it must be equally so; for the picture is microcosmic, and does not reproduce the life itself, but a compact and comprehensive likeness of it, that enables us to see, in a few minutes, and in true perspective, the scenes which, in actual existence, we plod through only in the course of years. It is, however, superfluous to deal theoretically with the objection, that fiction cannot properly deal with things close upon the foreground of our observation, because it is destroyed by experience. European novelists, during one period, thought that their works acquired an extra charm by dealing chiefly with distant times and places. Scott's genius invested distant times and places with such interest that people began to fancy such distance an essential of such interest. Dickens, on the contrary, by his genius, suddenly awoke London to a perception of the artistic uses that could be made of every-day London life; and men, in the constant habit of having their boots cleaned at Borough inns, were startled to find how the “boots” at a Borough inn might be a Sam Weller. Thackeray has, perhaps, gone still farther in selecting his characters from the precise time and circle of his readers. From his pages many old habitués of clubs first acquire a true understanding of club life, and the majority of his admirers are, perhaps, most delighted with seeing their own experiences reproduced to them by this master mind, with the exquisite and seemingly intuitive sense which belongs to him — of the manner in which true art makes keenly pleasurable the contemplation of what, in its absolute shape, we tire of every day of our lives. The most successful and delightful novels of the present day are so invariably those which deal with immediately surrounding circumstances, both of time and place, that we shall not discuss farther the second objection we have noticed. A somewhat cognate objection — that of the smallness of the community among which the scenes of Australian novels must at present be necessarily laid — we shall deal with hereafter.

The first is — that details of time and place are to the novel writer what costume is to the painter. Your hack artists, who, year after year, go “fossicking” for artistic nuggets in such rich but exhausted claims as the Vicar of Wakefield and Don Quixote, and who present the Royal Academy every May with their views of how Moses looked when he brought back the gross of green spectacles, and how Sancho twirled in the air when he was tossed in the blanket, or, when aiming at the truth historical, condemn Edward's wife to suck his wounds through all time, and Alfred to neglect everlasting cakes in a perpetual neatherd's cottage, are unable to construct a picture out of nature's own materials; they can only copy the microcosmic pictures of others. Some there be, even, who are more undisguisedly the painters of costume, and whose pictures merely stand in the place of a Belle Assemblée to a bygone generation. These are great in the peculiarities of armours and doublets, and tell us, with the nicest accuracy, how the barons and John dressed — when he signed the great charter — and nothing more. But the true artist, whether he work with brush or pen, deals with nature, and with human feelings and human passions; and the question of clothing is considered for the sake of accuracy and unity, and as an accident, not as an essential.

With respect to feelings and passions, then, which of them is there excluded

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from Australian soil? Certainly not that master passion which is the fiction writers' most Constant theme.

“All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
That ever move this mortal frame,
Are but the ministers of love,
And feed his sacred flame.”

“Love rules the court, the camp, the grove,” and Australians as effectually as dwellers in old countries; and all the joys and sorrows of that emotion — which wise people, aged sixty and upwards, and other non-combatants in Cupid's warfare, laugh at and long for — are present for the novelist to deal with, as he tells, in some new form, the oft-told tale of which mankind never tires. Nay, the very fact that numberless lovers are here separated from their loves, should suggest a thousand various stories and situations, peculiar, in their details, to the soil, and yet dealing with a cosmopolitan and universal interest.

Is the opposite feeling of hate banished from Australia? We could contentedly give up the possibility of Australian novels for the assurance that we resided in such a utopia. Alas! that such a perfect reality cannot be obtained by the sacrifice of so much novelists' capital.

Is avarice extinct among us? Most emphatically, No! And with the presence of avarice, we have that of all the schemes, and plots, and wiles with which the avaricious man ministers to his fault. The rapid turns and changes of this place give, indeed, peculiarly free scope for developing the romance of money-making; and it is not to be overlooked that the desire to make money has good as well as bad phases. Novelists would not have been true to their vocation of giving “a picture in little” of the world as it really is, if they did not, at the present time, cause the plots of their stories very often to turn upon pecuniary failures and successes. Money means command over almost all external things and resources, and is left out of Consideration only by those old romancists whose knightly heroes were comfortably provided with whatever their authors thought good for them without the vulgar and mundane necessity of what we call “making money” — a slow and unromantic process, quite incompatible with their gallant and adventurous lives. Novel heroes now no longer have their occasions supplied out of treasure chambers bursting open to a potent “open sesame.” We deal with money in a more business-like way. We fight for it in the chancery court as plaintiff in the great case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce — we lose it in the Bundelcund bank — uncle John muddles away the property of Mr. Caxton, senior; and hero Pisistratus has even to find his way out to this very country of Australia to retrieve the family fortunes. Novel heroes must not expect, in these days, to lead lives of perfect freedom from pecuniary difficulties and embarrassments, any more than other people. They enjoy, as it is, an unfair advantage in the certainty they have of making fortunes in the long run. To judge, however, by the spirit that authors have recently been evincing, there is no security for the poor fellows being left in possession of even this advantage much longer.

A novelist, indeed, can invest more people with the desire to make money than he can even bring the passion of love to bear upon;— for, with respect to money-makers, the means and ends are alike infinitely

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various, and susceptible of being adapted to every possible age and character. Ralph Nickleby, and his nephew Nicholas, had, in common, the wish to make money, but the wish in the one was associated with all that was base, and mean, and sordid, in the other with the best and noblest hopes and desires. There is no source of interest connected with money-making of which the Australian novelist cannot avail himself. The means and the motives are at his own command, and he can make us watch the process with every feeling, from that of perfect sympathy to perfect scorn, according to the genius and skill with which those means and motives are conceived and pourtrayed. At the same time, he can make his tale thoroughly Australian. The events may be true and natural to this place, while impossible for any other. We need not labor to shew that the same truth holds good of the feelings and passions. We have here “the same organs, dimensions, senses;” as the good folks in Europe. “If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Human nature being the same, the true requisites of the novelist are to be found in one place as well as in another. Australia offers fresh scenery, fresh costumes, and fresh machinery, new as to its details — great advantages, to those that know how to use them — and, for the rest, presents a field neither better nor worse than most others, in which people love, and hate, and hope, and fear, and strive, and are disappointed, and succeed, and plot, and scheme, and work out their destinies, and obey the good and evil impulses of their infinitely various natures.

One word as to scenery. Many worthy people thought railways would put an end to romance in England. The new police act, it was conceived by others, would be equally destructive to the raw material of novels. The romance of robbery, some imagined, ended when robbers ceased to wear gold-laced coats and jack boots, and to do their business on horse-back. The genius of fiction, however, can accommodate herself to greater changes than these, and remains just as fresh and as blooming under circumstances that make people, unacquainted with the invulnerable hardiness of her constitution, predict her immediate decline and death. For our part we hold that there is comparatively little in the circumstance, and almost all in the genius that handles it; but those who believe in mounted robbers, and mourn over the introduction of railways, should feel that in Australia the novelists' golden age is revived. When Waverley travelled up from London, to visit his northern cousins, the Osbaldistones, he went on horseback, and took a fortnight over the journey — that is the way we manage here to this very day. There was a great deal of “sticking-up” then, and there; and there is here, and now. Sir William of Deloraine had to swim the stream that it would have spoiled a magnificent description for him to have crossed by a cast-iron bridge, as he would do in the reign of Victoria; but in the colony which bears her name, the Central Road-Board cannot be accused of having destroyed the romance of the water-courses. How, in the name of gas-pipes and rural police, is a traveller to be lost and benighted in England now-a-days. Here he can be placed in that unpleasant but interesting predicament, without violating, in the least, the laws of perfect probability. Look at a railway map of England, and see where

“Now spurs the lated traveller apace
To gain the timely inn.”

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He has no control over the iron-horse that whirls him along, and when he gets to the terminus he gains the timely inn in a Hansom cab. Here the description applies with precise accuracy. In short, the natural and external circumstances of Australia partake much more of what we used to call romance than those of England, but we refuse to claim any advantage on this score, and content ourselves with reasserting that those who know how to deal with it can extract almost as much out of one set of circumstances as out of another, wherever the human heart throbs and human society exists.

We explain the absence of any really first-class Australian novels simply by a reference to the mathematical doctrine of probabilites. It is only once in many years that there steps forth from among the many millions of the British people a novelist able to break up new ground, and describe phases and conditions of life undescribed before. The great mass of those that load the circulating library shelves

“Remodel models rather than the life.”

They only sing the same old song over again, “with variations.” Like most painters, they fancy that they are imitating nature when they are only imitating pictures of nature previously painted. Just as hack orators can only quote from quotations, so hack novelists can only deal with such scenes and characters as have been put upon the stage before. Give them a set of circumstances, for the mode of handling which, for novelistic purposes, they have no precedent, and they know not what to make of it. Show them an actual living man, some type of whom is not to be found in already existing novels, and they can make no use of the material at all. They pass him as they pass thousands of good human materials every day without recognising their worth. When the real genius has once laid hold of the new material, however, and shown them how to mould him to the purposes of art, they can “remodel the model” ad infinitum, so much easier is it to steal out of books than to accept the gifts of nature.

Well, then, we argue, if only now and then out of the population of all England there arises a novelist capable of breaking up fresh ground, it is not to be wondered at that no such man has yet risen here. Geniuses are like tortoiseshell tom-cats — not impossible, only rare. Every ten years one is born unto great Britain, but probably none exists in Australia, and a reason precisely analagous to this makes it improbable that we have at present among us any one capable of doing justice to Australian materials of fiction. There are not cats enough in Australia to entitle us to a tortoiseshell tom yet, according to the doctrine of averages.

We have to confess that we labor under the same disadvantages as afflict the hacks and copyists, and we cannot, therefore, point out how the great untouched Australian quarry is to be rightly worked. Only as we roam about the motley streets, or ride through the silent bush, we have just sense enough to feel that, when the capable eye comes to look upon them, all these rude amorphous materials may be arranged in form of the highest and most artistic beauty. The recorders are tuneless only because there is no one who knows how to play upon them; in the right hands they will “discourse most eloquent music.”

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But if we have not the genius to say how the quarry is to be worked — if we had, we should work it instead of talking about it — we are able to see certain peculiar defects in the attempts that have hitherto been made at Australian novel writing, and one or two of these we will here point out.

In the first place we may remark that most Australian stories are too Australian. and, instead of human life, we have only local “manners and customs”, pourtrayed in them. The dramatis personæ are not people with characters and passions, but lay figures, so constructed, and placed in such attitudes, as to display the costumes of the place and period. The few Australian novels which have been written are too apt to be books of travels in disguise. The authors are but voyagers, sailing under the false colors of novelists, and you might as well call the illustrations to Cook's voyages (depicting “natives of Nootka sound,” “war dance among the Sandwich Islanders,” &c.) pictures, as such works novels. They have their uses, doubtless, and are not to be despised, but they are, at best, works of simple instruction as to matters of fact, rather than works of art. If we were asked what was the first requisite of a novel, we should say human character. The second — human character. The third — human character. Even plot and incident comes afterwards, and the mere question of costume and local coloring after plot and incident. In most Australian stories the order is reversed, and Australian customs are pre-dominant. We must be careful not to be misunderstood here, or we might be supposed to say, what would be contrary to the whole tenor of our writing, and to imply that beau ideal Australian novels would only differ in trivial and minor things from any other novels. Let us, then, illustrate what we mean by an example, and let us take the exquisite scene (from the Antiquary) in old Mucklebackit's cottage.

That scene could have been laid no where else but in the dwelling of a fisherman upon the Scottish coast. No where else could the characters and incidents have developed themselves in that form. Grief for a son's loss is, indeed, not an emotion confined to one time and place; and such grief Scott could have brought before us in palace or hovel, as he pleased; but the novelist has to shew us the same human feelings and passions working under various circumstances and modified by them. Now, in the scene we speak of, all local circumstances — all local coloring — sound and striking as they are, are subordinated to this purpose. Everything else is merely accessory to the display of human character and passion; but human characters and passions are affected and changed by such accessory circumstances; and, thus, while the relative importance of the elements of fiction remains unaltered, the change in the lesser implies change in the greater, and the combined whole is new, and full of new interest. We have not space to extract the scene here, but, if the reader take sufficient interest in this kind of speculation, let him open the Antiquary and read the description again, and, perhaps, he will apprehend us better. If not, he will not regret reading it again for its own sake.

Now, in the kind of novel we want to see written, but do not expect to read for some time, we want to see a picture of universal human life and passion, but represented as modified by Australian externals. The description of all these externals must then be truthful and complete, but subordinated to the larger purposes of fiction.

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In further illustration of the defect we allude to let us consider what a London story would be, if written in the spirit, and after the fashion, of most Australian Stories. The dramatis personæ would walk the stage merely to illustrate, in their acts, the habits and peculiarities of London. The work would be a sort of amalgam of “The Great Metropolis,” “The Book of Trades,” “The Strangers' Guide to London,” and “The Police Reports!” We should learn how different classes of people spend the twenty-four hours — how they live, and what they live upon. We should learn the manner in which policemen arrange their beats, and the system according to which cab fares are regulated. We should learn that there are butchers in Whitechapel, and noblemen in Mayfair. We should learn how London dairymen water their milk, and London bakers get up in the small hours to knead their dough with their heels, — but we should have no true novel, or work of art or genius. We should have a picture, not of human life, as modified by London externals, but of some London externals alone.

We had intended, in this paper, to have reviewed some of the best Australian stories that have yet been published, but these general remarks have extended to such a length that we must postpone the fulfilment of this intention until next month. In the mean time we content ourselves with the concluding remark, that real genius is ever able to draw its inspiration from the rills that run at its own feet, and without travelling to Helicon — that everywhere nature has new beauties and truths for the eye and mind that know how to perceive and grasp them — and that, when we complain of her sterility, we should rather humbly confess our own. The fault is ours, if, in this fresh and vast country, peopled with men of all characters, and degrees, and nations, in which all human feelinge, and emotions are astir, in which the pulse of existence beats with almost feverish speed, we regard the whole scene as tame and prosaic, and able to furnish the materials for no books but ledgers. What should we have made of such far more barren places as have given up hidden treasures, and been made bright and beautiful for all generations, at the touch of such genius as his, for example,

“Who trod in glory and in joy,
Following his plough along the mountain side?”

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