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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
William Hurrell Mallock (1849–1923)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
WILLIAM HURRELL MALLOCK is the interesting product of the interesting period in which he was educated and the interesting conditions of his social life. Well born, well bred, well fed, well read, well supplied with luxuries, well disciplined at the wicket and the oar, the son of a clergyman of the Church of England (Rev. Roger Mallock) and the nephew of James Anthony and Richard Hurrell Froude, he was educated at home by private tutors till he entered Balliol College, Oxford. There he took a second class in final classicals, and in 1871 the Newdigate poetical prize, the subject of his poem being ‘The Isthmus of Suez.’  1
  In 1876 he published ‘The New Republic,’ which first appeared in a magazine. The first impression of the book is its audacity, the second its cleverness; but when one has gotten well into its leisurely pages, and has found himself in what seems to be the veritable company of Huxley, Matthew Arnold, Ruskin, Professor Clifford, Walter Pater, Professor Jowett, and Mr. Tyndall, he is penetrated with the conviction that the work is the perfected flower of the art of delicate characterization. The parodies are so good that they read like reminiscences enlivened with the lightest touch of extravaganza.  2
  The sub-title of ‘The New Republic’—‘Culture, Faith, and Philosophy in an English Country-House’—indicates its plan. A young man of fortune and distinction assembles at his villa a party of visitors, who under thin disguises represent the leading thinkers of the day. The company plays at constructing an ideal republic, which is to be the latest improvement on Plato’s commonwealth. To facilitate the discussion, the host writes the titles of the subjects to be talked about on the back of the menus of their first dinner: they prove to be such seductive themes as ‘The Aim of Life,’ ‘Society, Art, and Literature,’ ‘Riches and Civilization,’ and ‘The Present and the Future.’  3
  In the expression of opinion that follows, the peculiarities and inconsistencies of the famous personages are hit off with delicious appositeness. The first principle of the proposed New Republic is to destroy all previous republics. Mr. Storks (Professor Huxley) eliminates a conscious directing intelligence from the world of matter. Mr. Stockton (Professor Tyndall) eliminates the poetry and romance of the imagination, substituting those of the wonders of science. The materialist, Mr. Saunders (Professor Clifford), eliminates the “foul superstition” of the existence of God and the scheme of salvation through the merits of Christ. Mr. Luke (Matthew Arnold) who is represented as mournfully strolling about the lawn in the moonlight, reciting his own poems,—poems which puzzle us in their oscillation between mirth and moralizing, till an italicized line warns us to be wary,—Mr. Luke eliminates the middle classes. Mr. Rose (Walter Pater) eliminates religious belief as a serious verity, but retains it as an artistic finish and decorative element in life. Dr. Jenkinson (Professor Jowett) in a sermon which he might have preached in Balliol Chapel, and his habitual audience have heard without the lifting of an eyebrow, eliminates the “bad taste” of conviction on any subject. Finally Mr. Herbert (Mr. Ruskin), descending upon the reformers in a burst of vituperation, eliminates the upper classes, because they neither have themselves nor furnish the lower orders any object to live for. The outcome of the discussion is predicted on the title-page:—
          “All is jest and ashes and nothingness; for all things that are, are of folly.”
  4
  So much space has been given to Mr. Mallock’s first book because it is representative of his quality, and discloses the line of his subsequent thinking. Only once again does he permit himself the relaxation of an irresponsible and clever parody,—that on Positivism in ‘The New Paul and Virginia’; wherein the germ revealed in the sketches of Huxley and his fellow scientists is more fully developed, to the disedification of the serious-minded, who complain that the representatives of Prometheus are dragged down to earth.  5
  But the shades of the mighty whom he ridiculed have played a curious trick on Mr. Mallock. As Emerson says of the soul of the dead warrior, which, entering the breast of the conqueror, takes up its abode there,—so the wraiths of doubt, materialism, discontent, Philistinism, and the many upsetting emotions which the clever satirist disposed of with a jest, entered his own hypersensitive organism, and, for all the years succeeding, sent him about among the men of his generation sharing with Ruskin the burden of their salvation. Nor does he propose to let any sense of his own limitations as a prophet interfere with the delivery of his message. In a volume of several hundred pages he asks a nineteenth-century audience. ‘Is Life Worth Living?’ Can we, he demands in substance, like his own Mr. Herbert, go on buying blue china and enjoying the horse-show and the “season,” and our little trips to Paris, and first editions in rare bindings, if we are not sure that these tastes will be gratified in another world? In his mind, the reply to this question resolves itself into the necessity for a final authority,—an authority which he himself discovers in the voice of the Church of Rome.  6
  He is an indefatigable worker. As a novelist he belongs to the sentimental school, in which a craving for sympathy and a marked tendency to reject conventional standards characterizes all his men and many of his women. Because he has written them, his stories are never dull; they abound in epigram, sketches of character, and wise reflections: but the plots are slightly woven and hang at loose ends, while a dénouement is as deliberately ignored as if the author were a pupil of Zola. His novels or romances are ‘A Romance of the Nineteenth Century,’ ‘The Old Order Changeth,’ ‘A Human Document,’ ‘The Heart of Life,’ and ‘The Veil of the Temple’ (1904).  7
  As an essayist he is widely read. He was one of the famous five who took part in the Christianity vs. Agnosticism controversy, in which Bishop Wace and Mr. Huxley were the champions. He has written two volumes of poems, translated Lucretius; and his varied magazine articles, collected in book form, have been published under the titles of ‘Social Equality’ (London, 1882), ‘Property, Progress, and Poverty’ (1884), ‘Classes and Masses; or, Wealth and Wages in the United Kingdom’ (1896), ‘Aristocracy and Evolution’ (1898), ‘Doctrine and Doctrinal Disruption’ (1900), ‘Critical Examinations of Socialism’ (1907), ‘The Nation as a Business Firm’ (1910), etc.  8
  In these volumes, mostly on social topics, Mr. Mallock presents himself as a sedate Conservative, committed to hereditary legislation, the sacredness of the game laws, the Doomsday Book, and the rest of mediævalism. Against democratic theories concerning social equality, labor, and property, he sets up the counter proposition that labor is not the cause of wealth, and of itself would be powerless to produce it. As for social equality, he sees that diversity of station is a part of the framework that holds society together.  9
  These books are written in a serious manner. But it is interesting to mark the characteristics of the author’s individual and original genius, as obvious in a blue-book as in a novel. It is an axiom that the successful advocate must give the impression that he himself has no doubt of his cause. This Mr. Mallock almost never does. The more positive his plea, the more visible between the lines is the mocking, unconvinced expression of the author’s other self. Moreover, his fastidious discontent, and the subtlety of mind which is the greatest perhaps of his many charms, point him toward some unexplored quarter, where, as he has not investigated it, he fancies the truth may lie. The reader of Mallock goes to him for witty comment, satire, suggestion; and to get into a certain high-bred society where the scholar is at home and the gospel of good-breeding is preached. But that reader will never know in what social system of the past—in slavery, feudalism, or absolutism—Mallock’s Utopia is to be sought.  10
 
 
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