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 VW, added the subtitles, and changed titles of books from McCarthy's quotation marks to text with emphasis.

decoratd initial 'I't is not likely that posterity will preserve much of Lord Lytton's writings. They do not, I think, add to literature one original character. Even the glorified murderer or robber, the Eugene Aram or Paul Clifford sort of person, had been done and done much better by Schiller, by Godwin, and by others, before Bulwer-Lytton tried him at second hand. As pictures of English society, those of them which profess to deal with modern English life have no value whatever. The historical novels, the classical novels, are glaringly false in their color and tone. Some of the personages in The Last Days of Pompeii are a good deal more like modern English dandies than most of the people who are given out as such in Pelham. The attempts at political satire in Paul Clifford, at broad humor in Eugene Aram (the Corporal and his cat for example), are feeble and miserable. There is hardly one touch of refined and genuine pathos — of pathos drawn from other than the old stock conventional sources — in the whole of the romances, plays, and poems.

The one great faculty which the author possessed was the capacity to burnish up and display the absolutely commonplace, the merely conventional, the utterly unreal, so that it looked new, original, and real in the eyes of the ordinary public, and sometimes even succeeded, for the hour, in deceiving the expert. Bulwer-Lytton's romance is only the romance of the London Family Herald or the New York Ledger, plus high intellectual culture and an intimate acquaintance with the best spheres of letters, art, and fashion. I own that I have considerable admiration for the man who, with so small an original outfit, accomplished so much. So successful a romancist; occasionally almost a sort of poet; a perfect master of the art of writing plays to catch audiences; so skilful an imitator of oratory that, despite almost unparalleled physical defects, he once nearly persuaded the world that his was genuine eloquence — who shall say that the capacity which can do all this is not something to be admired?

It is a clever thing to be able to make ornaments of paste which shall pass with the world for diamonds ; mock-turtle soup which shall taste like real; wax figures which look at first as if they were alive. Of the literary art which is akin to this, our common literature has probably never had so great a master as Lord Lytton. Such a man is especially the one to stand up as the appropriate representative of literature in such an assembly as the English House of Lords. I should be sorry to see a Browning, a Thackeray, a Carlyle, a Tennyson, a Dickens there; but I think Lord Lytton is in his right place — a splendid sham author in a splendid sham legislative assembly.

Related Material


McCarthy, Justin. Modern Leaders: Being a Series of Biographical Sketches. N. Y.: Sheldon & Company, 1872.

Last modified 30 March 2006