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important step towards Captain Shindy and
Aggerawatin Bill; but farther progress in
the same direction was stopped by the
Restoration, and by character books describing
only debtors, drunkards, bailiffs, and
meretrices. Then followed the state of society
with which we are familiar, in which class
characters and peculiarities are hardly to be
distinguished, except at a point very low in
the social scale. Above it, the inhabitants
of the world are so mixed and shaken
together, the circumstances that affect and
modify apparent character are so numerous
and so diversified, that a class can scarcely
be said to exist. We recognise, it is true,
in most individuals, a leaning towards
some great type of mindtowards hopefulness
or despondency, towards strict or lax
ideas of duty or of honour. But more than
this we cannot do. It would be impossible to
write a description of a physician by which
the medical profession should be either
satirised or flattered; because singularities would
not touch the mass, and generalities would
not touch the persons composing it. Even
mere dull physicians have various outlets for
their common dulness. It would be equally
impossible to describe a rash man in terms at
all applicable to half of the rash men who
might be encountered, any morning, between
Charing Cross and the Bank. The rashness
would be their chief common quality, excepting
such qualities as are common to
mankind. And so now authors exhibit temperament,
or passion, either in one simple and
suggestive phrase, or by tracing it to its
effects. Thus, in the German fable, the
patient is attended by Dr. Better and Dr.
Worse, both men of great skill; and thus
we find that our most skilful writers of fiction
introduce characters into their works for the
purpose of illustrating some affection or
passion of the mind, illustrating it by
showing how it breaks down the barriers
of habit, the customs of society, the prejudices
of caste or callinghow it ennobles
the seemingly degraded, or unmasks the
pretender to virtue. When such characters
seem natural, the reader may
commonly discover that he is familiar with
each component trait, but seldom that he
has had experience of that particular

It would seem, then, that the kaleidoscope
of human nature has been rudely shaken, and
that the patterns which it once presented to
the observer are gone, never to return. But
the fragments which formed those patterns
are here, unchanged, unchangeable, daily to
be discerned in their new places and relations,
affording primitive elements of stability that
neither time, nor events, nor any power, save
that of the Almighty hand that made them,
can ever control or modify. The same
thoughts inspire, the same passions darken,
the same clouds envelope, the heart of man
now, and in all past ages. The progress of
science and the arts has changed the character
of the objects that surround the human race,
but the new objects excite the same ideas as
their precursors, and hold the same relative
position towards each other. The railway
train can suggest nothing to us that the stagecoach
did not suggest to our fathers. The
people who believed in witchcraft have left
representatives to believe in spirit-rapping.
The two thousand men who recently, in the
course of a single week, bought life-preservers
at one shop in London, because there had
been a score of garotte robberies in the
suburbs, are the true descendants of those
who, in the year sixteen hundred and seventy-
eight, armed themselves with protestant
flails upon the testimony of Oates and Bedlow.
The Cr├ędit Mobilier may well recal
the beginning, as it is to be feared it will
recal the end, of the Mississipi and South
Sea schemes. And this great truththe
immutability of human natureis one that the
character books are well calculated to
impress. They bring before us the great
enemies of our kind, the world, the flesh, and
the devil, thinly disguised in the garments
and the words of a former generation, but
working the same works that we may daily
see around us, or that we may read of in the
histories of ages still more remote. The
struggles and aspirations after good of the
few, the acquiescence in evil of the many,
are shown to be the same now and two
hundred or two thousand years ago. The writer
whose sketches are imperfect, if he fails in
depicting his originals, depicts at least
himself, and hands down one true character to
posterity. He assists by so much to form
that golden chain of recorded experience
which unites the Book of Job to the Times
of yesterday; he brings so much evidence to
show that truth, although revealed for
eighteen hundred years, needs no gloss, no
development, no interpretation, to
accommodate it to the present or the future needs
of man.

The earliest character book of any note was
written, partly, at least, by Sir Thomas Overbury;
and was, doubtless, indebted to that fact
for its extraordinary popularity. Six months
ago, a volume of posthumous tales by John
Parsons Cook would have made the fortune
of a publisher; and Overbury, in his day,
was a more famous victim than even Cook in
ours. Overbury was not only a man of note
himself; but he had the advantage of being
poisoned by enemies of high rank and
infamous reputation. His death, in the Tower,
alone created scandal and suspicion; and the
subsequent revelations of one of the agents
in the murder; the executions of Franklin,
Weston, Mrs. Turner, and Sir Gervais
Elways; the trial, condemnation, and pardon of
the Earl and Countess of Somerset, extending
together over a period of nearly three years;
all kept up an excitement with regard to
their victim. The original volume, published

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