[From Hall Caine:Man and Novelist, 1901]
THE keynote of Hall Caine's character, both as a man and as a novelist, is sincerity, and the deepest thing in him is love of humanity. He is dominated by the ambition to get out of the realm of thought all that is best and wisest, and from his heart a stream of love for suffering, tortured humanity is constantly flowing. Heart and brain alike are ever at work for the good of mankind. " I have a real sense of joy in the thought that I am at least in the midst of the full stream of life, not in an eddy or backwater," he said to me one summer day, as we lay among the ferns of Greeba. He loves to feel that he is striving with the complex forces of these impetuous days of a new century; loves to feel 'that he is being carried along by the River of Life, for ever battling with the torrent, and always stretching out eager hands to help those who are weaker than himself. This, I repeat, is the deepest- thing is Hall Caine, both as a man and as a writer, and the critics who find other interpretations of either know both imperfectly.
Thus it comes about that the great body of his written work is full of a wonderful sympathy for his fellow-creatures. Every man's sorrow is his sorrow, and every man's joy his joy. At no time of his life has he been immersed in the study of dead-and-gone languages; he has always been occupied with the study of humanity-humanity in its multifarious activities, hopes, struggles and fears. He has gone to the root of all things-the souls and hearts of men and women. He is no psychological analyst of man's wickedness; rather does he overlook the weakness of man's nature in his admiration for all the good he finds there. " No man is as black as he is painted," he has told me, not once, but often ; and he does not say this because of any inability to perceive sin where it exists, but rather because his clear-sighted intellect detects all the hereditary influences, the hideous power of circumstance, and the temptation to which men are exposed. I can think of no English writer, past or present, who evinces so broad and generous a sympathy with all mankind, as does Hall Canoe. His power of sympathy has enabled him to understand the characters of men with whom he has come in contact, no matter of what nationality they have been. Englishman, Icelander, Moor, Italian, German - all are read by him with sympathy and with ease, because he accepts the fact that the passions of love, hate, sorrow and joy are the same all the world over. . In his works I do not find any "subtle, analyses of character; he treats all his men and women on broad human principles, concerning himself with the structural basis of their natures, and leaving the details to take care of themselves. He has neither the analytical sense of George Moore, nor the extraordinary subtlety of George Meredith; neither the passionate pessimism of Thomas Hardy, nor the epigrammatic cynicism of John` Oliver Hobbes. He is simple, earnest, human. He takes no heed of the tricks by means of which an unwholesome interest is aroused; but his strong dramatic sense takes the place of these, and enchains the reader's attention.
I am very far from saying that Hall Caine is without fault as an imaginative writer he himself would be the first to deprecate such a statement. He has the defect of his qualities. He sees everything on a large scale, no matter how intrinsically insignificant it may be. So great is his absorption in and love for humanity that he has dulled his sense of perspective, and what seems to the average man an ordinary, everyday affair, is to him charged with tragic significance. The consequence is that he is always writing at white heat : it is a real mental and emotional strain for anyone to read a novel of his. He expects almost as much from the reader as he gives him. Again, his view of life is often very onesided; he sees all its tragedy, and little or nothing of its comedy. This is particularly noticeable in his earlier books. He takes himself seriously, as every artist should, but he sometimes forgets that in order to take oneself seriously it is not necessary to shut one's eyes to the light and laughter that are in the world. That Hall Caine has humour no one who has read The Deemster, The Christian, or Cap'n Davy's Honeymoon can doubt; but his humorous instincts are constantly kept in check, and subordinated to the tragic interest of the plot. There is nothing approaching " comic relief" in any of his works, and for this reason we may be grateful, for, structurally, his novels are almost perfect, and to have gone out of his way in order to introduce eccentric and humorous characters would have been to destroy the symmetry of his plots. No! it is his general outlook on life which seems at fault : all is tragedy, as black and awe - inspiring as a thunder - cloud. The white brilliant day is to him never free from distant thunders ; the sun is always shadowed by a cloud. To quarrel with this view of humanity would be useless, for it is the man himself, and his work is but an honest, sincere interpretation of his personality. .
One of the chief qualities of his work is his dramatic sense. He uses it powerfully and, at times, with astounding effect. In his earlier novels (The Shadow of a Crime and A Son of Hagar) he does not employ it so skilfully as in, say, The Deemster and The Bondman; he is so mastered by it, and so much the slave of his own personality, that the written result is often melodrama pure and simple. Indeed, it is the opinion of many critics that Mr Caine was born a dramatist, and not a novelist, and the late Mr Blackmore used to insist that the success of the author of The Manxman would be as nothing compared with what awaited him as a dramatist. This opinion has been endorsed by the American public, who were as enthusiastic over the dramatised version of The Christian as they were over the novel. But probably the dramatist in Hall Caine has never yet expressed itself. A dramatised version of a novel begins with obvious limitations.
Let me say something of, Mr Caine's method of working. In many respects it resembles that of M. Zola. They are, above everything, conscientious. Mr Caine works slowly : three years elapsed between the publication of The Manxman and the publication of The Christian; and four between The Christian and The Eternal City. "For the writing of The Eternal City, I have read or looked into as many books as there are over there," said the novelist to me in his library, pointing to a bookcase containing several hundred volumes. He takes notes freely. His writing is a process of condensation. He verifies each statement of importance by personal reference to the original authorities. Nothing escapes his attention. He tries to weld his various facts into one consistent whole, and the result is a closely-written logical piece of work. He seeks documentary evidence, not from one source only, but from all sources. It will be readily seen that such a method of work as this involves enormous care and patience: a single slip, and the critics are on him, shouting that a mere'schoolboy could teach him better than that! For Hall Caine is a born fighter -a fighter against all the injustice and sham of modern society; and whatever he may attack, the critic is sure to imagine that it is his duty to take up the cudgels on behalf of him who is assailed. In such closely-written, fully-packed books as Hall Caine's, it would be an utter impossibility that there should be no technical mistake of any kind; and because a few of these crept into The Christian, some .of the critics thought they were justified in declaring the whole book a mistake. On what they knew they based their judgment of what they did not know. I t is the way of the world.
If one estimated the amount of work done by a writer by the number of words he wrote each day, then Mr Hall Caine could not be called a hard worker; for his daily output is small. Sometimes it is represented by a blank page. But ten hours spent in concentrated thought can be a far harder day's work than four or five foolscap sheets of writing. At the time of my last visit to Mr Caine, he was rising at 5 a.m., and working steadily till 10.30 a.m. That is to say, that when most men are beginning their day's labour, Mr Caine has finished his. He gives up the best of his life to his art. He finds that when the digestive organs are at work, he does not work so well; so the early morning hours, both in summer and winter, find him with pen or book in hand. He prepares for each work just as a student prepares for a difficult examination. I n The Bondman he was writing about Iceland; so he went to Iceland and studied at first hand what he was t0 describe. In, The Scapegoat, Morocco; so he went to Morocco. In The Eternal City, Rome; so he went to Rome. And so on, throughout all his books, and not in their broad features merely but in their every detail. I have seen the MS. copy of The Bondman : it is written in small, exquisitely neat handwriting, with many alterations and erasures. On my expressing amazement at the patience and care with which he worked, the novelist ' replied: " Oh! that is only the final copy. For each page you see there, perhaps three or four were written-the second better than the first, the third better than the second, and so on." No one but a writer can appreciate the amount of toil required for such a method of working as this; but Hall Caine sacrifices everything for the sake of his art. He feels the power of the written word, and the responsibility of giving to the world that which is not of one's best.
Apparently, before beginning work on a new novel, Mr Caine does not deliberately seek a plot. First of all, he becomes absorbed in some abstract idea-an idea that is the outcome of the times in which we live, and the conditions under which we work. The idea lives in his brain. for hours, days, weeks, months, and it may be years. From this idea his characters grow without any effort on his part. They spring into being out of the nebulous atmosphere in which they exist, and from his characters comes his plot. It is generally a matter of slow germination : the abstract idea-the seed of the novel-lies in his brain, gathering unto itself all the experience and thought of the novelist's life, and gradually it grows and expands until it has reached a state of cohesion and unity. This method of working is the method of nearly all creative minds; there are few who deliberately seize a plot, and create their characters to fit in with the exigencies of time, place and circumstance. A man's character it is that makes the plot, not vice versa. It must not be supposed from this that Hall Caine regards the plot as quite a secondary matter; but he works from within outwards, making the plot develop according to the manner in which the creatures of his brain act, feel and think. A cut-and-dried plot is very often the mere mechanism of an agile mind; but there is a kind of plot which is inspired, which has for its centre of radiation a spiritual idea of truth and beauty. And this is the kind of plot with which Hall Caine has sympathy. Take The Deemster, for instance. What is it but a modern version of the Prodigal Son? The abstract idea of repentance and self-purification after a life of dissolute conduct. Again, The Bondman is the story of Esau and Jacob, with the sympathy of the reader being drawn to Esau. The Scapegoat is the story of Eli and his sons, a girl taking the place of Samuel; and The Manxman is a modern version of David and Uriah.
The root idea of each of these stories is not one that depends for its interest on any particular time or place; it is for all times and all places. The mise - en - scène, the atmosphere, the characters are but accidents -the necessary accidents for the presentment of the moral and spiritual drama. The Christian and The Eternal City, it is true, depend on their presentment for a great deal of their interest: they are the outcome of the strenuous and conflicting times in which we live. But still, in these books also, the eternal spiritual questions are clearly indicated and clearly discernible. It seems to me Mr Caine believes that if a novelist or poet does not seek to elevate his fellow-creatures by his work, there can be no reason for his continuing to write. It cheers and strengthens the reader to have a noble character put before him, for he thinks to himself, " I could be like that if I tried; " and in many cases he does try, and the result achieved is the greatest reward a writer can receive. The hero must not be too good; he must be human, faulty maybe; but still pure and noble. Otherwise, the reader says,
" Such a character never existed. He is utterly beyond me. Try how I might I could never be like that." No! a noble nature is rarely without sin, and it is the small faults of disposition, temperament and character which make him real and human. In this connection I think of the noble-hearted Dan of The Deemster, that tortured soul who, though a forger and a murderer, yet remains one of the purest and most lovable characters in modern fiction.
Before closing this introductory chapter, I should like to say something of Mr Caine as he impresses one in conversation. I t has been my privilege to have met him several times, and I have spent many unforgettable hours in his company alone. First of all, he is one of the very few men I have met who impressed me, almost at the first glance, with the conviction that he had genius. As soon as he speaks his face lights up, his eyes shine, and his soul is laid bare, That is no manner of speaking: it is the simple truth. One knows that whatever he may say it is exactly what he feels. There is no "smartness" in his conversation, no epigrammatic fireworks, no talking for mere cleverness' sake. He speaks convincingly because what he says he believes to be the truth. His delivery is dramatic and realistic. He rarely gesticulates, but when he does it is with the discrimination of the born actor; one feels, indeed, that the stage has lost a man who would surely have become one of its most notable figures. His knowledge of men and things is both deep and wide. Nothing escapes his observation. He has travelled in many countries - America, Russia, Poland, Iceland, Italy and Morocco, and wherever he has been he has studied, first of all, humanity, and secondly, humanity, and yet again humanity. And so, throughout the busy years of his life, when he was engaged in journalism, study, novel-writing, travelling, lecturing, he was all the time adding to his knowledge of his fellow-creatures, quietly observing not only the great men of the earth with whom he came in contact, but also the boy who brought the newspaper in the morning, the fishermen at their nets, and the hundred - and - one seemingly commonplace people whom one meets in the street day by day. Still, with all this knowledge of humanity he is never eager to express opinions on notable men and women. He is silent concerning those he dislikes for fear lest he has misjudged them; he will not speak of his friends because he sets so high a value on their friendship. But on all the problems that have come under his immediate notice, he is willing-nay, anxious-to hear the opinion of other people, no matter if their knowledge be merely superficial.
Mr Caine is of average height, well-made and erect. His brow is fine and broad, his eyes large and luminous. His head is the head of a poet, a thinker, a prophet. It is suggestive of most of the portraits-ideal and otherwise-of Shakespeare; there is the same noble forehead, and the same large, passionate eyes. In manner he is quiet and, except among friends, somewhat reserved.; but when his interest is aroused he asserts himself at once, speaking passionately and with consummate fluency. He is, perhaps, one of the best raconteurs living, and has a vast store of personal anecdote with which to illustrate any point which may crop up in conversation. He has a particularly keen sense of the humorous, and his manner of relating a funny story is equal to that of his fellow-countryman, the late Thomas Edward Brown.
His home life is simple and unaffected; it is a life of plain living and high thinking. He is the friend of every cottager round about Greeba, and the fishermen of Feel are his comrades. I remember an old woman from Crosby talking of him to me three or four years ago. " Terrible kind he is," she said, " and simple. Aw, but you should have seen him makin' hay on the curragh-laughin' and jokin' and all that." And whatever sentence she began, it always ended with the same words, "terrible kind he is."
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
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