Recent American Novels
To return from Egdon Heath and the Hebrides to the familiar places pervaded by that still prolific species, the native American novel, is not enlivening, but to be ashamed of one’s kinsfolk, and overlook them when one has been in the company of finer people is not manly. Let us therefore give our respectful and, if possible, affectionate attention to As it May Happen, The Virginians in Texas, The Bohemian, Tritons, Captain Nelson, and a few more which may be supposed fairly to exemplify “the beautiful all around us lying.”
As it May Happen1 first challenges attention by the claim, clearly put forth in large gilt letters upon the cover, to be a novel of American life and character. It is a novel of rather low life and generally worthless character; and it is to be hoped that this does not make it more distinctively American, though the author evidently thinks it does. He affects rapidity, brevity, and a businesslike bluntness to such a degree that he omits altogether some of the most important links in his narrative. He has a propensity also for duplicating his characters, which makes his tale confusing: there are two misers in the book, for example, bearing the appropriate names of Nicholas Grundle and Seth Gagger, who both hoard their gains and abuse their families; and the hero has two mothers, whom it requires the closest attention to distinguish from each other. There is an abundance of disagreeable incident in the story, and no lack, from the outset, of action; but toward its close, surprises come tumbling down; the author breaks into a kind of war-dance, and there is something so broadly farcical in his distribution of princely fortunes and assignment of brown-stone fronts to the (comparatively) virtuous upon the last page that one wonders if, after all, he may not have written this book upon a wager as to how preposterous a farrago the public would accept in the way of domestic fiction. There are certain involuntary vulgarisms in the style, however, — like the incessant use of transpire for occur,—which forbid the supposition of deliberate mockery.
It is particularly hard to take a book of this sort seriously and consider it with patience. Yet, concluding it to have been written in good faith, we are resolved to dwell on it for a little, because, curiously bad as much of the present performance is, it is yet haunted by a strange kind of amorphous possibility of merit. In the first place, it has the indubitable advantage of a scene laid in the Middle States. The very quietude and indifference of that region, its neutrality amid the stress of effort and the storms of faction which have raged on either side of it for a hundred years, have allowed the deposit of a soil, the exhalation of a certain dreamy atmosphere, favorable, or at least possible, for romance. It is a mistake to suppose that the life which is most exciting to live will always be the most interesting to portray. Do not our more entertaining letters come frequently from the deadliest country places, our more hurried and vapid from the great centres affected by the great world? It would seem that a deep perspective, a striking composition, can hardly be achieved without the canceling and concealment of long spaces of actual ennui. Pennsylvania, the paradise of the lazy and the byword of the progressive, whose longdrawn name, even, is compounded of Quaker phlegm and rustic monotony and ends in a yawn, — Pennsylvania furnished scenery for all those intense and original studies of Mrs. Harding Davis which appear to have come prematurely to an end, and for the lamented Mr. Taylor’s most powerful and symmetrical novel, the Story of Kennett; and, thanks to the fact that its antic action passes precisely there, even As it May Happen is thoroughly invested with an atmosphere and equipped with a landscape. It is also — what is yet more unusual— equipped with a plot, which the author is somewhat too impatient to unravel, but which is ingenious if not new; and there is real humor — a little overstrained, perhaps — in the sketch of the aspiring young bar-man at the Red Lion, who made the country lawyer his bright example, practiced his gestures in secret, and studied his florid phraseology by the help of a dictionary and book of synonyms, and then, when he had given a triumphant representation to that worthy himself, and surprised him, by virtue of the novel flattery, into the condescending offer of a place in his office, drew himself up and replied with dignity that he looked higher after his late success, and proposed to go into polities.
The rule that a career of wild adventure does not furnish the very best plot for a novel is cheerfully disregarded by our contributor, Mr. William M. Baker, who is a kind of self-constituted prophet of pioneer life, and who gives us in The Virginians in Texas2 an animated chronicle of frontier experience, with a running accompaniment of rattlesnakes, Indians, and prairie-fires. The same vigor of description, rude effectiveness of characterization, bluff superiority to all finical refinements of speech (Chapter II. is entitled Getting a little Fixed), and occasional spasms of evangelical piety which characterize Mr. Baker’s other books are to be found in The Virginians in Texas, along with much valuable information about the resources of that unwieldy State, accursed of army officers forevermore.
The Bohemian 3 recalls us to what is presumed to he civilization. It is a tiny book, with a jaunty air, despite the fierce tragic mask upon the cover, and its hundred odd pages are rather cleverly and pointedly written; but the atmosphere we are forced to breathe, as we slip hurriedly through them, is so nauseous and exhausted of vitality that we are ready to cry out for Mr. Baker’s grammar and a ranch in Texas. This is the plot: A handsome young Southerner, of good but impoverished family, is serving as clerk in a large dry-goods shop in New York. He is elected to a literary club, — the Expressionists, — where he lends his ideas to the president or master, a vulgar fraud, self-styled a poet, whom he innocently admires, and his money to a prowling broker who is there to fleece the unwary. Both the president and the broker are rejected suitors of a certain notorious belle of ten seasons, who has long ago declared herself independent of the proprieties, and who, roving abroad as a lady-errant in search of adventures, discovers the hero behind his desk, likes his looks, lays her toils for him, and soon brings him to the point of accepting, with dazed delight, her playful offer of marriage. He loves his liege lady truly and blindly, and is a very happy fellow until one day when he finds her in the grounds of her own villa lending an ear to the cynical blandishments of one of the rejected suitors aforesaid; whereupon he hastily goes mad, and flings himself in front of a railroad train. This is the tragedy of modern life. " So he died, and she very imprudently married the broker.” The classic tale from which we quote is better worth an effort of memory, for it has more merit and much more logic than The Bohemian. There is a sinister and equivocal air about some portions of the latter, as though it were but a thin disguise of actual events, an insolence in its curtness, as though the author were too careless of the general reader to waste any unnecessary work on him, which reduce that reader’s self-respect so rapidly that he has hardly spirit enough left at the end to speak out all his indignation against author and publisher for conniving to put to so base a use a few clear grains of satiric and dramatic talent.
A much more wholesome and goodhumored tale of New York life than The Bohemian is Mr. Bynner’s Tritons.4 We would have liked to find it an advance, as well, upon Nimport, the author’s maiden effort of last year, but how very seldom is such a hope thoroughly gratified ! Both stories are above the average, and impress one as being the facile work of a clever and agreeable man. There is real humor in each, especially in the too rare appearances of the gentleman in Tritons with a mania for china and interior decoration. “ Our drawing-room,” he remarks casually at breakfast, “is commonplace and inartistic. My design is to have the floor laid in marqueterie of different varieties of Irish oak; to have the walls covered with Japanese stamped leather, with a dado of ebonized cherry carved in cameo, after a mediæval design of hunting scenes and insignia for which I have drawings. The ceiling I shall have painted in panels and cross-hatched with ebonized moldings, while for the frieze I am going to have a fac-simile cast of the Parthenon frieze actually set in the wall. What do you think of that, my dear?”
“ I think it will be a jumble of an Anglo-Saxon castle, a Japanese palace, and a Grecian temple, all shaken up and poured into a Yankee parlor; and it will be frightful; but then you know I have no intuitive perception.”
It is the legitimate function of Mr. Bynner’s raillery to touch off the follies of respectable society. When he essays to irradiate with a glare of unnatural cheerfulness the lodgings of a crippled fireman, and to reduce to a series of jingling rhymes the “ short and simple annals of the poor,” he fails, as did even his master in fiction. How can so clever and discerning a person help seeing that the fame which Dickens got by the sentimentalization of squalor and want and other of life’s hardest conditions was the most fleeting and meretricious part of his great reputation! What a distance from this false note to the dignity of Dante, driven from shore to shore, whichever way the dry wind of poverty blew !
It must be noted, also, that the freak of maternal finesse on which the plot of Tritons is made to hang is really too flimsy for even so slight a weight. It is as childish as the screen business usually is upon the stage. And the dramatis personœ excepting always the chinamaniac and perhaps the heroine, are names rather than characters. Nevertheless, this novel is morally sound and mentally lively.
Madame Gréville has the same order of mental gifts plus an essentially French lightness and precision; and then she has well studied and fully mastered her art. We are reminded to say of the amusing last novel of this delightful lady, Philomène’s Marriages,5 that it has been translated not into English, but into that quaint compromise between two tongues, first invented, we believe, by Thackeray for the correspondence between Colonel Newcome and Madame de Florac, — “ Behold me of return, my friend,” etc. There is something to be said for such a dialect, perhaps, on the ground of international deference. Otherwise, it would seem to argue an excessive and, so to speak, morbid acquaintance with French, and a corresponding haziness about the mother-tongue, to employ idioms like the following: “reparations in an apartment;” “the captain’s souvenir returned of itself in presence of the basket, and his widow accorded him an honorable mention in her memory;” “the hostess unfrowned; ’ ’ “ a small house preceded by a little pasture;” “since a long while;” and “ to one of these days,” by way of a farewell.
To pass from The Bohemian by way of Tritons to Cousin Polly’s Gold Mine 6 is equivalent to going from opera bouffe on Friday night to Barnum’s moral show on Saturday afternoon, and thence to the Sunday service in an Orthodox church in rural New England, — not, perhaps, a quite untraveled way. Allow this yellow-covered brochure its right to preach you a sermon, and you will find that the sermon has its share of pathos and power. And if monotony of experience and fixity of condition do indeed make a good ground tint for a novel, then the sea-looking downs and pasturelands of Essex County ought to compare favorably with the Pennsylvania grainfields and coal-pits in their scenic possibilities. They have certainly their own peculiar fitness to be the theatre of certain stern and dreary developments of human destiny. Whether it be that a curse was entailed upon them by the grisly spiritual tragedy they witnessed nigh two hundred years ago, or that the conditions of that tragedy were permanent and are even now exhaled continually by the cold, salt surges and the poor, difficult, storm-beset soil, it is certain that one who would fathom and interpret the indigenous life of that country from age to age must have entered, and that deeply, into the mood of men and women who “ scorn delights ” without well knowing what they mean, and “live laborious days” in no fresh ecstasy of self-devotion, but with automatic patience and an enforced and often surly resignation.
The author of Cousin Polly seems to understand this, and to have studied her depressing subject faithfully, with the result of giving us a half dozen or more strictly characteristic types, clearly conceived and passably well developed. Of these Cousin Polly herself is the most picturesque and peculiar. Who has not at some time seen her mocking a summer’s day ? She is the companion of the crotalus, and clear consequent of the witches’ Sabbath. Her foot is always on her native huckleberry heath; her attire is “withered and wild” as that of her first cousins of Fife, bleached into a “protective resemblance” to the pale rocks and thin grasses amid which she moves; her speech is an infrequent elementary croak; her sole passion, a greed for money, which she gathers, dime by dime, and hides in the vault of the village savings-bank, oblivious of even the least and lowest of its direct uses. The Polly of the book sold her berries and deposited her grim gains in the good old town of Newburyport, and the fulfillment of her one sordid dream — that of finding a mine on her own land — is matter of contemporary history. Equally truthful is the sketch of the two fine farmer’s boys, one of whom has to be sacrificed —so narrow are their circumstances — that the other may have a career, and it is quite natural that the voluntary victim should have had a little the nobler nature of the two. The brothers loved the same sweet girl, Alice Leigh, and the more favored won her; but the fortune which she brought her husband melted away, as so many of those marine-made fortunes in our seaboard cities have done. Their orphaned children became the wards of their patient and large-hearted uncle; and there is admirable poetic justice and a really artistic convergence of different lines of destiny in the end, where poor, miserly Polly finds death in her fulfilled desires by falling into the pit excavated by the first miners on her old farm, and the wealth which she had clutched so blindly comes by natural inheritance to Alice’s children and their adoptive father, and comes just in time to lift from the brave shoulders of the true hero of the tale the burden which must soon have crushed them.
It must be confessed, however, that this plot looks better in outline than with the author’s filling. There is absolutely no action in the book, and the conversations, especially of the more refined characters, are as priggish and impossible as the situations are simple and veracious. It was perhaps the chilly spell of the locality which weighted the writer’s pen and rendered an essentially touching conception in effect so flat and pale. Why should the one Essex County woman of exotic genius who might have informed such a plot with fire and sweetness and the fullest and warmest poetry, — why need Mrs. Prescott Spofford have fatigued herself over costly trifles, and then stopped writing fiction while her powers were yet unripe and she was evidently so far from having produced her best? Looking back fifteen years, and shocked to find it so many, to the date of In a Cellar, we are ready to echo from our hearts Mr. Ruskin’s rueful exclamation, “ I do not wonder at what men suffer, but I do wonder at what they lose! ”
It is almost the same length of time since any serious effort has been made to reproduce in story the rather impracticable life of colonial New England. A reverent unwillingness to tread too close upon the footsteps of a great master and invade a region which we all feel to be somehow sacred to Hawthorne may account, and not ignobly, for this reserve. But Samuel Adams Drake is in season with his Captain Nelson,7 and the interesting local researches in which he has been so long and enthusiastically engaged are a sufficient guaranty at the outset for the perfection of his mise en scène. Accordingly, we have in the first chapter of this romance of colonial days a rapid but complete and exceedingly graphic picture of Boston in 1689, when Sir Edmund Andros, as the viceroy of James II., held the consolidated governorship of a half dozen colonies, and administered injustice at the old town-house on King Street, hard by the site of the present city hall. In Chapter II. we are still in the sombre overture to the drama, being invited to be present at a February funeral in King’s Chapel buryingground, where the morose and yet wideawake Puritan mourners mob the rector of the chapel, Master Ratcliffe, for attempting to read the Church of England service over their deceased brother, and come within one of burying him alive in the convenient retreat of the corpse. At this juncture the hero leaps effectively upon the scene, rescues the dishonored ecclesiastic, mediates between the enraged parties with prompt address, succeeds in dispersing the rabble before the military have time to come up and make heroes of them, and averts the most unfortunate consequences by his admirable tact and pluck.
Formal history has little to say of this Captain John Nelson, save that he was a well-connected gentleman, young, brave, and, as it would seem, singularly independent in character; for, though himself an Episcopalian and an aristocrat, he sympathized with the harried and exasperated dissenters, and served with unflinching loyalty the most advanced party in the intractable little State. We meet him next two months later in the same year, in that third week in April which has always been so fateful in our history. While the members of Sir Edmund Andros’s council were being seized and carried into custody, and a stentorian patriot was reading aloud from the rickety little balcony of the town hall the famous " Declaration of the Gentlemen, Merchants, and Inhabitants of Boston and the adjacent country,” supposed to be the “ very quick and sudden composure ” of the irrepressible Mr. Cotton Mather, Nelson was leading, with admirable generalship, the attack of the armed insurrectionists upon the forts in the harbor. How successful the whole movement was, and how greatly the insurgents were favored of fortune in the simultaneous but of course unknown triumph of the Prince of Orange in England, are matters of general history; and it is equally certain that the real Nelson, despite his gallant services upon the critical day, was coldly regarded by his more fanatical and interested associates, and wholly omitted in the distribution of honors when the government was re-arranged. It is fortunate for the reader, however, that Mr. Drake is not let from making his hero the leader of an unlucky expedition against Port Royal, and thus removing him from the iron constraints of the Massachusetts colony to those provinces which, thanks to the genius of Mr. Parkman, we now know to have been the true fairy-land of our continent. From the time when Nelson meets and fights, off the coast of Maine, the mythical Castine and his Abenaquis, the story becomes highly dramatic, moves with unflagging spirit, is full of unexpected turns and a genuine romantic fascination. The hero proves himself a hero of the first water, chivalrous, incorruptible, adroit, indomitable; all the more credit to Mr. Drake, if he be chiefly his invention. Certain antique affectations in speech, like “certes,” “peace, knave,” and “ hark ye, master,” which the novelist had put on at the outset of his story, and worn for a while consciously and uncomfortably, as one might wear a ruffled shirt and knee-breeches, drop off at this animated stage of the performance, and the diction becomes natural and nervous to a remarkable degree. The picture of the able and crafty Comte de Frontenac, the governor and, as he was then styled, the saviour of French Canada, is very strong and life-like, and the smooth and skillful word-duels between him and his prisoner Nelson, whom he likes for his good manners and daring soldiership, and tries in a thousand ways to corrupt, furnish unusually gratifying reading. Here is a fragment from their first encounter: —
“ Having scanned the young man closely for a few seconds, the governor took up a paper, glanced rapidly at its contents, and, turning to the Franciscan at his side, demanded if this was the person named in the dispatch which he held in his hand.
“ ‘ Yes, your excellency,’ replied the ecclesiastic, with an inclination.
“ ‘ And whom M. de Villebon tells us is a most inveterate enemy of Canada?’
“ ‘ The same, your excellency.’
“ Nelson took a step toward the table, and said in good French, ‘ I ought to notify your excellency that I understand the language you are speaking perfectly well.’
“ ‘ H’m,’ muttered Frontenac, ‘he is at least a man of honor.’ Then, elevating his voice, ‘So much the better; we may then talk at our ease. This paper describes you as John Nelson, of Boston.’
“ Nelson acknowledged his identity by a bow.
“ ‘ You have been in Quebec before? ’
“ ‘ Yes, your excellency.’
“ ‘ More than once? ’
“ ‘ Twice, M. le Comte.’
“ ‘ With what object? ’
“ ‘ Once to negotiate the release of some captives ; once for my own proper account.’
“ ‘ Without doubt you have acquaintances in the city.’
“ ‘ Perhaps; I cannot say yes or no.’
“ ‘Why did the governor of Boston Send you to Arcadia? ’
“ ‘ Because of my knowledge of the country.’
“ ‘ Speak to the question. What end was that knowledge to subserve? ’
“ ‘The interests of those who sent me. ’
“ ‘ What interests? ’
“ ‘Your excellency will excuse my answering. ’
“ Eh! You will not answer? ’
“ ‘ No.’
“ ‘ How if I have the means to compel you to speak ? ’
“ Nelson’s lip curled. ‘ You have not the means,’ he answered quietly.
“ ‘ Nous verrons. Your occupation? ’ demanded the count, continuing his interrogation.
“ ‘ I am a merchant.’
“ ‘ A merchant who leads a revolution,’ pursued Frontenac, with a touch of irony. ‘ We have heard of you, sir. ’
“ Not knowing what to reply the young man contented himself with guarding a prudent silence. The count continued with considerable vivacity: ‘ A most disloyal, a most unrighteous act, sir, to dethrone your legitimate sovereign! But you Bostonnais are of the old parliamentary leaven, and account the divine right of princes a thing of little value. Ma foi! it must be confessed your Cromwell knew that royal heads should never be touched except with the axe, while this William of Nassau ’ — here Frontenac elevated his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders expressively — ‘ comes like a thief in the night and robs his father-in-law of his crown.’
“ ‘I beg your excellency’s pardon,’ rejoined Nelson, ‘King William did not steal the crown; he received it from the nobles and commons of England.’
“ ‘A nice distinction, truly! Is not the receiver as bad as the thief? ’
“ ‘By your excellency’s leave,’ said Nelson, nettled, ‘ Englishmen hold it neither theft nor sacrilege; and when a great nation resolves to defend the title it has given ’ —
“ ‘ Yes, yes.’ interrupted the governor, ‘ the multitude of offenders is their safeguard. But how should noble and chivalric sentiments be expected where there is no noblesse to maintain the sound principles of the throne? Faugh! one might as well look for attar of roses in a dunghill!’
“ ‘ Monsieur le Comte,’ retorted Nelson, pointing to the woman’s scalp, ‘ that is a school of chivalry in which Englishmen do not wish to learn.’ ”
Nelson’s loyalty to his ungrateful compatriots continues proof against all sorts of attacks, both insidious and direct. He manages to send warning to the New England coast of an attack so well concerted as to have threatened the very life of the colonies at a single blow, and makes manful and simple preparation to die a felon’s death when his agency is discovered. His valor is yet more severely tested by transportation and the long imprisonment in a French fortress which is substituted at the very last for the death penalty; but even this he gallantly supports, and we leave him unwillingly at the end, with chastened yet unbroken spirit, free and ready to begin a new life in England in his middle age, — one of the most virile, consistent, and honorable characters in all recent fiction.
We have conscientiously refrained from saying anything of Captain Nelson’s love-story, which is a likely and touching one enough, but not quite as warmly told, we think, as the tale of his adventures, and which has the merit or demerit, as the reader may decide, of ending exactly as was not expected.
The name of Robert Lowell is one which ought always to bespeak respectful attention, if only on account of the conscientious excellence and permanent value of his first work, The New Priest in Conception Bay. In the Stories from an Old Dutch Town 8 we have explored, and possibly not exhausted, by a practiced writer the resources of one of those obscure nooks where a sort of eddy in the headlong course of American living has allowed deep quiet to continue for more than one of the units of earthly time. The old Dutch town is Westervliet on the Hudson, and Westervliet is presumably Schenectady, where the persistence of the Knickerbocker element may perhaps account for Daisy Miller’s breeding. A good many quaintnesses of custom and idiom are chronicled in this little book, and the principal sketch, Mr. Schermerhorn’s Marriage and Widowhood, has entirely the air of an old family history, and is both novel in the type of character which it portrays and extremely touching. One feels, however, that Mr. Lowell knows a good story better than he can tell it, and his pet vices of narration, his allusive and enigmatical manner, and the various ways he has of pausing, recurring, digressing, correcting, and generally involving his tale, are such as usually beset a viva voce historian rather than a writer.
The author of Signing the Contract,9 Miss (or Mrs. ?) Finley, takes us a turn about the wide West, and gives us a turn by the unnecessary ghastliness of some of her incidents. Yet her novel is fairly well written and constructed,— the moral unexceptionable, the incidents possible. It is, as one may say, " poor but honest;” praiseworthy in performance, deplorable in material. In the South and by the Atlantic and by the Pacific, in the Middle States and along the Hudson and in Canada, a few seeds of romance, by more or less anxious cultivation, have been made to germinate, but upon the prairies, we believe, thus far, not one. Singing birds have been “let loose” from time to time under those unfeatured skies, and have “ hastened fondly ” and swiftly to their transAtlantic home, saving thus, by desperate flight, the life of their dreams and fancies. Great is the granary of the continent, and Colonel Sellers is its prophet, but its pre-poetic and histrionic æons are not yet done. We say this well remembering Roxy and the Hoosier Schoolmaster, and we dare say the same of Russia, though confronted by Tolstoy and the titanic Tourgénieff.
In the International Episode10 Mr. Henry James, Jr., has given us some of his daintiest workmanship. His style is more than ever, in this elegant trifle, like a transparent vase, which lets perfectly be seen the swift, but seemingly aimless dartings of his brilliant mockery through the limpid medium of an intelligence absolutely uncolored by preference or sympathy. The light satire of the present sketch is softly announced in its polysyllabic title. Mr. James is still, as in The American, The Europeans, and Daisy Miller, playing with the contrasts between New World and Old World types of character and codes of conduct; accumulating delightfully clever studies, and assorting or rearranging them in new combinations. It is the turn of his countrymen to be specially pleased with his last performance, because in it he has drawn, with his customary precision, the very best kind of American girl, — gentle, proud, highminded, beautifully brought up, and fair to see, as a matter of course, —who cannot for her life love a British peer because he is a peer, though most amiably disposed toward himself, and keenly susceptible with regard to the picturesque accessories and historic dignity of his position. The comedy has two acts, the first of which takes place in New York and Newport, where the Marquis of Lambeth and his cousin, Mr. Percy Beaumont, arrive in August, “the season for watermelons and Englishmen,” and are received and entertained with a lavish hospitality which is also uncalculating, although the noble visitors cannot believe it so. How admirable is the first conversation recorded of these two after their arrival in New York!
“The young men had exchanged few observations, but in crossing Union Square in front of the Monument to Washington — in the very shadow, indeed, projected by the image of the pater patriœ — one of them remarked to the other, ‘ It seems a rum-looking place.’
“ ‘ Ah, very odd, very odd,’ said the other, who was the clever man of the two.
“ ‘ Pity it’s so beastly hot,’ resumed the first speaker, after a pause.
“ ‘ You know we ’re in a low latitude,’ said his friend.
“ ‘ I dare say,’ remarked the other.
“ ‘ I wonder,’ said the second speaker, presently, 'if they can give one a bath? ’
“ ‘ dare say not,’ rejoined the other.
“ ‘ Oh, I say! ’ cried his comrade.”
Later, Mr. James appends to another dialogue, of the same sparkling order, the following ingenious commentary: —
“ The young Englishmen tried American cigars,—those of Mr. Westgate (their host), — and talked together as they usually talked, with many odd silences, lapses of logic, and incongruities of transition; like people who have grown old together, and learned to supply each other’s missing phrases; or, more especially, like people thoroughly conscious of a common point of view, so that a style of conversation superficially lacking in finish might suffice for reference to a fund of associations in the light of which everything was all right.”
Some such bland apology seems equally requisite for the style of conversation of the ladies at Newport, with whom the Englishmen are presently domesticated. The lamentations of Mrs. Westgate over the fact that “ we have no leisure class in America ” cover more pages with their vapid prolixity than any but the most reckless realist would have dared assign to them; and even Bessie Alden, destined to come out so nobly in England, does not so much more than vindicate her Boston training by making the inquiry of Lord Lambeth, “ Are you a hereditary legislator ? To which he replies, naturally and appropriately, “ Oh, I say! — don’t make me call myself such names as that.”
At the end of the first act of the International Episode, we confess to having thought, with Mr. James’s premature admirers in England, that he meant his two countrywomen for delightful fools, but the event has proved that we did not know them nor their author. When the curtain rises upon them in England, they have undergone the most striking transformation: Mrs. Westgate has dropped her twaddle, and is full of spirit, finesse, epigram; Miss Bessie has developed into a model of maidenly dignity, capable of leading the story to the dénoûment foreshadowed above. And we heartily forgive our author this lack of artistic continuity in his female characters for the sake of the refined practical joke which he is thereby enabled to play upon his English readers.
In the pause between the two parts of the drama, when it seemed even to ourselves as if the balance of the laugh were to be against America, plaudits loud and long resounded the other side the water. We read in the Saturday Review of “a careful, clear, and subtle sketch of the American woman as she lives and flirts in the works of Mr. Henry James; ” in the Academy of “ a piece of work so capable and original, so vigorous and to a certain point so telling, as to be worthy of equal praise and study,” etc. But when the tables were turned, — and turned with what noiseless rapidity and smiling grace! — there was one moment of vacant bewilderment, and then a burst of something very different from applause. The Cornhill Magazine pronounces the episode ‘‘thin, flimsy, and unsatisfactory,” graciously adding that it would not withdraw its praise of the first part (how could it, by the way?), but that the conclusion is not equal to the prelude. The Academy protests, as it were with tears of wrath, that young English lords do not say “filth” and “ beastly ” to ladies. The British grandmother is ever slow to perceive herself smiled at, but by the time she had ad - justed her reading-glass and slowly perused the account of the Duchess of Bayswater’s call on the American adventurers, and the reflections and comments of the latter ( “ She won’t even know how well I am dressed,” was Mrs. Westgate’s rueful observation), that abominable supposition had taken shape in her august mind. The British lion does not lightly own himself pervious to a thorn, but even so tiny and polished a one as Mr. James has insinuated into his paw is enough to make him shake that member in a terrible manner, and lift up howlings audible throughout two continents,—howlings however, which when heard at a certain distance are harmless and even entertaining.
- As it May Happen. A Novel of American Life and Character. By TREBOR. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates. 1879.↩
- The Virginians in Texas. A Story for Old Young Folks and Young Old Folks. By WILLIAM M. BAKER. New York: Harper’s Library of American Fiction. 1879.↩
- The Bohemian. A Tragedy of Modern Life. By CHARLES DE KAY. New York : Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1879↩
- Tritons. A Novel. By EDWIN LASSETER BYNNER. Boston : Lockwood, Brooks & Co. 1878.↩
- Philomène’s Marriages. Translated from the French of MADAME HENRI GRÉVILLE. Philadelphia : T. B. Peterson. 1879.↩
- Cousin Polly’s Gold Mine. A Novel. By MRS. A. E. PORTER. New York: Harper’s Library of American Fiction. 1879.↩
- Captain Nelson. A Romance of Colonial Days. By SAMUEL ADAMS DRAKE. Harper’s Library of American Fiction : New York. 1879.↩
- Stories from an Old Dutch Town. By ROBERT LOWELL. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1879.↩
- Signing the Contract and What it Cost. By MARTHA FINLEY. New York : Dodd and Mead. 1879.↩
- An International Episode. Half Hour Series. By HENRY JAMES, JR. New York : Harpe rand Brothers. 1879.↩