DIMITRI Roudine, which Messrs. Holt and Williams have reprinted from the excellent version published in Every Saturday, is mainly the study of one man’s character, but a character so complex that there is little to ask of the author in the way of a story. In fact Dimitri Roudine is himself sufficient plot ; and the reader is occupied from the moment of his introduction with the skilful development of his various traits, to the exclusion of the other incidents and interests. The other persons of the fiction are of a kind which the reader of Turgénieff’s stories may begin to classify in some degree, or at least find in a certain measure familiar. The women are, as usual, very well portrayed, especially the young girl Natalie, whose ignorant trust, courage, love, and adoration for Roudine, changing to doubt and scorn, — whose whole maidenly being, — are expressed in a few scenes and phrases. Her mother, Daria Michaëlovna, is also exceedingly well done. She is of an entirely different type, a woman of mind, as she supposes, with advanced ideas, but really full of the pride of caste, worldly, and slight of intellect, though not wanting in selfish shrewdness or a strong will. The reader ought to note with what delicacy, and yet with what force, Turgénieff indicates, in Alexandra Paulovna, a sweet, placid, self-contained maturity, alike different from the wild fragrance of Natalie’s young girlhood and the artificial perfume of Daria’s well-preserved middle life ; though he could hardly fail to do this, for nothing is more observable in Turgënieff than his success in characterizing the different epochs of womanhood. Volinzoff’s conscious intellectual inferiority to Natalie, and his simple, manly love for her are nearly all there is of him ; Pigasoff, who peculated in office when younger and who in provincial retirement is a brutal censor of the follies of human nature, is rather a study than an actor in the drama which develops Roudine ; and Leschnieff, who promises something in himself, and does really prove of firm and generous stuff, is after all hardly more than a relief and explanation of the principal person. It is he who expresses the first doubt of Roudine after that philosopher has made his appearance at Daria Michaëlovna’s, crushing Pigasoff, bewildering and charming Natalie, mystifying Alexandra, and provoking Volinzoff. Leschnieff knew him in his student days, when filial love, friendship, and all real things were lost in his habit of eloquent phrasing ; when Roudine was cruelly ungrateful and mean in fact, that he might be magnanimous in the abstract ; and the shadow of this dark recollection Leschnieff casts upon Roudine’s new friends. He does not wish him to marry Natalie, who, he sees, is fascinated with him ; but after Roudine’s miserable weakness ends their love and all the others despise him, then Leschnieff does justice to his elevation of ideas and purposes. “ He may have genius ; I won't deny it ; but the trouble is he has no character..... He is full of enthusiasm ; and you can believe a phlegmatic man like me when I say that it is a most precious quality, especially in a time like the present. We are unendurably cold - blooded, indifferent, and apathetic..... Once when I was talking of Roudine I accused him of coldness. I was both just and unjust. His coldness is in his blood, — he’s not to blame for it, — not in his head. I was wrong in calling him an actor ; he is no swindle, no cheat ; he does not live on other people like a parasite, but like a child. Yes, he may die in loneliness and misery, but shall we throw stones at him on that account ? He will never accomplish anything because he lacks energy and a strong will ; but who can say that he has never done, or never will do, any good ? That his words have never sown good seed in some young heart, to which nature has not denied the force to carry out what it has conceived ? ”
It Is touchingly related in an epilogue how, after several years, Roudine and Leschnieff came together by chance in the same inn. Leschnieff asks his old comrade to dine with him, and the two •elderly men thee and thou each other in the student fashion. Roudine tells of his successive failures since they last met: —
“'Yes, brother,’ he began, * I can now cry with Kolzoff, “ Where hast thou brought me, my youth ? I have no longer where to lay my head!” . . . . And was I really good for nothing, and was there nothing for me to do in this world ? I have often asked myself this question, and, in spite of all my attempts to set myself lower in my own esteem, 1 can’t help feeling that I have certain abilities which don’t fall to the lot of everyone. Why must this force remain powerless ? Then, too, dost thou remember when we travelled abroad together, how self-confident and blind I was?.....
It is true, I did n’t know definitely what I wanted, I revelled in the sound of my own voice, I chased vain phantoms. But now, on the contrary, I can say aloud to the whole world what it is I want; I have nothing to hide ; I am, in the fullest sense of the word, a well-meaning man ; I have become humble, I am willing to adapt myself to circumstances, I have limited my wishes, I don’t strive for any remote object,
I confine myself to doing even the slightest service; and yet I do not succeed in anything. What is the reason of this persistent failure ? Why can’t I live and work like others ? I no sooner get a definite position, I no sooner establish myself somewhere, than fate casts me pitilessly out again..... I begin to fear my fate.....
Why is this ? Explain this puzzle ! ’
“'Puzzle ! ’ repeated Leschnieff. ‘ It is true, thou hast always been a puzzle to me. Even in our youth, when I saw thee acting ill and speaking well in turn, and that time after time, even then I could not understand thee clearly ; that was the reason I ceased to love thee..... Thou hast so much fire, so earnest a longing for the ideal.’ ....
‘‘‘Words, nothing but words. Where are the deeds ?’ interrupted Roudine.
“ ‘ Yes ; but a good word is a deed too.’
“ Roudine looked at Leschnieff without speaking, and shook his head,”
We almost forget, in following this tender yet keen analysis of a pathetic character, that there is really something of a story in the book. Roudine imagines that he loves Natalie, and he wins her brave, inexperienced heart; but when their love is prematurely discovered to her mother, and Natalie comes to him ready to fly with him, to be his at any cost, he is paralyzed at the thought of Daria’s opposition. “ We must submit,” he says. The scene that follows, with Natalie’s amazement, wounded faith, and rising contempt, and Roudine’s shame and anguish, is terrible, — the one intensely dramatic passage in the book, and a masterpiece of literary art which we commend to all students and lovers of that art.
We are not quite sure whether we like or dislike the carefulness with which Roudine’s whole character is kept from us, so that we pass from admiration to despite before we come finally to half-respectful compassion ; and yet is this not the way it would be in life ? Perhaps, also, if we fully understood him at first, his relations to the others would not so much interest us. But do we wholly understand him at last ? This may be doubted, though in the mean time we are taught a merciful distrust of our own judgments, and we take Leschnieff’s forgiving and remorseful attitude towards him. It may be safely surmised that this was the chief effect that Turgéniefif desired to produce in us ; certainly he treats the story involved in the portrayal of Roudine’s character with almost contemptuous indifference, letting three epilogues limp in after the first rambling narrative has spent itself, and seeming to care for these only as they further reveal the hero’s traits. But for all this looseness of construction, it is a very great novel,—as much greater than the novel of incident as Hamlet is greater than Richard III. It is of the kind of novel which can alone keep the art of fiction from being the weariness and derision of mature readers; and if it is most deeply melancholy, it is also as lenient and thoughtful as a just man’s experience of men. — We think Miss Thackeray places herself at a disadvantage in general by adopting too largely the traditional devices of English novel-writing. Old Kensington shows less of the consequent defects, perhaps, than some of the author’s earlier work. But from what we have seen of those little stories by her in which old fairy tales reappear in the prettiest and simplest imaginable real-life episodes, we venture to say that she will effect something more complete, more striking throughout, when she applies the method there used to her longer and more ambitious narratives. In these shorter efforts, such as Beauty and the Beast, and Cinderella, she holds herself, as novelist, more strictly outside of the action, and leaves to the latter, consequently, a more spontaneous growth and being. The English and American public of novel readers have, it would seem, a vague, unwarrantable impression that the novel is but a careless, easy-going kind of composition, in which certain principles of dramatic writing may often with advantage be set aside, and seldom need to be regarded. It is thus that the entrance of the novelist in person upon the scene (that is, where one of the characters is not supposed to relate the whole) is a matter of course. Certain men of genius have triumphed in this method, but it seems open to question whether their best achievements were ever greatly assisted by the particular feature alluded to. “ To bring his arm-chair down to the proscenium and chat with us,” as George Eliot describes it, was the weakest point in Fielding’s crude mouldings of the novel ; but his more accomplished successors have chosen to imitate the fault, sometimes directly, indirectly sometimes, and George Eliot as well as the rest. The result of this gossiping about characters between writer and reader is that the former accomplishes too much of the mere study in the presence of the spectator. This material should be employed, out of sight, in the decoction of a rich vitality for the nourishment of the fictitious individuals, and its function should be hidden from the common eye. Incorporated in their crude state with the body of the story, they ultimately entrap the author, and leave him, as the novel develops, in the attitude of one who is committed to an opinion he cannot conceal; he comes to take sides with the so-called good people against the so-called bad. To the artist, however, who must ever feel to the quick how much good there is in the bad, how much bad in the good, human individualities are but forces to be poised one with another, in noble and harmonious design. But Miss Thackeray’s system has too often put all this out of her sight, and led her to slight the evidently strong bent which she has for a more impersonal association of herself with her characters. Her genius is, nevertheless, so pure and earnest that she achieves many episodical successes ; and the defects of the book seem regrettable more as showing that her method has fettered her. It is a good instinct which has led her to present George Vanborough to us in an almost wholly objective manner, while the remaining persons, possessing natures of less exquisite intricacy, have been allowed to suffer by too much comment and abstract remark from the writer. In the characterization of children, Miss Thackeray seldom makes the least misstep, either in conception or execution.
The story holds sufficiently well together, having a little trap of underplot in the last part ; but the conclusion rather lacks in compression and vigor. Old Kensington, however, is in almost every way a maturer production than The Village on the Cliff. For one of its chief external charms, it is full of little innocences of expression, as “go-to-bed lights” for late lights in upper windows, and “ happy jumbles of old bricks and sunset,” applied to certain dreamy hours in Kensington. One must sincerely value the æsthetic, old-china luxuriousness with which the author everywhere lingers over fragments of picturesqueness such as we meet in any, even the weariest way of life. She imparts to these something rich and strange by the gentle fervor of her distinctly feminine enthusiasm.
— The merits of the very interesting volume entitled Songs of the Russian People are of various kinds; it is not only a valuable contribution to the slowly collecting material of folk-lore, which needs for its full comprehension a knowledge of the history as well as of the mythology of the people, but it will also be found to throw a very considerable light upon the manners of the Russians, in such a way, for instance, as will serve to make a great deal in the writings of Turgénieff clearer than it would otherwise have been. That the Slavonic race is one member of the Indo-European family is, of course, well known. Confirmation of this is found in the names of the deities of the old Slavonians, as, for example, “ Svarog, apparently the Slavonic counterpart of the Vedic Varuna, and the Hellenic Ouranos. His name is deduced by Russian philologists from a root corresponding to the Sanskrit Sur, to shine, and is composed by some of them with the Vedic Svar, and the later word Svarga, heaven.” Fin, Ogon, is the same as the Vedic Agni ; Perun, the Thunderer, is identified with the Vedic Parjanya. Now, only traces of the early religions exist among the Russian people ; that they do is in no way remarkable, when one recalls the wholesale way in which the people was converted to a formal Christianity. Every reader of Turgénieff’s novels will recall the frequent allusions to the popular superstitions of the country people, which are recounted at great length in the volume before us. Many examples are given us of the songs of the people, of which the following is, perhaps, as favorable a specimen as any. It is sung by women and girls. “In the original, each alternate line is composed of the exclamation, Akh ! moy Bozhin'ka ! followed by a repetition of the last words of the preceding line : —
Ah, dear Lord ! a pine-tree stands;
Under the pine a soldier lies,
Ah, dear Lord ! a soldier lies ;
On the soldier a black steed stands,
With its right hoof tearing up the ground,
Water it seeks for its soldier lord.
'Water, my steed, thou wilt not find ;
From the ground the soldier will never rise.
Gallop, my steed, by bank and brae,
By bank and brae, gallop on to my home.
There will come to meet thee a gray-haired dame,—
That gray-haired dame is my mother dear.
There will come to greet thee a lady fair, —
That lady fair is my youthful wife ;
To greet thee will little lordlings come,—
Those little lordlings my children are.
They will join in caressing thee, my steed,
They will join in questioning thee, my steed.
Say not, my steed, that I bleeding lie,
But tell them I serve in my troop, dark steed,
In my troop I serve, my step I gain.'
His death gains the soldier beneath the pine,
His death, dear Lord I beneath the pine.”
Of course the reader must make every allowance for the boldness of the translation and the loss of the rhythm, but, in spite of everything, the underlying beauty is evident.
— Mr. Lunt’s Old New England Traits is a book of Newburyport reminiscences, as rambling as you like, and not of great substance at last. But the picture of life in that ancient seaport, if dim, is pleasing, and we have found ourselves reading the volume to the end, with a pretty constant intention of not going beyond any next page to that we had just turned. The anecdotes are often not very good, and the characters not very striking ; and yet it is true that the book is entertaining. Perhaps this is owing mostly to the charm of the recent past, which has been so totally obliterated by
“ The railway and the steamship and the thoughts that shake mankind,”
and which, however inadequately, does reappear in Old New England Traits. We are almost as near to the Roman chariot, in association, as we are to the Yankee stage-coach, which comes lumbering back here ; and the time of the good Consul Plancus seems no further than that of the wealthy and respectable citizens who took part in politics and electioneered among the voters at the polls in Newburyport. Those were the winters when they had memorable snow-storms; when they carried foot-stoves and hand-stoves to church, and the church was otherwise unwarmed, save by the heats which escaped from the doctrines of the good old Calvinistic sermons ; when there were open woodfires, and cider-bibbing and ghost-story telling round them. Two or three of these ghost-stories, which Mr. Lunt tells again, are as good as any going ; and it seems reasonable to believe that the small boy who haunts the Newburyport school-house in these days is the lineal descendant of that spectre in a pea-jacket who walked nightly in a certain street of the same town in earlier times, and defeated every attempt to capture or suppress him, insomuch that he continued to walk there in the face and eyes of all spectators as long as he liked, and at last simply ceased by limitation, as it were. This was a very admirable ghost, and Mr. Lunt recollects when his native town was not wanting in witches, either. Old superstitions of other kinds he records, and, on the daylight side his work, some curious facts regarding the political and social state. The Newburyporters were opposed to the War of 1812, and thought of mobbing an American general who once passed through their town, while they rather fraternized with some British sailors brought prisoners among them. “ Politics ran very high, almost to the entire suspension of social relations between the differing parties, — the Federalists, who opposed the war and were accused of unpatriotic sympathy with the enemy ; and the Republicans, often stigmatized as Jacobins, who were charged with the principles and designs which had given impulse to the great French Revolution.”
In fact, Newburyport suffered severely from the war, and the general poverty of the country caused a large emigration to “The Ohio,” then the far West, — a sad contrast to the great and stately prosperity of the old town in the time when a certain rich merchant on a journey could lodge in his own house every night.
“ We heard plentiful stories, in our youth, of a higher style of living in colonial days ; of coaches kept by the upper class of citizens ; of their slaves, whom we knew in their emancipated condition as gardeners and waiters in general; of the cocked hats, the gold-embroidered garments, the laced ruffles of the gentlemen, and the highly ornamented, but rather stiff garniture in which the ladies with their powdered heads saw fit to array themselves, as they now present themselves to us on the living canvas of Copley. It was in the handsome residence of Mr. Dalton, long after his decease, that I saw hangings of gilded morocco leather on the walls of the principal room, — a substitute for the wall-paper in common use, and which I have never seen or heard of in any other instance, in the United States.
“ Our collector of the customs was peculiarly one of this class of gentlemen of the old school. He was a person of very warm temperament and of remarkable characteristics ; an ardent Democrat, who, upon the accession of President Jefferson, had succeeded Colonel W-, the first collector
of the port, appointed by Washington, under whom he had served with distinction in the Revolutionary War. Though ‘aristocratic ’ enough in his own personal character and demeanor, he was not naturally in much favor with the grandees of the old Federal town; but they stood in awe of him, nevertheless ; for he had been very rich, and in his less prosperous days was still a person of the most impulsive and resolute spirit. His appearance in public was very marked. His person was manly and his countenance singularly striking. He dressed in black, his small-clothes terminating in white cotton stockings down to his gouty foot. On his white head, decorated with a queue, was his three-cornered hat. He seemed to take a pride in walking up the principal business street of the town, at the time of high ‘’Change, and, paying attention to no one, to utter his not always very conciliatory thoughts aloud, in regard to his contemporaries and matters in general, as he threw out sideways the gouty foot aforesaid, on his way to the one o'clock dinner, which was the fashion of the time.”
These passages give a general idea of the style of Mr. Lunt’s book which, however, is often tiresomely diffuse and cumbrous. For example, so good a little story as the following could not well be more tediously told : —
“ Not far from us lived a worthy widow, with a family of children, and on one occasion she was heard to mingle rather curiously an office of devotion with a somewhat severe threat of domestic discipline. It was a day in summer, and the windows being open, a passer-by heard her objurgation. It seems the family had assembled at the dinner-table, and her oldest son began by making premature demonstrations toward the provisions, when his mother emphatically addressed him: ‘You Bob Barker, if you stick your fork into that meat before I've asked a blessing I ’ll he the death of ye ! ’ ”
If it has been Mr. Lunt’s intention to catch the garrulous and desultory manner of the elderly story-teller, he has succeeded to admiration in places ; and his failure in other places results in an agreeable simplicity, for which we are equally grateful. At any rate, we have to thank him for a thoroughly amiable book, which the reader will do himself a pleasure to loiter over.
— We hope that the readers of our May number liked as well as we did The Goal of Spring, a poem which Mr. Colman reprints in his volume under the title of The Festival of the Leaves. It has a pensive, meditative cast akin to the verse of an earlier poetic time than our own, to which, however, it is allied by its rich picturesqueness, and a certain spendthrift sumptuousness of phrase. By this we mean no ill of it ; for the language is really as much more highly colored as the race is wealthier than it was in the last century. We think its autumn landscapes very good, even among those painted by our most famouspoets, and the lines have a noble and stately movement. Here also is a particularly charming and felicitous image : —
With leafless, ivory branches glimmering bare,
Its yellow treasures heaped upon the ground —
Seemeth Godiva fair;
Standing — white limbed and naked as at birth,
With all her golden raiment slid to earth.”
Then, for a finer touch and a more delicate tone, this we like very much indeed : —
Which overhangs a bowl of amber-brown,
I watch the streamlet brimming o'er the edge,
And farther down,
Hear its impatient accents and discern
Its eager strugglings, tangled in the fern.’
Against some trunk the husbandman has felled,
Old, legendary poems fill my mind,
And Parables of Eld:
I wander with Orlando through the wood;
Or muse with Jacques in his solitude.”
The next best poem — if indeed it is not the best — in the book is the ballad, Nancy’s Brook, which is told.with a fearless, veritable simplicity worthy of Wordsworth himself, and with a genuine feeling which well befits the moving story. On the whole, we know nothing better of its kind, and we do not see why it should not keep Mr. Colman’s name alive among people who love gentle, natural, unlabored poetry of a very touching sort. We cannot hope anything so daring of The Knightly Heart, a long romance in Spencerian verse. It is well enough intentioned and it has some good passages ; but the story creeps languidly through it, worded down by infinite phrases. The other poems are none of them as good as The Festival of the Leaves, or Nancy’s Brook. They are verses of occasion, in part, and in part elegiac and didactic poems,—each with some minor grace, and none quite satisfactory.
— We have three octavos relating to prisons and reformatories, of which the titles have been given, but the two first named are a commentary on the third, with additional matter and more recent and complete statements of fact on some points ; or, to be more precise, the Report of Dr. Wines, made to President Grant last February, and by him submitted to Congress, is based upon the volume of Mr. Pears, but includes also much that Dr. Wines himself saw and learned ; while an Appendix gives the Transactions of the American Penitentiary Congress held, under invitation from the National Prison Association, in Baltimore, last January. The book of M. Robin, in like manner, is based upon the conferences of the London Congress, but adds much that is new concerning the prisons and the discharged prisoners of France,— the author being secretary of a Prisoners’ Aid Society in Paris, — and also cites freely from reports and works published before the London Congress met. The volume edited by Mr. Pears is the official publication of that Congress, and contains in its eight hundred pages the fullest report of what was said and done there. But for practical use in this country we find the abridged Report of Dr. Wines, who originated the London Congress, better than the more detailed statements of the official volume ; while the French clearness and love of analysis and generalization give a value to M. Robin’s book that is scarcely lessened by some minor inaccuracies. The three books, taken together, will enlighten a patient reader more completely as to the condition of prisons and prison discipline, all over the world, than has ever been possible before. The Report of Dr. Wines, in particular, is a model of research, condensation, insight, and comprehensiveness, and by far the best of the many good works he has published on this subject since he first gave his Undivided attention to it, ten years ago. If he errs at all, it is in excess of consideration for his fellow-workers in the cause of prison reform ; ascribing to them merits which they would not claim, and which belong quite often to himself rather than to them. Nor can he always make his dissenting judgment, which is commonly correct, so pointed as it might be, nor criticise so severely as they deserve certain defects in our prisons. This is an amiable fault, and is by no means owing to any want of perception ; for no man has more completely mastered the prison question, both in principles and in particulars, than Dr. Wines ; nor has any person now living, so far as we know, visited so many prisons, in all parts of America and Europe, or made himself so conversant with the authorities and statistics concerning them. It is, therefore, important to notice what judgment he has formed respecting the most recent and famous of all methods for the reformation of convicts. We mean that known commonly as the “ Irish system,” but now beginning to be called the “ Crofton system,” in honor of Sir Walter Crofton, who introduced it in the Irish convict prisons nearly twenty years ago. After a visit to those prisons in 1871 and 1872, Dr. Wines says in this volume : “ For a decade of years I had been a diligent student of the system, devouring everything I could get hold of on the subject. As far as books could teach it, it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that I knew it by heart. I had echoed and re-echoed the opinion of Count Cavour, that the fundamental principle of this system, — progressive classification based on merit, a progressive withdrawal of restraint and enlargement of privilege, as they should be earned and warranted by the prisoner’s conduct, a gradual and almost imperceptible melting of prison life into the freedom of ordinary society through a probationary stage of natural training, that this principle, applied in some form, whatever the system adopted may be, is “ the only efficacious means of discountenancing vice and checking crime, by encouraging, through agencies purely philanthropic, the reform of the criminal, without, however, holding from him his just punishment.’ And now I solemnly declare that the impressions received from published descriptions of the system have been, in the main (I will not say without some modifications and abatements), confirmed by personal inspection and study.”And of its most characteristic feature, the intermediate prison at Lusk, near Dublin, Dr. Wines adds : “ Truly, Lusk is a magnificent triumph of reason and humanity over coercion and brute force,— a splendid and irrefragable testimony to the soundness of the penitentiary system which the genius of Sir Walter Crofton has given to the world.”
The three volumes under notice, however, give the reader an opportunity to form his own opinion, from facts reported and arguments advanced by scores of intelligent persons, as to the character of crime and criminals ; the means used for their punishment, instruction, and improvement; the cost of supporting them in confinement ; the practicability of their reformation ; the best way to prevent the formation of a permanent criminal class ; and all the other elements of that complex problem which crime in modern communities sets before us. This problem is not a fascinating one, but it is of the utmost importance, and daily becoming more threatening and significant. It should be studied by all as their opportunities permit, and the experience of past times and other countries should all be made available for its solution. The people of the United States owe much to Dr. Wines, not only for what he has himself written and dope to improve criminal law, and the administration of justice, before and after conviction, but for the opportunity and stimulus given, through his labors, to other persons engaged in the same work. His purpose is to continue what he has thus begun, to hold meetings or “ congresses ” of the National Prison Association, of which he is the secretary, every year in one of the chief cities of the United States, and to convene another international congress in some European city — perhaps Geneva — in 1875. Among those of our countrymen who are united with him in his labors, we are glad to see the name of Mr. Horatio Seymour, who was General Grant’s competitor for the Presidency in 1868. He is now president of the National Prison Association, and his speech at the Baltimore meeting strikes us as better and more useful than any political address or state paper he ever wrote, indeed, one of the best speeches made by any public man in America during the past year. The volume of Dr. Wines is printed at the expense of Congress, and in what may be called Congressional type, — a very bad type, too. The edition is small (only two thousand copies), and it will soon become a rare book, unless some future Congress or some enterprising publisher should reprint it. We find mention in it of the republication of another rare work on the same subject,— Edward Livingston’s Criminal Jurisprudence, embracing his famous Louisiana code. The task undertaken by Livingston, and continued by Lieber, Dwight, Howe, and their contemporaries, could scarcely be in better hands than those of Dr. Wines, Messrs. Brockway, Brace, and other active members of the new Prison Association.
— The name of Miss Preston’s book is very unjust to a book which is so full of good sense, self-possession, taste, and all things that are far from a bid for the reader’s curiosity or wonder. It is really a story of love in our epoch, and the title probably represents the author’s despair of a name that should more accurately indicate its character ; and as such we may forgive it. At any rate, there is little else in the volume that demands charity. It is a story and it is not a story. It is a story because it interests you in the account of a young Boston newspaper man, who falls in love with a young girl, teacher of music, and living in voluntary poverty and exile in a freshwater college-town. They have been playmates in childhood ; they meet at a summer resort in the mountains, they correspond all winter, and they marry next spring, and go to living in Boston in the style which the bride’s gay and rich young lady cousin describes with a lively Bostonwomanly wittiness ; “ I see that ætheticoeconomical parlor in my mind’s eye now. I know the kind, and detest it. There will be an ironing-cloth on the floor, and wrapping-paper on the walls. There will be plain book-shelves, and dull gray casts, and dismal carbon photographs pinned about, unframed, and not a speck of strong, cordial color anywhere. The chairs will be of solid wood, and deadly angular. There will be ‘sincere’ brackets upon the walls, with Canton preserve-pots and pancake pitchers upon them. Five of your wedding gifts will be plaques of Palissy, covered with creeping reptiles ; and these will stand in a row on your mantel, along with a pair of stout candlesticks of blue earthenware. Your grandmother’s case of drawers, which is anything but ‘ sincere,’ since it is liable at anytime to topple over,will occupy one recess, and your great-uncle’s tall clock another. Or those of some other person’s grandmother and great-uncle, for these last are commodities one sometimes has to borrow here. The place will be a mixture of farm-kitchen and model school-room.”
There is nothing more of the story, but much more of the study, which is touched throughout with the same bright spirit, and which without labor brings the two people very clearly before us. Their talk at the country-house is crisp and good, and if a thought too clever, not too clever for art nor for very possible life. Their letters, of which the book is chiefly made up, range over a great many questions, — dwelling notably on the French and German war, and principally on matters of belief and unbelief. Miss Clara courageously and efficiently defends the French against her lover’s Prussians ; and she does what she can to combat his scepticism. This is a somewhat more difficult matter ; for, if we understand Miss Clara aright, she likes believing, rather than believes, and, at most, wants the question left open, and not brutally Huxleyized, as one may say. She does not meet all her lover’s doubts nor solve all his problems, but she makes him willing to be persuaded and anxious to be married, — which is, at least, something. We do not suppose that Miss Preston intended her heroine to represent in this matter more than a pure and naturally devout influence ; for there is a fine consciousness of Miss Clara’s limitations everywhere, and a critical reserve of the sentimental forces which gives us true feeling throughout, and makes the franker expressions all the more touching.
The story of the Hendersons, which the lover relates in one of his letters, is keenly affecting; and how true of how many people is that account of the young wife’s dying out of their life of gentle, kindly, duteous, refined unfaith with only a vague hope of immortality, and leaving her husband to utter despair and doubt, — who shall say ? The whole episode is given with a sort of resentful sorrow, as if in indignation that men should be scienced out of what can alone sustain and console them under supreme trial ; and it is the wholesome use of Miss Preston’s book, in all its precepts, to cast doubt upon doubt. We have scarcely indicated its literary value, and a perception of its charm must be left to readers with warm hearts as well as cool heads. It gives a phase of American spiritual and intellectual rather than social life ; but it is true enough to this also to have no need of shrinking from locality, and saying Trimountain instead of Boston. It is this reluctance alone which allies it to the ordinary American fiction.
- Dimitri Roudine. A Novel. By IVAN TURGÉNIEFF. New York: Holt and Williams. 1873.↩
- Old Kensington. By Miss THACKERAY. New York: Harper and Brothers.↩
- The Songs 0f the Russian People, as illustrative of Slavonic Mythology and Russian Social Life. By W. R. S. RALSTON, M. A. London : Ellis and Green. 1872.↩
- Old New England Traits. Edited by GEORGE LUNT. New York : Hurd and Houghton. 1873.↩
- The Knightly Heart, and other Poems. By JAMES F. COLMAN. Boston: Estes and Lauriat. 1873.↩
- Report on the International Penitentiary Congress of London (1872). By E. C. WINES, D. D., LL. D. Washington : Government Printing Office.↩
- La Question Pénitentiaire. Par E. ROBIN. Paris : J. Bouhoure.↩
- Prisons and Reformatories at Home and Abroad ; being the Transactions of the International Penitentiary Congress (1872). Edited by EDWIN PEARS, LL. B. London : Longmans, Green, & Co.↩
- Love in the Nineteenth Century. A Fragment By HARRIET W. PRESTON. Boston : Roberts Brothers. 1873.↩