[The following passage comes from the Project Gutenberg online edition of Trollope's Thackeray prepared by Barbara Tozier, Bill Tozier, Lisa Reigel, and the Project Gutenberg proofreading team. The decorated initial 'I' is based the one on a Thackeray designed for Vanity Fair. — George P. Landow]

decorated initial 'I' based on a Thackeray illustration

t was said that the good people were all fools, and that the clever people were all knaves. When the critics,—the talking critics as well as the writing critics,—began to discuss Vanity Fair, there had already grown up a feeling as to Thackeray as an author—that he was one who had taken up the business of castigating the vices of the world. Scott had dealt with the heroics, whether displayed in his Flora MacIvors or Meg Merrilieses, in his Ivanhoes or Ochiltrees. Miss Edgeworth had been moral; Miss Austen conventional; Bulwer had been poetical and sentimental; Marryat and Lever had been funny and pugnacious, always with a dash of gallantry, displaying funny naval and funny military life; and Dickens had already become great in painting the virtues of the lower orders. But by all these some kind of virtue had been sung, though it might be only the virtue of riding a horse or fighting a duel. Even Eugene Aram and Jack Sheppard, with whom Thackeray found so much fault, were intended to be fine fellows, though they broke into houses and committed murders. The primary object of all those writers was to create an interest by exciting sympathy. To enhance our sympathy personages were introduced who were very vile indeed,—as Bucklaw, in the guise of a lover, to heighten our feelings for Ravenswood and Lucy; as Wild, as a thief-taker, to make us more anxious for the saving of Jack; as Ralph Nickleby, to pile up the pity for his niece Kate. But each of these novelists might have appropriately begun with an Arma virumque cano. The song was to be of something godlike,—even with a Peter Simple.

With Thackeray it had been altogether different. Alas, alas! the meanness of human wishes; the poorness of human results! That had been his tone. There can be no doubt that the heroic had appeared contemptible to him, as being untrue. The girl who had deceived her papa and mamma seemed more probable to him than she who perished under the willow-tree from sheer love,—as given in the last chapter. Why sing songs that are false? Why tell of Lucy Ashtons and Kate Nicklebys, when pretty girls, let them be ever so beautiful, can be silly and sly? Why pour philosophy out of the mouth of a fashionable young gentleman like Pelham, seeing that young gentlemen of that sort rarely, or we may say never, talk after that fashion? Why make a housebreaker a gallant charming young fellow, the truth being that housebreakers as a rule are as objectionable in their manners as they are in their morals? Thackeray's mind had in truth worked in this way, and he had become a satirist. That had been all very well for Fraser and Punch; but when his satire was continued through a long novel, in twenty-four parts, readers,—who do in truth like the heroic better than the wicked,—began to declare that this writer was no novelist, but only a cynic.

Related Material


Trollppe, Anthony. Thackeray. “English Men of Letters series.” London: Macmillan, 1879. Web. Project Gutenberg. E-text prepared by Barbara Tozier, Bill Tozier, Lisa Reigel. 4 August 2013

Last modified 4 August 2013