Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 601
The whole usages of Virginia were indeed finely modeled after the English customs. It was a loyal colony. The Virginians boasted that King Charles II had been king in Virginia before he had been king in England. English king and English church were alike faithfully honored there. The resident gentry were allied to good English families. They held their heads above the Dutch traders of New York, and the money getting roundheads of Pennsylvania and New England. Never were people less republican than those of the Great Province who were soon to be foremost in a memorable revolt against the British Crown.
Here the Englishman Thackeray shows that he understands the culture of the loyalist high church tories of the Old Dominion. The ancestors of the tidewater gentry of the James River and the Potomac fought for the king during the English Civil War while most of their roundhead cousins in New England had fought for Cromwell and his parliamentary rebels. This made their rebellion against the king all the more remarkable, and Thackery and his educated readers were no doubt aware of the irony. The tidewater gentry were a colonial extension of the English gentry as the author of The Virginian treats with at length in the relations between the English branch and the Virginia branch of the family. In the story, the elder branch of the family which had turned down a Marquisate from the king and removed to Virginia considered themselves above the younger branch of the family who still lived as titled nobility in the family house in England. Needless to say, the English branch did not share this opinion.
I never know whether to pity or congratulate a man on coming to his senses.
Here is one of those pithy and knowing remarks for which Thackeray is justly admired. This one is reminiscent of those that pepper Vanity Fair and reveals our author to be world-wise. The sentiment expressed is similar to that expressed by the author of Ecclesiastes when he writes that with an increase in knowledge comes an increase of sorrow. Seeing the world as it actually is and not as we might have imagined or hoped it to be when we were younger can be traumatic and disappointing for anyone. This is why most choose to hang on to the comforting illusions that they have received from their family or society rather than to go through the painful and disquieting search for truth. That is why Thackeray doesn't know whether to congratulate or pity a man on coming to his senses. Often knowing the truth is a great burden.
To endure is greater than to dare; to tire out hostile fortune; to be daunted by no difficulty; to keep heart when all have lost it; to go through intrigue spotless; and to forgo even ambition when the end is gained — who can say this is not greatness?
Here the somewhat detached and worldy philosopher in Thackeray appears again. In this quote, we are apparently hearing his own voice and world-view. Thackeray had lost his own inheritance in several unfortunate business ventures and had to write to support himself. He shows himself to be a Stoic, and his level head combined with his keen and unidealized portraits of English society make his works of lasting interest. This or a passage like it might have inspired English Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling's poem If. In any event, such philosophical musings on life are of sufficient quality in Thackeray as to improve the text rather than to mar it as is the case for many lesser writers.
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