By HENRY KINGSLEY, Author of “ Geoffry Hamlyn.” Boston : Ticknor & Fields.
THIS novel belongs to that class which has been most in favor of late years, in which the incidents and characters are drawn from the daily life that is going on around us, and the sources of interest are sought in the acts, struggles, and sufferings of the world that lies at our feet, discarding the idealizing charm which arises from distance in space or remoteness in time. The novels of Disraeli, Bulwer, Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, Miss Bronté, Mrs. Gaskell, Miss Muloch, and Miss Evans, differing as they do so widely in style, treatment, and spirit, all come under this general division. Fictitious compositions of this class have difficulties peculiar to themselves, but success, when attained, is proportionally great; and from the sympathetic element in man they can secure the interest of their readers, though their plots may be improbable and their characters unnatural. The scene of “ Ravenshoe ” is laid in England, the time is the present, and the men and women are such as may be seen at a flower-show at Chiswick or on the race-course at Epsom on a Derby day. The plot is ingenious, thickly strewn with sudden and startling incidents, though very improbable; but the story flows on in so rapid and animated a current that the reader can never pause long enough for criticism, and it is not till he lays the volume down, and recalls the ground he has been over, that he has leisure to remark that the close has been reached by such stepping-stones as are never laid down in the path of real life.
The characters are various, drawn with the greatest spirit, but not all of them natural. Lord Saltire, for instance, is a portrait with which the author has evidently taken much pains ; but the elements we see in him are such as never were, never could be, combined in any living and breathing man. Father Muckworth is elaborately drawn, but the sketch wants vitality and unity. Adelaide and Ellen present essentially the same type, modified by difference of position and circumstances, and, in the latter, by the infusion of a fanatical religious element, Charles Ravenshoe, the hero, is well conceived and consistently carried ; and the same may be said of Cuthbert. But the best character in the book is old Lady Ascot. She is quite original, and yet quite natural; and we guess that some of her peculiarities are drawn from life.
The descriptions of scenery are admirable,— so admirable that we pardon the author for introducing them a little too frequently. He is evidently one of those few men who love Nature with a manly and healthy love,—by whom the outward world is not sought as a shelter against invading cares, or as balm for a wounded spirit, but who find in the sunshine, the play of the breeze, and the dance of the waves, a cheerful, enduring, and satisfying companionship, The scenery is English, and South English too; the author’s pictures are drawn from memory, and not from imagination. And the whole tone and spirit of the book are thoroughly English. It represents the best aspects of English life, character, and manners as they are to-day. Whatever is most generous, heroic, tender, and true in the men and women of England is here to be seen, and not drawn in colors any more flattering than it is the right of fiction to use. We think the author carries us too much into the stable and the kennel; but this, we need not say, is also English.
But we have yet to mention what we consider the highest charm of this charming book, and that is the combination which we find in it of healthiness of tone and earnestness of purpose. A healthier book we have never read. Earnestness of purpose is apt to be attended with something of excess or extravagance ; but in “ Ravenshoe ” there is nothing morbid, nothing cynical, nothing querulous, nothing ascetic. The doctrine of the book is a reasonable enjoyment of all that is good in the world, with a firm purpose of improving the world in all possible ways. It is one of the many books which have appeared in England of late years which show the influence of the life and labors of the late Dr. Arnold. It is as inspiriting in its influence as a gallop over one of the breezy downs of Mr. Kingsley's own Devonshire,
It is, in short, a delightful book, in which all defects of structure and form are atoned for by a wonderful amount of energy, geniality, freshness, poetical feeling, and moral elevation. And furthermore, we think, no one can read it without saying to himself that he would like to see and know the writer. Long may he live to write new novels !