From an unsigned review, Spectator, 18 August 1855
The striking characteristics of Mr. Thackeray’s novels have been so often and so clearly pointed out, and the novels resemble each other so much in general features-have such a strong family likeness-that it becomes with each novel more difficult for the newspaper critic to say anything that shall be at once new and true, if he confine himself to his proper task of reviewing the book and fixing the literary position of the author. Our limited space, and our obligation to say something of every book as it comes to us, prevent us from following the example of our brethren of the quarterlies and giving once for all a comprehensive survey of an author’s writings; while in the case of a novel that has been published in monthly parts, and with which the public is already for the most part familiar, we are debarred from the common resource of interesting our readers by recapitulating the leading incidents of the story and describing the principal characters. Ethel Newcome and her
cousin Clive-the brave, honest, affectionate Colonel-the coldblooded, cowardly, cruel Barnes-Lady Kew, ‘the wickedest old dear in all England’—Paul Florac and his group of relatives-Rosa Mackenzie and ‘the old Campaigner’—and a crowd of clearly conceived vigorously drawn characters besides,—the public knows them as well as it does the faces of Disraeli and Lord John Russell, and has been much more interested about them for two years past. What can we say that has not been said over hundreds of diningtables, in countless drawingrooms, students’ chambers, under-graduates’ rooms? Has not London for months been in consternation lest Ethel should waste her fair youth and noble heart in fruitless repentance, and that benevolent auntism we all respect so much, owe so much to, but so shudder at as a fate for our favourites in life and books? Was there not even a moment when a single hint about the importance of ‘baptismal regeneration’ made the profane throw the number violently to the other end of the room, as a vision rose of Venus-Diana with shorn tresses and close white cap, her bow straitened to a ferule, her cestus cut up for the personal adornment of her Anglican director, and all her little loves, all the bevy of nymphs, turned into smugfaced choristers and demure village schoolmistresses?1 Has not the failure of the Bundlecund Bank hung over town with a prescient gloom, only lightened by the consciousness that Colonel Newcome’s nobility of heart and mind could never be insolvent, come what run upon it there might? Has not Rosey Mackenzie’s removal, by childbirth or any natural cause, and, that wanting, by poison administered so as to save Clive’s neck and reputation, been almost prayed for in the churches? Were we not all present at the case of ‘Newcome, Bart. v. Lord Highgate,’ and did we not clap our inward hands with keen applause as the defendant’s counsel painted, as only that distinguished mover of juries can paint, the character and brutal conduct of the injured husband? And now when the play is over, and the curtain down, the brown-holland thrown over the boxes, the lights out, and the audience gone home to supper, is it not rather a dull task and a superfluous, that we should be expected to retire to our sanctum and tell how interested and delighted they have been, how clever and how good the author is, and how often we hope they and we may have the pleasure of witnessing other performances from the same ‘able and talented hand’?