DOCTOR DULCAMARA, M.P.
ARTS are forgotten and revived; thrones are pulled down and built up again; heroes of war and heroes of peace have their alternate seasons of favour and neglect; vast political schemes and daring social speculations inflate themselves to enormous dimensions, burst, and are seen no more; national reforms are projected and abandoned; public abuses are exposed to universal denunciation, one day, and are comfortably huddled up again in oblivion the next. But, one human institution remains perennially unchanged—the institution of Imposture. One man among us can boast of a field of action which never contracts or changes; that man is no other than our beloved old quack; our eloquent, our far-famed, our magnificent impostor, Doctor Dulcamara, M.P.
Freed by the arrival of the autumn from his engagements on the politico-operatic stage, this eminent and melodious public man has, of late months, been going his rounds gaily in provincial England. He has assumed a great variety of characters, taking especial care (for the Doctor knows his public intimately) to seek his originals in the world of rank and title, and never to impersonate any individual who stands lower than a member of the House of Commons. Now, as a noble lord, now as a noble and learned lord, and now simply as M.P., he has been calling meetings all over England. Among other announcements he has proclaimed his discovery of a new soothing syrup to be taken largely in a great many table-spoonfuls, called, “Social Science.” (Wisely saying nothing whatever of the many years during which it was endeavoured, by hard labourers, to force that nostrum on his attention: or of his taking no heed of it until it by slow degrees became popular.) He has referred, with his usual brazen self-complacency, to his long established pills and powders, devoted to the cure, of exhaustion and weariness in mechanics’ institutions, and artfully adapted never to attain the end which they profess to accomplish. He has revived with greater success, than ever, that admirably-impudent performance of his which he calls “Giving an account of his stewardship to his constituents.” And in each and all of these cases, he has once more achieved that amazing feat of oratorical jugglery on which the main foundation of his celebrity has from time immemorial reposed. In other words, he has talked for hours together without the slightest intermission, and, at the end of the time, has said—nothing.
The one striking difference which we discern between the practice of this consummate conjuror on the metropolitan stage, and his practice on the country platform, is, that, in the former case, be does actually produce his specifics as well as talk about them; while, in the latter case, he merely promises to produce them when he goes circuit again next year. That next year will come; the platform will be swept again for use; the water-bottle and tumbler will be set up on the little table; our Dulcamara’s nearest friend and admirer will solemnly preside in an arm chair; and the Doctor’s audience will be just as unaccountably large, just as amazingly patient, just as unreasoningly ready to believe, as ever. Wonderful institution of Quackery! Unrivalled, unblushing, unchangeable Doctor Dulcamara!
Among all our old friend’s appearances in the country, this season, none has struck us with more wonder and admiration than his presentation of himself, on the twenty-eighth of October last (in the character of the Right Honourable Mr. Sidney Herbert), to pre-scribe for the Warminster Athenæum. Dulcamara’s Address, or—to speak of the Doctor in his assumed character by way of tribute to the excellence of his impersonation the Right Honourable Mr. Sidney Herbert’s Address, on that occasion, has been commented on pretty strongly already, by the few perverted people—the obstinately-incredulous minority of Englishmen—who offend the orator of Warminster by expressing themselves anonymously (that is to say on the anti-Dulcamara principle) through the medium of the daily and weekly press. We have no intention of echoing, in these pages, remarks that have been made elsewhere, or of pointing attention to any parts of the Right Honourable Doctor’s remarkable oration which have received their full share of notice already. But, there is one passage in this masterly piece of assurance, touching on the subject of Literature as seen from the Dulcamara point of view, which has been sadly neglected by our brethren of the press; which has produced a strong impression on our own minds; and which we must now beg permission to present to the attention of our readers.
Speaking of novels, viewed of course as nostrums, in a tone of indulgence which we gratefully appreciate, the doctor proceeded to deliver himself of these artless remarks:—
“There is another class of novels—novels of the domestic class—which has also a great influence. I recollect hearing a very eminent Frenchman, Monsieur Guizot, say, that the literature of France would match—by which, of course, he meant would beat—all our literature, with one exception, and that was our domestic novels. He said: ‘In science we match you; in poetry we match you (though in that he was quite mistaken); in history we match you; but we have not got anything in our literature like The Heir of Redclyffe and your domestic novels. All books of that class are peculiarly English. They are books describing a virtuous domestic life—books describing a simple domestic life. They do not go to the tragic or dramatic for interest, but they draw it from the simple springs of natural life. This we have not got in the literature of France.”
If the Right Honourable Doctor had selected “The Heir of Redclyffe” on his own authority only, as the type and pattern of all English domestic novels, we doubt whether the expression of his opinion, in this matter, would have produced much impression upon us. But, armed with the authority of Monsieur Guizot, who is a writer of books and consequently, in a literary sense, one of ourselves, he has exerted over our minds an influence not his own. Besides acknowledging Monsieur Guizot’s claims on our attention, as a man of letters, we have felt, of late years, a kind of sympathy for him, as a political Dulcamara suffering under the misfortune of having been’ found out. On all accounts, therefore, we have thought it only fair and just towards Monsieur Guizot to welcome him (under his present total eclipse as a vendor of state nostrums in his own country), when he appears before us in his new character as a critic of modern English fiction. Accordingly, we resolved to do, on the recommendation of this “eminent Frenchman,” what we had not done on the recommendation of any of our own countrymen—in print or out of it. We determined, at last, to read “ The Heir of Redclyffe,” and see what it is that they can’t do in France.
Our previous want of acquaintance with this Pusey-Novel arose from no barbarous indifference to the important literary events of our age and country. We abstained from reading it, solely from dread of the effect which it might have in unfitting us for enjoying any other works of fiction afterwards. We were well aware, from our own personal knowledge, of the disastrous influence, in this respect, which the work had exercised over that large and discriminating portion of the reading public of England which is chiefly composed of curates and young ladies. Among other sad cases, in our own circle of acquaintance, we met with two which especially struck us. One instance was that of a curate (still living, and still, through the scandalous neglect of his friends, unprovided with proper accommodation in an asylum for the insane), who, after reading The Heir of Redclyffe, expressed himself critically in these frantic terms:—”There are only Two Books in the world. The first is the Bible, and the second is The Heir of Redclyffe.”
The other instance is perhaps still more afflicting. A young and charming lady, previously an excellent customer at the circulating libraries, read this fatal domestic novel on its first appearance some years ago, and has read nothing else ever since. As soon as she gets to the end of the book, this interesting and unfortunate creature turns back to the first page, and begins it again. Her family vainly endeavour to lure her away to former favourites, or to newer works; she raises her eyes for a moment from the too-enthralling page, shakes her head faintly, and resumes her fascinating occupation for the thousandth time, with unabated relish. Her course of proceeding, when she comes to the pathetic passages, has never yet varied on any single occasion. She reads for five minutes, and goes up-stairs to fetch a dry pocket handkerchief; comes down again, and reads for another five minutes; goes up-stairs again, and fetches another dry pocket handkerchief. No later than last week, it was observed by her family, that she shed as many tears and fetched as many dry pocket handkerchiefs as ever. Medical aid has been repeatedly called in; but the case baffles the doctors. The heart is all right, the stomach is all right, the lungs are all right, the extremities are moderately warm. The skull alone is abnormal.
Knowing of these two cases, and of others almost as lamentable in their way, we think it argues no common respect on our part for the authority of Monsieur Guizot, that we overcame our natural feeling of apprehension, and boldly risked the possible consequence of reading the one domestic novel which he and the Right Honourable Doctor agree is the roc’s egg not to be discovered in that fair France which Monsieur Guizot’s statesmanship has happily led to its present Millennium. The task we set ourselves was completed some weeks since. After having been carefully treated with restoratives by Mrs. Inchbald, Miss Burney, Miss Austen, Miss Edgeworth, Miss Ferrier, Mrs. Marsh, Mrs. Gaskell, and a few other charitable ladies, unknown to Monsieur Guizot, we have recovered from the disastrous effects of our bold undertaking.
The idea of the book we find to be briefly and plainly this. A young Englishman of rank and fortune inherits from his ancestors the one serious defect of a very bad temper. By dint of excellent moral and religious principles, he not only learns to control this bad temper (which would be natural enough), but succeeds in so completely rooting it out of his nature (which no man ever did), that he ultimately dies a sacrifice to his own devotion at the bedside of his bitterest enemy. Philip Morville has systematically misjudged, injured, and insulted Sir Guy Morville. Philip falls ill of a fever in Italy. Sir Guy, in Italy also on his marriage tour with his young wife, hears of it, goes forgivingly to his kinsman’s bedside, nurses him tenderly through his fever, catches the infection, and dies at the fair beginning of his happier and better life.
This is the story of the Pusey-Novel which is the Wonderful Lamp not to be found in France, or it would (we suppose) have lighted Monsieur Guizot to better things than Spanish marriage diplomacy, the one idea of governing men by corruption, and the abdication and flight of the late Mr. Smith. The characters by whose aid the story is worked out, are simply impossible. They have no types in nature, they never did have types in nature, and they never will have types in nature—unless, indeed, it be when the Right Honourable Doctor Dulcamara, M.P., is again prescribing for a whole English army, and Monsieur Guizot is again administering state affairs in France. Imagine the hero of Redclyffe, young Sir Guy, going about the world in this present year of grace, to the admiration of Doctor Dulcamara and Monsieur Guizot, with the “lion roused in him,” his “hazel eye gleaming like an eagle’s,” and a whole zoological-garden-full of symptoms constantly making him uncomfortable, on the subject of King Charles the First!
From that time Guy seemed to have no trouble in reining in his temper in arguing with Charles, except once, when the lion was fairly roused by something that sounded like a sneer about King Charles the First.
His whole face changed, his hazel eye gleamed with light like an eagle’s, and he started up, exclaiming, “You did not mean that!”
“Ask Strafford,” answered Charles, coolly, startled, but satisfied to have found the vulnerable point.
“Ungenerous, unmanly!” said Guy, his voice low, but quivering with indignation. “ Ungenerous, to reproach him with what he so bitterly repented. Could not his penitence, could not his own blood—” But as he spoke, the gleam of wrath faded, the flush deepened on his cheek, and he left the room.
* * * * * *
In about ten minutes Guy came back: “I am sorry I was hasty just now,” said he.
“I did not know you had such personal feelings about King Charles.”
“If you would do me a kindness,” proceeded
Guy, “you would just say you did not mean it. I know—you do not, but if you would only say so!” “I am glad you have the wit to see I have too much taste to be a roundhead.”
“Thank you,” said Guy; “I hope I shall know your jest from your earnest another time. Only, if you would oblige me, you would never jest again about King Charles.”
His brow darkened into a stern, grave expression, &c. &c. &c.
Throughout the book, up to the scene of his last illness, Sir Guy is the same lifeless personification of the Pusey-stricken writer’s fancies on religion and morals, literature and art. He is struck speechless with reverence when a rhapsodical description of one of Raphael’s Madonnas is read to him. He occupies three summers in studying the Morte d’Arthur (not Mr. Tennyson’s poem, but the old romance); and, in spite of this romantic taste, when he gets to Italy he will not read the magnificent descriptions of scenery in Childe Harold, because Lord Byron was a profligate man. He goes out, one Sunday afternoon, to take a walk with his bride in northern Italy; and, sitting down under a tree, at Lady Morville’s request, he performs an amateur Service by then and there chanting the afternoon’s psalms with her. Even his death-scene (tenderly and delicately written in some places), is marred and made absurd, either by the writer’s want of experience of human nature, or utter incapability of abstraction from one narrow circle of ideas.
As to dialogue,—thus it runs through hundreds upon hundreds of pages, and thus it makes up the book (that can’t be made in France), in combination with a most ludicrous disparagement of all those base writers of fiction who are not inspired by Pusey and his late blessed Majesty King Charles the First.
“What a delicious day!” next exclaimed Guy, following Philip’s example by throwing off hat and neck-tie.
“A spontaneous tribute to the beauty of the day,” said Charles.
“Really it is so ultra-splendid as to deserve notice!” said Philip, throwing himself completely back, and looking up.
“One cannot help revelling in that deep blue,” said Laura.
“To-morrow’ll be the happiest time of all the glad new year,” hummed Guy.
“Ah, you will teach us all now,” said Laura, “after your grand singing-lessons.”
“Do you know what is in store for you, Guy?” said Amy. “O, hav’n’t you heard of Lady Kilcoran’s ball?”
“You are to go, Guy,” said Charlotte. “I am glad I am not. I hate dancing.”
“And I know as much about it as Bustle,” said Guy, catching the dog by his fore-paws, and causing him to perform an uncouth dance.
“Never mind, they will soon teach you,” said Mrs. Edmonstone.
“Must I really go?”
“He begins to think it serious,” said Charles.
“Is Philip going?” exclaimed Guy, looking as if be was taken by surprise.
Doctor Dulcamara and Monsieur Guizot may rest assured that France will have no such book as this, until she has the two classes which such a book addresses. The first class, drawn from a large and wealthy section of the so-called religious world, which looks to the obtrusively professed intention of a book solely, and knows and cares nothing about the execution. The second class, represented by a body of romantic young ladies, whose ideal Man (name and all) is exactly represented by such a character as Sir Guy Morville. We believe it was Mrs. Kenwigs who invented the name, Morleena, for her eldest daughter; from a kindred spirit of gentility, we derive the masculine, Morville.
For anything we know, representatives of these two classes may have come together in Warminster, to be prescribed for by Doctor Dulcamara and Monsieur Guizot. If so, they have their reward. If otherwise,’, a suspicion will, by this time, have dawned upon them that they have been benighted and bemuddled in the usual Dulcamarian manner.
To go from Warminster to Bradford, which is a long way, we are pained to notice an appearance of Doctor Dulcamara in the Bradford market-place, under the guise of the EARL OF SHAFTESBURY. Very few men of this age, if any, have done more good than Lord Shaftesbury, or are deserving of higher respect. We differ from him on many points of opinion, but we hold his labours in the highest respect. Precisely for this reason, we are unusually grieved and mortified to find Doctor Dulcamara in such good company. However, here was the Doctor at Bradford, vending an antidote against fiction in general, and against tragedies in particular; and THE TIMES reports the Doctor as addressing the multitude to this amazingly quackish effect:—
“He remembered a very hard-hearted man, a most profligate and wicked man, but he once made a very true remark, ‘I never go to hear a tragedy,’ he said, ‘but it wears out my heart.’ That was just what it did; and that was the case with all reading of this description; he (Lord Shaftesbury) meant, if indulged in to excess.”
Now, Lord Shaftesbury, at the head of the Lunacy Commission, knows very well that Bedlam has often come of indulging in the Bible to excess, and that the balance of good and evil in anything is always to be struck, by sane men, with a reference to the use of that thing, and not to its abuse. The Sea, if indulged in to excess, would swallow up the land; the Sun, if indulged in to excess, would consume all animal and vegetable life. But, Doctor Dulcamara, putting off his antidote among the crowd, puts it off anyhow and every how, and will strike the scales out of the hand of Justice herself, that his light weight may pass. Lord Shaftesbury, as an upright man, knows perfectly well, when separated from Doctor Dulcamara, that this story (of the feeblest and most unreliable, at the best), has another honest and plain interpretation on the face of it: to wit, that the “most profligate and wicked man,” whose detestable authority is to consign to oblivion the noblest flights of human genius, and the Art that of all others strikes to the Soul like Reality, could not endure a Tragedy, because he was “a guilty creature sitting at a Play,” and felt that it awoke the conscience slumbering within him.
For the love of Heaven, let there be hope that men like Lord Shaftesbury, at least, will keep out of the company of the ubiquitous Dulcamara! Let the Doctor go about, addressing Athenæums, of the Warminster, Warminster, and other kinds; let the Athenæums take his physic, if they like it, and feel the better for it if they can; let the Doctor sin,, duets with Monsieur Guizot, to any extent; let him render accounts of his stewardship without end; let him puff off altar-cloths, altar-candlesticks, and the rubric of the Fancy Ball; let his eagle eye start out of his head, if it will, at the martyrdom of King Charles the First; but let him be held at a distance by earnest men with definite objects before earnest minds, and those objects tending—not to the retrogression of their country into the dark ages, but to its advancement in a plain road that was opened eighteen hundred and fifty-eight years ago.
First published Household Words 18 December 1858 XIX 49-52
This piece is recorded in the Household Words Office Book as by Collins and Dickens. But Dickens wrote to the HW sub-editor Wills on 10 November 1858 “Don’t go to press with Wilkie’s paper about Sydney Herbert, Guizot, the heir of Redcliffe, and Dr. Dulcamara, without my seeing it.” (Pilgrim VIII 702) and Pilgrim concludes that it “suggests some revision but it is in no sense a collaboration.”
The full note reads:
“CD had evidently seen it already, or at least knew its substance and drift. He may have wished to tone down the attacks on Guizot and especially Herbert, for whom in 1850-2 he had shown considerable respect (see Vol. VI, p. 535 and passim). Collins takes him as a type of Dulcamara (recalling the travelling quack and charlatan in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, 1832) for his address at the opening of the Warminster Athenaeum on 28 Oct (“On Newspaper Literature and Politics”: The Times, 29 Oct). He is offended by a politician’s presumption in treating novels as “nostrums, in a tone of indulgence”, while citing Guizot’s authority for praising English “domestic novels” with The Heir of Redclyffe as his example. Four cols are then given to mocking summary and quotation, probably as counterblast to the remarkable popularity of Charlotte Yonge’s novel (published 1853, anonymously, it had an immediate and long-continued success; 17 edns by 1868). It is here treated merely as a “Pusey-novel”, improbable and trivial. In two of the quoted passages Collins jeers at the young hero’s passionate enthusiasms for Charles I and for Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. CD might agree, but should have known that neither Herbert nor (obviously) Guizot was sympathetic to “Pusey-ism”. The article was probably planned to open Vol. XIX on 4 Dec, and its postponement suggests some revision; but it is in no sense a collaboration.” (Pilgrim VIII 702n3)
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