This passage appears in the author's Modern Leaders: Beings a Series of Biographical Sketches, which Sheldon & Company (N.Y.) published in 1872. Scanning, basic HTML conversion, and proofreading were carried out by George P. Landow, who added links to materials in
here are, moreover, two points of superiority in artistic purpose which may be claimed for Bulwer-Lytton over either Dickens or Thackeray. They do not, perhaps, "amount to much" in any case; but they are worth mentioning. Bulwer-Lytton has more than once drawn to the best of his power a gentleman, and he has often drawn, or tried to draw, a man possessed by some great, impersonal, unselfish object in life. The former of these personages Dickens never seemed to have known or believed in; the latter, Thackeray never even attempted to paint. Why has Dickens never drawn a gentleman ? I am not using the word in the artificial, conventional, snobbish sense. I mean by a gentleman a creature with intellect as well as heart, with refined and cultivated tastes, with something of personal dignity about him. I do not care from what origin he may have sprung, or to what class he may have belonged : there is no reason, even in England, why a man born in a garret might not acquire all the ways, and thoughts and refinements of a gentleman. Among the class to which most of Dickens's heroes are represented as belonging, have we not all in England known gentlemen of intellect and culture ? Yet Dickens has never painted such a being. Nicholas Nickleby is a plucky, honest, good-hearted blockhead; Tom Pinch is a benevolent idiot; Eugene Wrayburn is a low-bred, impertinent snob — a mere "cad," as Londoners would say. I have had no sympathy with the Saturday Review in its perpetual accusations of vulgarity against Dickens; and I think a recent English critic was pleasantly and purposely extravagant when he charged the author of the Christmas Carol with having no loftier idea of human happiness than the eating of plum pudding and kissing girls under the mistletoe. But I do say that Dickens never drew a cultivated English gentleman or lady — a cultivated and refined English man or woman, if you will; and yet I know that there are such personages to be found without troublesome quest among the very classes of society which he was always describing.
Now Thackeray could draw and has drawn English gentlemen and gentlewomen ; but has he ever drawn a high-minded, self-forgetting man or woman devoted to some, to any, great object, or cause, or purpose of any kind in life — absorbed by it and faithful to it? Is it true that even in London society men are wholly given up to dining, and paying visits, and making and spending money? Is it true that all men, even in London society, pass their lives in a purposeless, drifting way, making good resolves and not carrying them out; doing good things now and then out of easy, generous impulse; loving lightly, and recovering from love quickly? Are there in London society, on the one hand, no passions; on the other hand, no simple, strong, consistent, unselfish, high-minded lives ? Assuredly there are; but Thackeray, the greatest painter of English society England has ever had, chose, for some reason or another, to ignore them. Onlyn when he comes to speak of artists, more especially of painters, does he ever hint that he is aware of the existence of men whose lives are consistent, steadfast, and unselfish. Surely this is a great omission. . . . o the credit of Bulwer-Lytton, as a mere artist, that he did include such figures even in his wax-work gallery. He could not make them look like life ; but he showed at least that he was aware of their existence, and that he did his best to teach the world to recognize them. [pp. 162-63]
- Will Bulwer-Lytton last? How It Looked in 1872
- "His range was so wide": The Genres of Bulwer-Lytton's Fiction
McCarthy, Justin. Modern Leaders: Being a Series of Biographical Sketches. N. Y.: Sheldon & Company, 1872.
Last modified 30 March 2006