Reviewed by Anonymous
The Atlantic Monthly
[Ed. Note. This review first ran in the Atlantic Monthly, October 1859.]
As Nature will have it, Great Unknowns are out of the question in any other branch of the world's business than the writing of books. If, through sponsorial neglect or cruelty, the name of our butcher or baker or candlestick-maker happens to be John, with the further and congenial addition of Smith, JOHN SMITH it is on sign-board, pass-book, and at the top, and sometimes at the bottom, of the monthly bills, in living and familiar characters. But in the matter of authorship, the world is yet far short of the Scriptural standard; in a variety of instances it has found itself unable to know men by their works; and, in deference to this short-sightedness of their fellows, merchants and lawyers and doctors have their cards, and clergymen, at least once in every twelvemonth, make the personal circuit of their congregations, so that no sheep shall wander into darkness through ignorance of the shepherd. We believe that no pursuit should be marked by greater frankness and fairness than the literary. It is a question, at least, of kindness; and it is not kind to set good people on an uneasy edge of curiosity; it is not kind to bring down upon the care-bowed heads of editors storms of communications, couched in terms of angry disputation; it is not kind to establish a perennial root of bitterness, to give an unhealthy flavor to the literary waters of unborn generations, as "Junius" did, and Scott would have done, had he been able.
Adam Bede is remarkable, not less for the unaffected Saxon style which upholds the graceful fabric of the narrative, and for the naturalness of its scenes and characters, so that the reader at once feels happy and at home among them, than for the general perception of those universal springs of action which control all society, the patient unfolding of those traits of humanity with which commonplace writers get out of temper and rudely dispense. The place and the people are of the simplest, and the language is of the simplest; and what happens from day to day, and from year to year, in the period of the action, might happen in any little village where the sun shines.
We do not know where to look, in the whole range of contemporary fictitious literature, for pictures in which the sober and the brilliant tones of Nature blend with more exquisite harmony than in those which are set in every chapter of Adam Bede. Still life -- the harvest-field, the polished kitchens, the dairies with a concentrated cool smell of all that is nourishing and sweet, the green, the porches that have vines about them and are pleasant late in the afternoon, and deep woods thrilling with birds -- all these were never more vividly, and yet tenderly depicted. The characters are drawn with a free and impartial hand, and one of them is a creation for immortality. Mrs. Poyser is a woman with an incorrigible tongue, set firmly in opposition to the mandates of a heart the overflows of whose sympathy and love keep the circle of her influence in a state of continual irrigation. Her epigrams are aromatic, and she is strong in simile, but never ventures beyond her own depth into that of her author.
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