IF cleverness were the one thing needful in a book, The New Republic 1 of Mr. Mallock would leave little to be desired. Only a man of wit, and of much confidence in his wit, would have dared plan such a work ; but though the author’s interest in his own performance flags a little after his brilliant outset, his epigrams are not exhausted before the close, and we do not feel that he has miscalculated his powers in detail, whether or no in the present case he has wielded them effectively. The sub-title of the book indicates its plan. A young man of fortune and distinction assembles at his sea-side villa a party comprising all the chief leaders of English thought at the present day, — some typical representative of each of the contending schools. The disguises are so thin that even the American reader is in no danger of mistaking the characters. Matthew Arnold comes under the name of Mr. Luke, Ruskin as Mr. Herbert, Professor Jowett as Dr. Jenkinson, Huxley and Tyndall as Mr. Starks and Professor Stockton, and a certain Mrs. Singleton, well known in London society, who has published rather naughty and enormously silly poems under the nom de plume of Violet Fane, figures very conspicuously as Mrs. Sinclair. Then there are Mr. Rose, a pre-Raphaelite poet and critic, presumably Mr. Pater; Mr. Saunders, a particularly tough and unscrupulous young materialist, identified by some with Professor Clifford; Lord Alien, a modest and boyish peer, of immense estates and benevolent purposes; a rather hazy and sentimental Scotchman who has seceded from the kirk to join the ranks of free thought, and suggests George Macdonald; a charming Miss Merton, who is a devout Romanist; Lady Ambrose, a thorough woman of the great world, with manners so delightful that they impart a certain fascination to a positively defective intelligence; Mr. Leslie, the intimate friend of the host, who gives us some of the keenest mots with which the book is adorned, but who is heart-sick over the death of the woman whom he had loved in secret, and so cannot openly mourn; and finally the host himself, Otto Laurence, who also fancies himself in a state of deep disenchantment with “life, love,” literature, and “all things,” yet who is swayed by romantic and reactionary impulses toward Mr. Herbert and Miss Merton, The fact that the author of the volume appears to divide his own languid and fluctuating opinions about equally between these two friends tends rather to confuse the personalities of Leslie and Laurence, but a little care will keep them distinct in the reader’s mind, and the portrait of Laurence the host in the first chapter is one of the most caustic bits in the whole book:—
“He had considerable natural powers, and was in many ways a remarkable man; but, unhappily, one of those who are remarkable because they do not become famous, not because they do. He was one of those of whom it is said till they are thirty that they will do something; till they are thirty-five that they might do something if they chose: and after that, that they might have done anything if they had chosen. Laurence was as yet only three years gone in the second stage, but such of his friends as were ambitious for him feared that three years more would find him landed in the third. He too was beginning to share this fear, and not being humble enough to despair of himself was, by this time, taking to despair of the century. He was thus hardly a happy man. but like many unhappy men he was capable of keen enjoyments.”
This reminds one strongly of that very polished satirist, the author of Cecil, and so do many other passages in the book, but there is a difference of tone which is not in Mr. Mallock’s favor.
Laurence and Leslie have a little têtea-tete before the other guests assemble; and resolve that certain subjects shall be discussed among them, in a certain order, which they proceed, whimsically, to indicate on the back of the menu cards of the first elaborate dinner. These subjects are, first, the Aim of Life; then. Town and Country, —with reference to the surroundings amid which the aim of life may be best attained; after these, Society, Art and Literature, Love and Money, Riches and Civilization, the Present, and the Future. It would be too gross a violation of probability to represent any such plan as strictly adhered to; the talk was desultory and fragmentary, as the talk of many men with many minds always must be, but it recurred repeatedly to the subjects named, while it dwelt, as was also perfectly natural, longer than upon any one of them on the conflict, so called, between faith and skepticism. The party remained together over a Sunday, in the course of which Dr. Jenkinson preached to them a broad-church sermon, transcribed in italics at a somewhat merciless length, and Mr. Herbert denounced them for a lot of lost spirits in an eloquent and imprecatory harangue, while Laurence read them some extracts from the private journals of his cynical old uncle. Lady Ambrose favored them with the opening chapter of a novel, just sent her in manuscript by a young lady friend, and the various poets present were prevailed upon with no great difficulty each to sing or recite some bit of original verse. We can imagine it. We “do so with our enchantments ” even here in the New World.
The literary peculiarities of those personages whom we know best as authors are hit off with very different degrees of success. Mr. Ruskin’s, whom the host is represented as regarding with a sort of shuddering and inconsistent respect, are most cleverly caught. Here is one instance out of scores: —
“ When God said, Let there be light, and light was, and God saw that it was good, was he thinking, as he saw this, of the exact velocity it traveled at, and of the exact laws it traveled by, which you wise men are at such infinite pains to discover; or was he thinking of something else which you are at no pains to discover at all,—of how it clothed the wings of the morning with silver, and the feathers of the even ing with gold f Is water, think you, a nobler thing to the modern chemist, who can tell you exactly wliat gases it is made of, and nothing more, or to Turner, who Could not tell you at all what it was made of, but who did know and who could tell you what it is made, — what it is made by the sunshine and the cloud - shadow and the storm-wind; who knew how it paused in the taintless mountain trout-pool, a living crystal over stones of flickering amber, and how it broke itself turbid with its choirs of turbulent thunder where the rocks card it into foam, and where the tempest sifts it into spray. When Pindar called water the best of things, was he thinking of it as the union of oxygen and hydrogen ?
“ ' He would have been much wiser if he had been,’ interposed Dr. Jenkinson. ' Thales, to whose theory, as you know, Pindar was referring ’— But the doctor’s words were utterly unavailing to check the torrent of Mr. Herbert’s eloquence. They only turned it into a slightly different course.
“ ‘ Ah, master of modern science,’ he went on, ‘ you can tell us what pure water is made of, but thanks to your drains and your mills you cannot tell us where to find it,’ ” etc.
The sketch of Matthew Arnold, on the other hand, is perpetually blurred and injured by the author’s own too evident acrimony. Only the mannerisms of speech and occasional dogmatism of the apostle of culture are suggested by the conceited apothegms of Mr. Luke; his wit and pathos and intellectual refinement, never. His poetry is better satirized than his prose, however, and the following passage, which Mr. Luke is represented as mournfully and reluctantly reciting on the lawn by moonlight, fairly puzzles one for a moment between mirth and memory: —
Gazed on the ocean of time
From the shores of his birth, and turning
His eyes from the quays, the thronged
Marts, the noise and the din
To the fur horizon, hath dreamed
Of the timeless country beyond.
Vainly, for how should he pass,
Being on foot, o'er the wet
Ways of the unplumbed waves ?
How, without ship, should he pass
Over the shipless sea,
To the timeless country beyond ?
The soft, voluptuous prattle of Mr. Rose becomes tiresome at times, but is frequently deliciously funny, as where in the midst of a melodious moan over the ugliness of London he says that among all the sights and sounds of the great city only one thing ever catches his eye that breaks his mood and warns him that he need not despair.
“ ' And what is that? ’ asked Allen, with some curiosity.
“ ' The shops,’ Mr. Rose answered,
‘ of certain of our upholsterers and dealers in works of art. Their windows, as I look into them, act like a sudden charm on me, — like a splash of cold water dashed on my forehead when I am fainting. For I seem there to have got a glimpse of the real heart of things; and as my eyes rest on the perfect pattern (many of which are quite delicious; indeed, when I go to ugly houses I often take a scrap of artistic cretonne with me in my pocket, as a kind of aesthetic smelling-salts), — I1 say when I look in at their windows, and my eyes rest on the perfect pattern of some new fabric for a chair or a window-curtain, or some new design for a wall-paper, or on some old china vase, I become at once sharply conscious, Mr. Herbert, that, despite the ungenial mental climate of the present age, strange yearnings for and knowledge of true beauty are beginning to show themselves like flowers above the weedy soil.’ ”
These dilettanti folk play for a while at constructing an ideal state. The “new republic” is supposed to have been suggested by Plato’s and to offer the latest modern improvement on that most grotesque and uncomfortable of commonwealths. Rut when Mr. Storks lias eliminated religion, and Professor Stockton poetty and romance, and Mr. Saunders has restricted the sphere of woman to the function of motherhood, and Lord Allen has removed the lower and Mr. Luke abolished the middle classes, and Mr. Rose has devastated all the homes which are not furnished according to Eastlake, and Dr. Jenkinson has blandly assured the disputants that they all think alike, and added under his breath that none of them think anything worth mentioning, then Mr. Herbert descends upon them in a thunder-gust of sanguinary scorn, and shows them that their scheme is both impudent and impracticable, since their visionary state would consist of upper classes only, and very vain and sinful upper classes, too. Whereupon they all gracefully accept his annihilating amendment, and indulge in a little light and well-bred laughter over the explosion of their too ambitious palace of cards. It is the rigid exclusion of earnestness which, despite the wit of The New Republic, spoils it as a satire. The successful satirist must either firmly believe something, or firmly disbelieve; it docs not much matter which. Mr. Mallock would have ns think that he does neither.
“ I have no duties,” said Laurence. “ Did not Mr. Herbert very truly tell us so last night? . . . Herbert and I, you see, are two fools. We both of us want to prayq and we neither of us can. ” And then Miss Merton modestly offers to pray for him, and is politely assured that that will do quite as well, and even better. Mr. Malloek is invariably deferential to his Romanist, but if he is really, as later publications of his would seem to indicate, “ going to Rome,” he is going as a panic-struck fugitive, by the tolerably well - worn route of negation and despair. He certainly' avails himself of no orthodox point d’appui for his present attack, and is therefore fain presently to give it over, and to content himself with manoeuvring the flying artillery of his wit, in a manner sufficiently bewildering to his reader, but not very dangerous to his foe.
One can butsuspect, also, that he found himself a little hampered, as he went on, by his personal relations with those living writers whom at the first he marshaled so boldly. It is clear enough, as has been said, that he has a grudge against Matthew Arnold; but what can we think of his attitude toward Mrs. Singleton? The book is ceremoniously dedicated to her under her literary alias, and the “ original ” song with which she is made to follow Mr. Luke’s recitation, on the first evening after the party assembled, is as much better than anything the lady ever wrote as a clever man and a skilled literary workman could make it. The concluding stanza, —
Naught will be for me of glad or fair,
Till I join my darling, and together
We go forever on the accursèd air —
There in the dawnless twilight " —
is rather mild poetry, but it has the merits peculiar to the school of which Violet Fane appears to be a petted pupil, — tenderness and a certain dreamy grace of rhythm. Whereas the real Violet Fane inflicts upon the world immoderate quantities of stuff like the following:
:T is gone — :t is past — :t is fled.
But oh, its spirit is with me still,
Though all besides is dead !
' Alas it seemeth hard,”she, sighed,
‘ That he should let her love in vain
The hopeless love whereof she died.””
And, warmed by Love’s delicious glow,
Forget that there is Death or Snow.
Again ! Ah, — so !
Here the versification is as slipshod as the sentiment is mawkish. But while the author of The New Republic distinctly flatters Violet Fane as a poet, he does, with equal distinctness and deliberation, discredit her as a woman; and here again — this time by way of contrast — we are reminded of Cecil the Coxcomb, and of the perfectly refined sketch in the first volume of that femme incomprise of forty years ago, who “ whined her monotonous quail-call over the missing moiety of her life.” Just so often as Mrs. Sinclair joins in the discussions of The New Republic she brings with her an atmosphere of innuendo. She never lapses into real delicacy of speech. There is humor, doubtless, in the way in which she is made to play off her airs of unguarded sensibility and Sapphic abandon against one after another of the celebrated guests assembled, especially in the malign innocence with which she entreats that complacent Philistine, Dr. Jenkinson, to explain to her certain obscure bits of Greek erotic poetry; but it is a deeply disrespectful and sinister kind of humor, and the whole portrait is one of the most disagreeable performances in decent literature. It leaves an impression of something very like vulgarity, which neither the sweet:and open mediocrity of Lady Ambrose nor the reverent reserve of Miss Merton can quite counteract, and which lessens the wonderment we might otherwise feel at the sort of English talked at times by these famous folk; insomuch that we are once forced to hear from the “ delicate, proud mouth” of Miss Merton herself, “ I expect that we are more introspective than men.”
If half inclined to tax ourselves with captiousness and prudery for at last flinging aside a book which has afforded us so much entertainment with a sigh for its futile brilliancy, sad hollowness, and perverted if not wasted power, a glance at the motto on the title. - page, chosen from the Greek Anthology, may suggest that the author himself would hardly dispute our conclusion. “ All is jest and ashes and nothingness; for all things which are are born of folly.”
There seems too much reason to suspect that the tendency to proclaim ninety-two cents a dollar is constitutional with us Americans, and that the foregone silver - bill is but symbolic or symptomatic of an ingrain proclivity we have to shirk our responsibilities, to slight our work, and, in general, to get credit for a little more and better than we have cared to give. Why else are American meubles proverbially specious and shaky, American stuffs frail. American colors evanescent, and American novels, the very cleverest of them, never more than of cabinet-size when tolerably well executed, or crude, careless, and unpardonably slighted in the making when there has been, as oftener happens, a generous use of really valuable material? How comes it to pass that in that little isle over-seas, where they use the same language as ourselves, there are hosts of comparatively humble and often anonymous writers who illustrate the strength and beauty of thorough workmanship; who know how to develop a character patiently and from within, so that it shall seem to stand erect and grow in stature out of its own vital force; and who can compose pictures of manners which in their temperate and deliberate fidelity are fit actually to shed light upon the history of an epoch; while here our best names are continually appended to labored trifles or to sketches of an hour; to work which startles agreeably and even gratifies for the moment, but has no farther use or significance,—work as brilliant and effective at first sight and as intrinsically worthless as a wired bouquet?
There is, for example, something positively grievous in the chaotic cleverness of a book like The Sarcasm of Destiny.2 It is wildly planned, it is hastily executed. The heroine is improbable, while the hero, who is Yankee physician, French savan, Hungarian baron, and English peer all in one is clearly impossible. The action is lively but utterly bewildering, and the plot is preposterous. An indulgent critic insists that the tale has “go,” but it goes nowhere in particular. It has only what Professor Tyndall would describe as the “ promise and potentiality ” of direction. For any fixed purpose, whether of art or morals, it is an utter failure, doomed to exasperate even while it amuses, and to be cheerfully forgotten directly it is laid aside; and yet, what wit is wasted upon it! It is all wrong, critically speaking, but the first half of it is abundantly readable. How very well many of the people talk; how picturesquely they dress and group themselves; with what grace and promptitude they make their exits
and their entrances upon their lavishly decorated stage; how truly and keenly they can even feel upon occasion! The scene shifts from the fine old provincial town of Urania to the Knickerbocker circle of New York, from New York to the seething Washington of Lincoln’s day, from Washington to Paris, from Paris to London, then back to the camps and hospitals of our civil war, to Urania, finally to England again. In all these places the author seems at home. We fancy that if she would linger long enough in any one to give us more than the merest dazzle of a passing glimpse, she might be positively edifying,—so knowing she appears in the ways of the great world, and yet, to a degree, unspoiled and unspoilable by them. This may indeed be an illusion, for the bright woman of the past, — the natural bright woman, so to speak, — who came before female colleges were invented, was remarkable for nothing more than for her power of using a little knowledge as if she possessed a great deal more; and the delightful absence of pedantry, the truly gracious freedom from all painful responsibility about the arts and sciences in The Sarcasm of Destiny, marks its author unmistakably as an ornament of that earlier time. But whatever her social opportunities and acquired accomplishments, there is no illusion about the native ability recklessly squandered upon this erratic tale; and it is on this foolish prodigality in the use of material which the writer either cannot or does not deign properly to work up, on this truly American haste and waste, that a short and pointed sermon might well be delivered with the sarcasm of literary destiny for its text. Types of character are suggested to us in these pages by the score, in a manner and with a fleetness of succession which reminds one wearifully of the mumbled “introductions” of society. There is a phantasmagoria of faces, yet they are almost all genuine types. The shrewd, kind spinster, the wise and tolerant clergyman, vague and elastic in his creed, but ardently zealous of good works, — the foreordained dévote, spotless, heroic, and narrow,—the refined and sorrowful idealist in politics, the gentle but merciless aristocrat Mrs. Peartree, — every one of these is worth study; but they are suggested only to be superseded; they are literally not developed at all. The social life of Urania is worth a careful study, — that seemingly by-gone life of the best kind of country town, so different in its leisurely and ordered elegance from the fierce and costly carnival, the strife for breath and foot-hold, which city life among us has everywhere become; and this author mentions it with a kind of affectionate regret, as if Urania had been indeed the heaven which lay about her in her infancy; but she merely mentions, and then her impulsive intelligence glances off; she has not the steadfastness to depict. She can give an episode admirably, she can tell a single anecdote or repeat a short conversation with great spirit, but she cannot construct a tale or even complete a portrait. Who among us can ?
Is it the bright young author of Kismet and Mirage? Her first book certainly showed great promise, and her second is like unto it. In fact it is a great deal too like, while in some respects it is better. It is a product of the same impulse,—the strong mental and emotional impulse given by Oriental travel to an ardent, poetic, aspiring creature, hardly past the years of a precociously clever girlhood. How the sentimentalists of all lands have reveled in that tour of Egypt and Syria, and what pretty, dreamy books they have been possessed to write about it! — Laporte’s Nile, George William Curtis’s Notes of a Howadji, Lamartine’s Voyage en Orient, and scores beside. And our youthful countrywoman seems sometimes to surpass all her teachers in the tenderness of her feeling for the sad primeval landscape, and in the eloquence of her descriptions. She thrills responsive to each new vision, and her glowing words are always ready. Nothing comes amiss to her, — sphinxes, pyramids, dancing women, pilgrims, crusaders, or saints, — the human passion of Egypt or the divine passion of Syria. What could be better in the way of word painting than this? —
“ It was a curious life, monotonous and yet full of ever-shifting change; for now the river ran past some low range of desolate hills of stone, at their feet a narrow strip of cultivated earth, — the all in life of some poor fellaheen. It was perhaps a patch of lupines, and they caught the faint sweet smell of the white blossoms as they rowed slowly by, the sails hanging loose and empty in the evening calm, until the river swept away round the bend, the mountains fell farther back, and before them the lone and level sands stretched far away, broken here and there by a pale, gray mass — a clump of larch-trees faded and wan, looking like the trees of some primeval world — that melted away like ghosts into the twilight.”
“ Or perhaps it was high noon, and they saw some train of camels, heavyladen and travel worn, lying in uncouth rest upon the sand, or twisting their long necks to snatch a mouthful of green from the few scanty bushes scattered along the shore. Behind them rose a jagged line of hills, —the color and shape of gigantic ash-heaps; and the camels, plodding slowly, heavily on, seemed themselves a part of the tawny, shadowless landscape,—their thin, gaunt figures the embodied spirits of the desert’s mystery. . . . But at last there came a night when the wind began blowing down the river once more, when the Princess and the Cleopatra once more spread their sails and flew like nightbirds through a sea of liquid opal ; for the thin white mist mingled milkily with the moonlight, and the river-banks were lost in a translucent, vaporous splendor.
that is what the men are singing; Ibraham has just translated it for me,’ said Livingstone to Bell, as they listened to the wild chant of the sailors, keeping time to the splash of the oars.”
“They were sweeping down the stream to Philæ, sailing fast on a river of moonlight that wound whitely in and out between the fantastic rock forms, — a thousand singular and distorted shapes of stone rising strangely weird and suggestive through the mist. The palms of Philæ were dark against the sky. each long feathery branch so clear, yet so softly delicate in outline, they seemed rather the ghosts of palms than actual trees. One of them, growing high up upon the bank, seemed to have caught a falling meteor as it glided across the sky, for through its tangled tracery of branches there shone a great white star. It was as though the tree had burst into some sudden glorious blossom of pale light.”
But a fine feeling for landscape and touch in depicting it can, after all, only serve a novelist for the adorning of a tale; and ornament, as we are incessantly informed nowadays, ought always to be restrained and subordinate to the purpose of the work. Can this graceful writer, whom we seem to have every encouragement to call Miss Fletcher, — can she also grasp life and depict character; can she build a drama or round a destiny? One grand qualification for dramatic success she certainly has, a faultless ear, namely, for the small talk of the day, and especially for that of men. She lays little comparative stress on what women say to one another; she is possibly not yet a member of a woman’s club; but her talk of men and women, and what is much more unusual in a woman’s book her talk of men with men, is true to the letter. It is due to her unerring ear, not at all because she has herself any predilection for ungrammatical forms, that she allows her best-bred persons to say “ It was me,” and “ I should have liked to have gone.” And just so far as people can be revealed by surface talk her people are revealed, and we know them precisely as we know our fellow-travelers on a long route, and the people who sit opposite us for a week at the table-d’hote. Their salient points of person and manners are hit off admirably in Arthur Livingstone, who was “ that most useless of animals a fastidious American,” who “ liked cultivated people, but detested intelligent ones;” in Captain Blake, “ a good-humored young Irishman with a fine tenor voice, a decided talent for brilliant water-color sketching, and a fatal facility for talking about himself; ” in Fanny Thayer, who was ever pursued by a devoted husband with a camp-stool, and had been " tired ever since she was ten years old; ” in that perfect flower of cis-Atlantic Philistinism, Jack Stuart.
Miss Fletcher, then, has many good gifts, — taste, humor, sensibility, a ready use of dramatic forms; and they have all been consecrated thus far to the service of one darling ideal, — that of a blonde girl with blighted affections. In Kismet the girl’s name is Bell. She is sailing on the Nile with her father and her young stepmother. She is engaged to be married to a good fellow at home, but meets on her travels an enfant du siècle whom she likes better. She makes a rather feeble struggle to be true to her vows, but falls into the other man’s arms about the time that they reach the first cataract. They are happy for a little while in the hollow lotus-land, and then the enfant, Arthur Livingstone, discovers that somebody has been trifled with, and he casts Bell off, rather rudely. After this she is very sad, with the lavish and sweet sadness of youth, and all Egypt is sad for sympathy, and we are quite comfortably sad who read, for she sings her sorrow exquisitely. When the affianced lover discovers the state of the case he naturally releases Bell, and, at the very last, Arthur decides that he will take her, but the impression of delicious woe is hardly marred. In Mirage the fair girl’s name is Constance. She is traveling in Syria with a fatherly friend and his young wife. There is a rather good though stupid fellow in the party who wants to marry Constance and whom her friends wish her to favor, but she happens to have met three years before an enfant du siècle, a shade more serious than the other. His name is Lawrence on the hills of Palestine, and she has loved him all this while, seemingly with very little encouragement. She sighs for him throughout Syria in a pensive and rapturous fashion, and again the fine scenery is suffused with guileless emotion. At Damascus the enfant Lawrence makes his appearance, and they are happy for a little in the odorous gardens and among the dusky bazars; and once they ride out together upon the encompassing desert, and are pathetically near coming to an understanding, but miss it, and the enfant drifts away from poor Constance, and she sadly and absently marries her original lover, Jack Stuart, whom she does not pretend to love at all. Mirage is in a lower key than Kismet, but it is better harmonized and more truly tender. The tearful and immoral end is artistically correct. It is a symmetrical sentimental whole. Constance is not as clearly individualized as Bell, but apparently she is meant to be a little vague, for even her author habitually speaks of her after the opening chapters as “ the girl,” as though she were a mere type of ardent feeling and unsatisfied yearning; a vehicle for confession and the vain aspiration after happiness in love.
Well, so be it. There are baffled lives, we know, and chords that are never resolved. But one would fain be pardoned for doggedly affirming that twice is enough to have tried the same subject, even with slight variations of treatment and an artistic gain in the second attempt. One wants to implore Miss Fletcher to shake off now her mood of introspective musing, and ruthlessly to bury her dear blonde maiden out of her sight. Let her despise the flattery of her admirers and resist the teasing of her publishers, and study other folks, the world of action and the works of those greatest masters of human portraiture who have traced the springs of conduct and probed the secrets of conscience. If she would only do this, who knows but she might by and by write books as strong as these two are pleasing, books of which her countryfolk might be permanently proud? She has rare capabilities, not the least of which is that keen susceptibility which comes so near, at times, to deepening into passion, and it is not too late for her to train her faculties for their highest possible use.
No one would think of calling Hesba
Stretton a great master, although in her unpretending little story of Max Cromer she certainly depicted the last siege of Strasburg in a masterly manner. Hers is, however, a very modest place among those minor English novelists whose high general level is yet so full of significance for ourselves. This difference of average, by the way, was forcibly illustrated in the case of the first No Name novel which came to us from abroad. Nobody could guess who wrote Will Denbigh, but everybody knew at ouce that it was English. Why V Because the style was peculiar and the hand clearly practiced, and it would not be possible for one of ourselves to write so well without being distinguished. So with Hesba Stretton. Her fame is little, but her work is admirable, and her latest story, Through a Needle’s Eye,3 so compact and complete that even to one who does not much mind its earnest moral purpose it must be very restful and satisfactory reading. This is the plot: A hard and violent old squire, in a lonely nook of that picturesque English coast so familiar to us in fiction, disinherits his scapegrace heir who had run away from home at nineteen, and leaves his lands and name to an elder step-son whom he had educated for the church and made vicar of the little sea-board parish with an income of a few hundred pounds. This step-son, Justin Webb, afterwards Herford, is the hero of the tale. On his death-bed the old man relents toward his natural heir, and orders burned the second will, which he had made in favor of Justin. By a pure mistake the will destroyed was the earlier one, which had been made in favor of the absent Richard, so that Justin was left, after all, in unquestioned legal possession of the estate. No one but himself knew of the squire’s late revulsion of feeling. Richard had not been heard of for six years; letters and advertisements failed to elicit any response; the parish was familiarized, by the old man’s frequent threats, with the thought of Justin’s succeeding; they knew him and loved him fortiis worth and wisdom, and his generous identification with themselves and their minute interests. So he kept his own counsel, installed a former classmate, a single-minded curate, even poorer than he had ever been, in the vicarage, and entered upon the name and lands of Herford, secured in his possession against everything but the whispers of his own conscience. The estate doubled in value under his astute management; his tenants also prospered in the trade which he knew how to create for them; the new clergyman was exceptionally zealous and tender in the cure of their souls; outside in his little realm, which yet was not rightfully his, all was peace and prosperity. And in his domestic life also Justin was gravely happy. He had married early in his struggling youth, but his wife had lived only long enough to give birth to one fragile girl, who now grew up in the sheltered luxury of the Hall, a gay, delicate, spotless creature, the darling of her father and of the entire parish. But Justin was blessed in another kind of love. The strong passion of his mature manhood was given to a noble woman who amply returned it, and waited only her release from the bondage of painful and yet sacred duty to a worthless father to become his wife. The ruinous grange where Diana led her life of heroic patience was near to Herford. The lovers met often; their friendship was of the sweetest and strongest type which may exist between unwed man and woman; their faith in one another absolutely without a flaw. Then came the culminating year when fame found Justin out in his retirement, and maiden Pansy’s innocent heart was won by the plausible son of a neighboring baronet, and the hand of the presumed heiress sought by the proud’and needy father. And then, in the fullness of time, when the fair fruits of wrong had all ripened, the rightful heir came home. The struggle in Justin’s mind before he can resolve to renounce his own position and blight his daughter’s prospects is depicted with a power and solemnity which remind one strongly of George Eliot in Silas Marner and others of her earlier and simpler tales. Here a distinctly religious motive is added, although never obtruded. The tale is always free from cant, but it becomes deeply serious in tone. The author does not scruple to enforce the text which she has taken for a title, and show the narrow and perilous entrance of the man whom ambition has misled into the kingdom of peace and spiritual honor. His expiation is a sore one. He retrieves his reputation in the end; he even regains his home and position m Herford after the returned prodigal has been crippled by a mortal injury; be weds his Diana, and sons are born to him, but little Pansy fades away. Her heart is broken by her lover’s treachery, her health by transplantation from her native soil. She dies piteously at twenty, and with the life of his first-born the father pays the full penalty of his error. There is a depth, a verity, a sad Justesse, about the completed story which no brief outline can properly represent. The minor characters are all clearly conceived: Richard, the half-unwilling reprobate; Leah, the village girl, who loved him so coarsely yet so truly in his prime, and served him joyfully in his helplessness; the Methodist preacher at the light-house; while the mother of Justin and Richard, and Mrs. Cunliffe, the worldly wife of the unworldly curate, are delineated with abundant humor. The action of the tale is natural, smooth, and steady; the style unstudied, but. without blemish; the impression which it leaves wholesome, grave, and sweet. Once more our thoughts recur to George Eliot. That Hesba Stretton is less than she goes without saying, but she is not immea-urably less. Her very limitations may serve her as a sort of artistic defense. She has studied in the same nobly realistic school as the greatest of recent novelists, and excess of power will never betray her into a disregard of proportion.
The belief has been popular among us lately that too much moral is the ruin of a work of art. Those especially of our younger writers who are in love with the technical beauties of French belles-lettres have sedulously striven to keep their “ studies ” pure of all moral intent, and he who leads his little school with, so dazzling a facility, the author of The American, even affects persiflage, and gracefully lays, as we heard a manly critic of his observe the other day, “ an immoral chip upon his shoulder.”
But the notion happens to be erroneous. One of the plainest of all the plain reasons for that superiority of the mass of English fiction to our own, into which we have essayed a little to inquire, is its greater seriousness. Those English writers, almost without exception, have convictions, upon which, as on a firm foundation, they can build boldly, by virtue of which their work has poise and strength and dignity. Illustrations occur in throngs: the Kingsleys (both) and Hardy, the author of Doris Barugh and Patty, the more sensational author of A House of Cards, the author of the Atelier du Lys, despite her French flavor and associations, the gentle author of Vera. We may or may not adopt their specific views and heed their teaching, but we are sobered and braced by their earnestness. It doth not yet appear whether George Eliot’s own stringent theory of life is true or false, but her immense moral momentum is unquestionable. Only Hawthorne and once Mrs. Stowe, on this side the water, have shown anything approaching it; and are not they our greatest? It may, however, encourage us to reflect that our headlong acceptance of the dictum, no moral in art, is probably due but in part to ihe witchery of France, much more to our own juvenility. What Herbert Spencer says of the development of the individual is true of the people quite as well: the physical powers mature first, then the intellectual, and last of all the moral. We Yankees have not yet got beyond the merely knowing stage, but we are on our way, let us hope, to a nobler.
And if moral sincerity gives force and temper to a book, so, of a certainty, does not sentimental piety, and Lapsed but not Lost,4 by the author of the Schonberg-Cotta Family, is very feeble. The world owes something to Mrs. Charles for her reverent and sympathetic researches into the annals of the Christian church, and more for her renderings of some of the great mediaeval hymns, particularly for the most exquisite translation ever accomplished of that loveliest of all the Augustiniani, the De Gaudiis Paradisi. But her dramatic vein is exhausted, her sweet but thin voice cracked beyond recovery, and the scene of her last romance, the semi-Christian Carthage of Tertullian and Cyprian, is a region peculiarly alien and uncomfortable to the imagination. It is more so even than the historic Carthage of Flaubert’s fiendish Salambo; much more so than the mythical Carthage of Dido’s day, where we all received an acceptable part of our early education.
It is natural at present to compare all stories of Russian life with Tourguéneff’s. This can be properly done only by persons who have been, so to speak, converted to Tourguéneff; who have experienced him, as certain sectaries used once to speak of experiencing religion. In the one case, as in the other, the process is expected at some subsequent time to render a man wiser, but it will inevitably for the time being render him sadder. The convert to Calvinism was overwhelmed by a sense of his own sins; the convert to Tourguénefiism is crushed by a sense of the sinfulness of Russian society. They have defied the gods and trampled on the commandments, these strange and powerful half - barbarians, and, if their most eloquent prophet tells the truth, there is literally no health in them. And why should he lie? What motive could he possibly have for blackening the character of all his countrymen? Has he not, moreover, the plain, dispassionate manner, the accent of stern veracity, the “ note,” as they say, of unflinching realism ? We have plainly no choice but to accept the total depravity of all the Russias; nor ought we, by any means, to resent as pharisaical the air of melancholy complacency sometimes to be observed in those who have fully accomplished the mortifying feat, and who plainly regard reluctance and a tendency to cavil at M. Tourguéneff’s statements as indicating both cowardice and levity of mind.
Nevertheless, when one has embraced the means of grace, and swallowed in unwinking succession Fathers and Sons and Virgin Soil, Spring Floods and A Lear of the Steppe, the dose is felt by the natural man to have been so big and so bitter that one is, perhaps, disproportionately glad of a morsel of delicate sweetmeat like Henry Greville’s Dosia.1 It is a Russian story, but it will add nothing to that mass of sombre lore which we call knowledge of Russian life. The half-dozen personages who talk so wittily and behave so naturally with one another, through its two hundred and sixty very open pages (for this tale also is of the fashionable cabinet-size), all belong to that highly privileged and triplyguarded class of society for whom life is much the same in every land, and whether they oscillate between New York and Newport, London and Scotland, or Saint Petersburg and TsarskoeSélo. A wild and wayward, but highspirited, warm-hearted, and bewitching little hoyden wins the love of a peculiarly grave and fastidious man. A stately and experienced woman, the sister of the first lover, bestows her oftsought hand on the cousin of the first lady, —a young army officer, remarkable for nothing previously but simple honor and boyish vivacity. This is the whole story, but it is charmingly told, with an abundance of odd incident and sparkling dialogue. The fascinations of the heroine are nowhere solemnly proclaimed, but the reader falls under their spell the moment she is introduced. We are not told that she is clever, but we observe that she is never outwitted, and she describes her dynasties of foreign governesses to the doomed dignitary who is beginning to patronize her with a merry acumen which actually illuminates the question of the education of girls, does good like a medicine to her stately and critical interlocutor, and shows triumphantly how much better in a woman is wisdom than the repute of it. There are no secrets in the story, no crimes, no sorrows. These polite and amusing people move by a sunshiny path to congenial destinies; but it need not harm us to be reminded that the sun is always shining clearly somewhere in the world, and that a narrow and transitory beam may even light at intervals upon the benighted kingdom of the Czar.
Dosia is a very little book, and we take occasion to repeat that a little thing well done, a little tale delightfully told, is by no means necessarily better in the way of art than a larger conception imperfectly wrought out. But symmetry and completeness are good things to remember and recognize, and there are odd minutes of life which we consecrate by preference to books which do not affect immortality. Henry Greville is the nom de plume of a French lady who has lived much in Russian diplomatic circles, and Miss Sherwood’s translation makes us forget that it is a translation, and is therefore as good as in this case it need be.
- The New Republic; or, Culture, Faith, and Philosophy in an English Country-House By W H. MALLOCK. London : Spottiswoode & Co. New York : Scribner, Welford, and Armstrong. 1878↩
- The Sarcasm of Destiny ; or, Nina’s Experience. By M. E. W. S. New York : Appleton & Co. 1878.↩
- Through a Needle’s Eye. By HESBA STRETTON New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. 187S.↩
- Lapsed but not Lost. By MRS. CHARLES New York : Dodd, Mead & Co. 1878.↩