J

David Hume, hardly given to pious moralizing, had no qualms in claiming that the study of history profited its perusers greatly because, in addition to amusing the fancy, "it improves the understanding, and . . strengthens virtue/'4 although there is good reason to believe that he became progressively disenchanted about the lessons to be drawn from the past as he progressed in his own I listen/ of England.5 Even so, Hume's earlier confident spirit was typical of the contemporary outlook on history writing, deeply influenced by the widely disseminated reading of the classical Greek and Roman historians, whose aim had been the inculcation of practical lessons from a knowledge of the human past.6 Bolingbroke's famous phrase that history was "philosophy-teaching by example" embodied the common view. The determined search for historical analogy made the tale an ancient historian told, as well as his purpose in writing, as contemporary to the present as was the customary historical setting of a novel, which usually was "of the times in which it is written" (as Mrs. Reeve said), and for the same didactic reason.

The practical usefulness common to history and the novel was but one aspect of the increasingly acknowledged similarity between them, including common procedures in the writing of both. One modern commentator on eighteenth-century writing distinguishes between the romance and the novel by attributing to the latter an awareness "of the ill-defined frontier between history and story, between truth and lie, between reality and fiction."7

It appeared that the frontier we cannot define we nonetheless

4. Hume. "Of the Study of History/' in Of the Standard of Taste and Other Essays. ed. 3. W. lenz (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1965), p. 96.

5. See Leo Braudy, Narrative Form in History and Fiction: Hume, Fieiding, Gibbon (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), p. 85: "Hume's Histonj purported ot its outset to be a repository of political and moral philosophy. But in Hume's final state of mind the precepts for direct action :hat can be drawn from his work are few indeed/'

6. See James William Johnson, T>:e Formation of English Neo-Ciassical Wiought (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1967). ch. 2, esp. pp. 43ft.

7. Bruce Wardropper, quoted by Keith Stewart, "History. Poetry, and :he Terms of Fiction in the Eighteenth Century/' Modern Philology 66, 2 (Nov. 1968), p. 11 In. 7.

know rul] well, so that consistency in ill-definition became important in maintaining the fiction that fiction is fact, to a degree that amounted to common and open conspiracy between writer and reader rather than to a mere willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the latter. So novels announced themselves as histories, not really intending to fool anybody for very long; and Samuel Richardson wrote to Bishop Warburton that he wished to maintain the fiction that Clarissa's letters were real, not because he wanted them to be "thought genuine," but, among other reasons, in order "to avoid hurting that kind of Historical Faith which Fiction itself is generally read with, tho' we know it to be Fiction."8

Fielding gave up part of the convention of pretense, but he maintained another and more significant part, that of verisimilitude to historical fact. He doubted the historians' abilitv to describe the real character

of men from their public role and hence the explanation of historical movement from the description of public stance. He felt all the more keenly the responsibility of the novelist, precisely in his role as historian of private character:

we who deal in private characters, who search into the most retired recesses and draw forth examples of virtue and vice from holes and comers of the world, are in a more dangerous situation. As we have no public notoriety, no concurrent testimony, no records to support and corroborate what we deliver, it becomes us not only to keep within the limits of possibility but of probability too; and this more especially in painting what is greatly good and amiable. Knavery and folly, though never so exorbitant, will more easily meet with assent, for ill nature adds great support and strength to faith.9

A. D. McKillop summarizes the mid-century development in fictional writing: "The emphasis shifted from a claim to actuality to a claim to probability, particularly as regards the possibilities of human nature."10 But the pretense in either guise, actuality or verisimilitude, bespeaks a preference of "fact" over "fiction/' if one equates fact with likelihood not only of character and occurrence but of broad societal and natural context as well. All of the novelist's techniques were designed to press that preference. As far as possible he wrote not episodes but continuous "historical" narrative, as life indeed is lived, even if he felt at liberty, as Fielding did, to lengthen or compress time spans in accordance with the intrinsic interest and importance of specific

S. Ibid., p. 111. See A. D. McKillop, 77?c Early Masters of English Fiction (Lawrence:

University of Kansas Press, 1956), p. -12.

9. Henry Fielding, The History of Tom fonts (New York: New American Library,

10. McKillop, The Early Masters of English Fiction, p. 42.

incidents. After all he, like the contemporary historian, was no mere chronicler or newspaper editor. He depicted neither heroic figures nor abstract qualities inherent in persons. He described recognizable sequences, and vices and virtues proceeding from credible motives on the part of recognizably human personalities. And these people were set within a specific (usually close to contemporary) historical time and within a definite and recognizable economic and social structure, interplay with which served to focus their character, station, and identity.

The writer's techniques did not merely express his preference for history-like reality over the incredible. He also used them to cross the obscure frontier from history to history-like fiction, while maintaining the integrity and similarity of the territory on either side. Richardson told his stories in letter form; most of the early novelists adopted the fictitious pose of editor, biographer, or historiographer. Fielding regarded his work as prose epic, deliberately reminding the reader at regular intervals that he, the reader, is not confronting reality immediately but only under the controlled guidance of the author, who remains a distinct and significant presence external to the narrative he holds before the reader as the image of reality.11

Once inside the territory of fiction, everything was depicted realistically or in history-like fashion. This does not mean that startling things might not be interspersed with the ordinary. On the contrary, of course; but they did not violate the rule of "familiarity." The novelists would have agreed with Diderot's dictum that the writer's art rejects the miraculous but not the marvelous since the natural order brings together the most extraordinary accidents. (It was up to the writer to see to it that the extraordinary did not appear contrived.) Fielding said substantially the same thing as Diderot:

if the historian will confine himself to what really happened and utterly reject any circumstance which, though never so well attested, he must be well assured is false, he will sometimes fall into the marvellous, but never into the incredible. ... It is by tailing into fiction, therefore, that we generally offend against this rule of deserting probability, which the historian seldom if ever quits till he forsakes his character and commences a writer of romance.12

Unlike other forms of literature in England, this burgeoning tradition of prose fiction, hewing close to worldly reality—its logic not sim

11. See R A. Donovan. Tne Shaping Vision: imagination in ifie English Novel from Defoe to Dickens (cthaca: Cornell University Press, 1966), pp. 245f.; also Braudy. ch. 4. who contrasts Fielding favorably with Hume because the latter in his History does not speak enough in his own voice.

12. Fielding, Tom Jones, p. 338

ply that of illustrated theme or system but that of cumulative rendering of persons and reality through narrative continuity in time—suffered no interruption during the romantic era. "Scott and Jane Austen are doubtless just what they would have been had the Preface to Lyrical Ballads not been written, and neither one gives any apparent indication of belonging to the same century as Byron, Delacroix, and Berlioz."1"' (But even the contrast between romantic lyricism and realistic depiction, clear though it is, ought not to be exaggerated: Wordsworth in the Preface and Coleridge in Biograpiiia Literaria both draw attention to the imitation of real life, rusticity in particular in Wordsworth's poetry, though in the controversy between them Coleridge clearly works against and draws back from Wordsworth's tendency to idealize or universalize rustic speech and character, and from Wordsworth's belief that poetry can be a direct embodiment of such speech.14)

In England the development toward the full scope of what Erich Auerbach called serious modern realism proceeded neither so dramatically nor so completely as it did in France in the nineteenth century. But basically the development was similar.25 The difference (as Auerbach saw the matter) was awareness of the agitated movement of the overall historical background, which furnished the French novel's ultimate frame. The sense of the massive fluidity of that background allowed the lower classes to emerge as genuine agents and bearers of reality in their own right within the novel, and not merely as isolated individual characters interesting in their contrapuntal effect. On the other hand, the awareness of powerful, shifting historical forces and their infrastructures (as we might say today) transformed the novel's moralistic and individualistic perspective. Reality was instead constituted by the fateful depth portrayed in the transaction between these forces and the "random" individuals whom they engulf "as it were accidentally" and force to react one way or another.16

No doubt the English novel much more than the French, continued to present social structures as given and eternally fixed. But even if the development was not so complete as it was in France, there was a steadily expanding tradition of English literature, seriously depicting the relation of society and the individual and of people within the conventions set by given social structures. Imaginative expression imposed order on the perception of reality as the close interaction between or-

13. Donovan, The Shaping Vision, p. 243.

14. See S. T. Coleridge "Biographta Literaria/ ch. 17 in The Portable Coleridge, ed. I. A. Richards (New York: Viking Press, 1961), pp. 535ff.

15. Auerbach, Mimesis: TJtt Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans, by W. R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1953), pp. 491f.

dinarv persons, held together by common temporal experience and by the conventions of a political, economic, and social structure significant enough to generate serious moral existence.

This form of writing was neither a slavish imitation of the perceived external world nor simple moral didacticism about it. Governing themes, particularly of a moral or characterological kind, were indeed present; but they could not be at odds with or force the rest of the artist's world in its verisimilitude to the temporally connected world of mundane reality. Such themes therefore had to be rendered in the process of the narrated world's cumulative chronological presentation, and not by an external ready-made imposition. Novels were not moral tales but renderings of a temporally connected world in which interpersonal and social experience was related to moral existence in a way that was as intimate as it was ambiguous. The ambiguity was the fruit of locating temporally sequential personal life within a broader, inescapably social rather than merely ethical context. This location made all the difference because it made the field of action amenable as much to historical narration and social—not to say informal sociological—observation as to moral description of behavior.

Gradually the impact of a locally quite diverse but nonetheless nationally coherent society with significant unifying foci of a moral, political, economic, and social kind made itself felt in writing as in other aspects of the common life. The novel reflected that coherence as well as the drastic changes within it which, despite their massive-ness, still left a single national lire. The shift in social makeup in which personal life and awareness were caught up as a result of the Industrial Revolution permeated the awareness of the middle-class readership, which was not only the novel's initial clientele but remained its natural readership no matter what the changes within the middle class itself or in the upper and lower levels of Britain's social structure. It is fascinating that this art form remained essentially the same and retained its hold on a large reading public's imagination when it mirrored a world in which the landed squire and his family and retainers formed the center and scope of reality, and later when it reflected a world in which rural cottage industries had been supplanted by towns and factories, and when the Enclosure Acts had done the rest to create a new reality by driving the rural poor into the new, burgeoning cities and slums.

By the close of the first third of the nineteenth century, England, unlike Germany, had undergone not only its religious and philosophical but also its political, scientific, and economic revolutions. Even if the dust had not settled completely on all these great upheavals, between them they had shaped the nation. They created a climate favorable to this literary form which remained the same when other forms experienced the break of the romantic era. Indeed, the multiplex revolution enhanced the novelist's sense of the appropriateness of mundane reality for imaginative representation and scrutiny, and his moral and aesthetic concern with the quality of human life which is so firmly set within this mundane social and natural matrix. The continuity of political and legal institutions through all the changes no doubt contributed heavily to that sense of an unchanging historical order in the English novel on which Auerbach and others have commented.

Much of the Bible consists of realistic narration, so much so that there is no surprise in its being subjected again and again, in this era of burgeoning realism, to inquiry as to whether it was really true to reality. How probable were the things that were told? Unlike other story-traditions of the ancient world (the comparison with Homer becoming increasingly common among scholars as the century wore on), this story tradition appeared to be true and to have the marks of verisimilitude and of probable factualitv. This was the case most especially if one left out of account all miracle stories. But even they seemed to have the marks of realism about them. It was often asked what other explanation than the genuine resurrection of Jesus would account for the startling but seemingly genuine and believable change of outlook among the disciples who, on their own admission, had been so cowardly and discouraged at the time of Jesus' trial and death.

But the new tradition of a literary realism was never applied to the technical task of biblical interpretation, so that speculation about the possible fruits of such a procedure at the time are as useless as they are fascinating. For reasons already mentioned, it was not to be: the debate over the factualitv of the biblical reports was far too central and crucial. On apologetic as well as historical grounds, the question of the factualitv of biblical reports, and the cognate debate over whether its putative factualitv or the recognition of some central ideational themes was really the important thing about the Bible, prevented any serious attention to narrative shape in its own right.

In both cases what the biblical narratives are all about is something other than their character as cumulatively or accretively articulated stories whose themes emerge into full shape only through the narrative rendering and deployment itself. The curious, unmarked frontier between historv and realistic fiction allows easy transition if one's inter-est is the rendering and exploration of a temporal framework through their logically similar narrative structure, perhaps most of all in the case of the biblical stories where the question of fact or fiction is so problematical. But when prime interest is concentrated on the fact issue—and it could hardly be otherwise in eighteenth-century examina-

tion or the Bible—the unmarked frontier is no longer merely real. Now it becomes impenetrable; one is either on one side of it or the other, and the decision between them is the crucial issue. The peculiar and intricate logic of narration is pushed into the background, ana the similarity between the two kinds of writing is no longer significant except in a purely decorative sense. Empirical historical investigation into what most probably happened, together with supporting hypotheses and arguments, is a different enterprise from the endeavor to set forth a temporal world, which is the peculiar way in which realistic narrative means or makes sense. Not that one is more legitimate than the other. It is simply the case that one cannot do both at once, nor will the one kind of analysis do duty for the other.

In England, the interest in the historical factuality and/or the general themes of the biblical narratives subverted more than the technical appreciation of these writings as realistic narratives. Also pushed out of the way was all concern with what kinds of writings these narratives might be. Their narrative structure and their literary-historical origin and development were largely ignored. Whatever else the fruits of the deist debates, interest was concontrated from that day forward largely on criticism of the facts and not of the writings of the Bible. It was a procedure similar to that which F. C. Baur was later to pinpoint so accurately in the assumptions and procedures of D. F. Srrauss's The Life of Je$us.]7 Although Bishop Lowth's De sacra poesi Hebraeorum and his commentary on Isaiah exercised some influence, they did not succeed in establishing a historical or literary-critical tradition of the biblical writings in the author's native land. T K. Cheyne and more recent commentators have observed that only Warburton and Lowth —bitter antagonists as they were—and Alexander Geddes showed any talent for Old Testament criticism. The situation was essentially the same in the studv of the New Testament.18 Neither narratively nor historicallv-critically did the Bible as writing become the object of a tradition of scholarlv commentary.

The burgeoning realistic outlook, increasingly embodied in the middle class of which men like David Hume were so proud tor its contribution to political freedom and to the republic of the sciences, arts, and letters, was indeed reflected in common perspectives on the Bible. But ic never shaped in the study of the Bible the same kind of imagina-

17. "Sirauss is concerned no? with the criticism of the writing hue only with *he criticism of the history." F. C. Baur, Kriaschc Untersuchungw idw die kanomschct: Evangclim (Tubingen: Fues, 1847), p. 40. (See Baur's discussion of Strauss, ibid., pp. 40-76.)

IS. See The Cambridge History of the Bible (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1963). vol 3. th. 8; W. Neil, "Critical and Theological Use of the Bible 1700-1950." pp. 271 f.

tive and analytical grasp applied to the writing and reading of the novel. Realism in regard to the Bible meant the discussion of the fact question or else its treatment in the spirit of Bolingbroke's dictum about history, "philosophy teaching by example." In the latter case, the Bible's perennial themes were taken to be descriptive of the solid, real, and mundane world and its God taught by eighteenth-century science, and of the solid, real, and mundane virtues inculcated by history and philosophy. (Those like Gibbon, who were persuaded of the grandeur both of the well-being and the decay of past epochs conveyed by properly written history, were always a trifle contemptuous of the Bible's level of teaching.)

Like history and the novel, much biblical narrative in explicative interpretation is not "svstem" or pure factual description but the cumulative rendering of a temporal framework through small impact on either pious use or technical scholarly analysis of the Bible. The argument from prophecy and its fulfillment, the logic of which rested in large part on just such a cumulative connection, receded from view early in the century. Its disappearance, as noted earlier, was due to its forced transfer from a formal narrative world of figural and literal interconnection to the arena of debate about the evidence for and against its factual claims. Us logic was basically altered, indeed destroyed, as a result of this shift from one world to another.

Such sense of a narrative framework as continued to exist among religious (and not merely scholarly) readers was now no longer chiefly that of providentially governed biblical history. In that scheme, earlier and later depictions within the Bible had been connected as type and antitype; but in addition, every present moral and historical experience had been fitted into it dv bestowing on the present experience a figural interpretation that adapted it into the governing biblical narrative. All this had now changed. Such narrative sense as remained in the reading of the Bible found the connective narrative tissue which served simultaneously as its own effective thread to present experience in the history of the soul's conversion and perfection. This theme and transfer of narrative continuity took place either directly, as in the Methodists' devout use of Ihe Bible to aid in tracing and treading the path front sin to perfection, or indirectly, as in the allegory of Christian's journey to Mount Zion with the aid and admonition of Evangelist and Interpreter in The Pilgrim's Progress.

Wesley's and Whitefield's preaching testified with powerful eloquence to their belief in the redeeming death of Christ and its efficacy for the Christian. In other words, it is not a lack of appreciation for the importance of the occurrence character (the "objectivity") of certain crucial events which makes the piety of the evangelical awakening in En gland something other than realistic. They are objective and objectively transforming events, though the crucial evidence by which they become religiously certain is not external but internal to the soul. (Christ is not reduced, as people often claim about early Methodism, to a subjective experience.) It is not the lack of an objective savior but the location of the cumulative narrative bond which indicates how loose and tentative is the hold of this profound religious movement on a context or world, temporal, eternal, or both, in which one may feel at home. The crucial and indispensable continuity or linkage in the stop/ is the journey of the Christian person from sin through justification to sanctification or perfection.19

In figural interpretation the figure itself is real in its own place, time, and right, and without any detraction from that reality it prefigures the reality that will fulfill it. This figurai relation not only brings into coherent relation events in biblical narration, but also allows the fitting of each present occurrence and experience into a real, narrative framework or world. Each person, each occurrence is a figure of that providential narrative in which it is also an ingredient. In that fashion all experience belongs in a real world.

In evangelical piety that relation is reversed; the atoning death of Jesus is indeed real in its own right and both necessary and efficacious for the redemption of the sinner. Nonetheless, though real in his own right, the atoning Redeemer is at the same time a figure or type of the Christian's journey; for this is the narrative framework, the meaningful pattern within which alone the occurrence of the cross finds its applicative sense. What is real, and what therefore the Christian really lives, is his own pilgrimage; and to its pattern he looks for the assurance that he is really living it.

19. For a survey of religious practice including biblic.il preaching in the evangelical revival, see Horton Davies, Worship and Theology England from Watts and Wesley ¡0 Maurice, 1690-1850 (Princeton: Pnnceton University Press, 1961), pt. 2, pp. 143-240.

0 0

Post a comment