Englishwomen in Recent Literature

A NOTEWORTHY feature in contemporary English literature is the number of female writers. In looking through a London publisher’s catalogue, one is struck with the large proportion of books by women and with the diversity of their topics. Works of fiction are naturally in the majority, but theology, morals, science, political economy, belles-lettres, education, art in its countless branches, — including household decorations, bricabrae, china, and lace, — travels, cookery, are to be found on the list; indeed, one might go on until the subjects on which books have ever been written were exhausted. The tables of contents of the leading magazines and reviews bear witness to the same literary copartnership of the sexes in Great Britain; in the Contemporary and Theological reviews and the Nineteenth Century some of the articles with the most serious titles are by women. Strange to say, poetry is conspicuous by its absence from the list; among all the new books by women mentioned by the Spectator and Saturday Review for April and May, there is but one volume of verses, and the same lack is to be observed in the periodical literature.

It has befallen me lately to read several of the new books by Englishwomen. Notwithstanding extreme variety of subject and style, and a great difference between the writers themselves, I have been impressed by a sort of family likeness, a certain similarity of tone, which runs through them. The reader’s mind gradually catches it, and the perusal of each leaves him at the same pitch. The books were chosen at random, in search of entertainment only; they all produced mental fatigue. This seemed so singular that I have tried to arrive at the causes of the uniform effect, and to discover the key-note of the monotonous and wearisome strain into which the cleverest Englishwomen fall, no matter what their theme may be. In order to make the experiment fairly, I have taken among the latest publications those which differ most in every essential, and which have received most notice from the English press.

To begin with, there must be a belief prevalent among English people, especially women, that everybody can and should write a book, and that in order to do so it is only needful to write English with tolerable, correctness. In default of everything else, they give us autobiography: they may call it travels, letters from Europe, Asia, Africa, or Australia, but it is in reality only personal recollections. There is no pretense of offering anything new, interesting, amusing, or instructive. When a fine lady takes up the pen, she seems to think that the mere condescension of addressing the public is sufficient to entitle her to a hearing. No incident is too insignificant, no detail is too dry, for her pages. Queen Victoria’s Journey in the Highlands is the type of this class of book: “ Tuesday, August 30th. We heard, to our great distress, that we had only gone fifty-eight miles since eight o’clock last night. How annoying and provoking this is! We remained on deck all day, lying on sofas; the sea was very rough towards evening, and I was very ill. We reached Flamborough Head, on the Yorkshire coast, by half past five.” A royal record of this sort may have set the fashion. A queen’s daily life may be supposed to interest her subjects and many people besides. I have heard Americans speak with surprise and contempt of the taste; but although I cannot read H. B. M.’s books myself, curiosity about the lives of royal people seems to me a natural instinct. Their peculiar education, their historical position, their influence over the destiny of nations and the working of the world, the extraordinary ordeals and reverses to which they are liable, constitute for them a life apart, and make the most commonplace of them, both superficially and intrinsically, unlike mortals of lower rank. It is this unlikeness and their double life as public personages and private individuals which give interest to their daily actions and impressions; one wishes to know how the elements and accidents of our common existence look to those who see them at so different an angle from ourselves. But when persons of less degree give us the chronicle of their diurnal sayings and doings, and the picture of their private, life, it is hard to guess what satisfaction can be found in the revelation either by reader or writer.

Lady Anne Blunt’s book,1 which, strange to say, comes under this head, has a number of extrinsic advantages to recommend it to the general reader. In the first place, notwithstanding the precedents of Lady Hester Stanhope and Lady Ellenborough, it is a new and startling feat for an English lady to travel with the Bedouins; then it is a fine thing for a civilized woman to be able to ride so far, to fast so long, and to make no fuss about that or anything; besides which, it sticks several feathers in the cap of an author to be able to furnish the maps and illustrations for her work, and the musical annotations of the songs which she hears. But these adventitious glories must be put out of sight in criticising the book, for although Lady Anne deserves full credit for them, they are not literary merits. The chapters are embellished by quotations, chiefly from Shakespeare, who is compelled to stand sponsor for the sins of a whole posterity of scribblers. English people of the present day are over-fond of quotation, and aptness has little to do with their choice; extracts are put at the head or foot of the pages without much more regard for fitness than when a savage pulls a cocked hat, or a pair of top-boots over his war-paint and tattooing. The chapter which records the Blunts’ short and uneventful stay at Aleppo is headed, —

“ Set you down this
. . . that in Aleppo once ”

It is surprising, as Shakespeare is always there to draw upon, to find two or three chapters without a quotation, and it gives the reader a momentary sense of mortification for the author and editor; but the omission is evidently due to the fine carelessness which pervades the whole performance. Lady Anne’s English is very good as far as it goes; her stock of words is small, and belongs to the vocabulary of May Fair; she does not use slang, but “ honest,” “ merry,” “ tiresome,” “ nice,” and “ nasty ” are made to serve on all occasions. She has words enough for her ideas, however; one runs against the fences of her mind in every direction. The Blunts are no cockneys; they are not even the proverbial British traveler who carries his bath-tub to the top of the Himalayas, and strews Sahara with bottles of Bass’s ale and Worcestershire sauce. They lived, moved, ate, and slept like the children of the wilderness. They were in Arabia instead of at Nice or Pau, or up the Nile to escape from conventionality and the “ chains of Europe;” yet they apply English tests, and those of a fraction of English society, to the manners and customs of the desert. They speak of one Arab as “ rude,” — that is, uncivil; of others as “bores;” and of “ the Moayaja and their sheik as the very nicest people this side of the Euphrates.” They constantly repeat that they like the desert freedom; yet, as usual with their nation, the freedom is only for themselves. Mr. Blunt meets a party of Arabs whose looks he does not like, and asks them peremptorily “ who they are, and what they are doing there.” So much for the inhabitants of the country; the rulers are treated in the same way whenever they have not force on their side. When the Blunts took up their quarters for the night at a Turkish guard-house, thereby claiming protection and hospitality, they sent the mudir to the right about with the simple comment, “ The officials are all alike, and we are tired of them.” It never once occurs to Lady Anne that she and her husband are intruders and interlopers. This is a touch of caste. A Frenchman, not long ago, brought home an amusing story from the East, which he pretends to have got from a dervish: whenever a traveler approaches a well in the desert he hears from afar a terrible hubbub, which turns out to be a Russian and an Englishman quarreling for possession, while the real owner stands aloof throwing stones at them both, in hopes of driving them away.

The exhibition which Lady Anne gives of the mental attitude of a wellborn English man and woman towards their fellow-beings is more curious than any of her adventures, but her mode of telling her story is still more odd. The book is made up from her journal, and consists for the most part in extracts from it. The diffuseness is excessive, and there is hardly an attempt at compression. This defect appears on the first page_ “ We were recommended to take in Constantinople on our way, and to consult the British ambassador there. Or, on second thoughts, we might call on Sir Henry himself, who was in London, and would be sure to pay all possible attention to our inquiries. From his long residence at Bagdad, he would be the fittest person to advise us. Sir Henry, to whom Wilfrid sent in his card, received him with courtesy.” The whole story is told with the same prolixity. We hear one day what they mean to do the next; on the morrow whether they did or did not do it; on the third how well it was that they had done it, and wherefore, or what it would have been better to do instead, and why. Such a mode of narration might have value and possibly interest in a historical work, — in the account of a decisive campaign or an important parliamentary session ; but when the whole question is whether Lady Anne and Mr. Blunt shall start on a journey on Tuesday or Wednesday, ride their camels in the morning and their horses in the afternoon, or vice versa, and whether every silly report of the Arabs and Turks be true or false, the tale becomes inexpressibly tedious. No defail of their own arrangements is suppressed, — “ Wilfrid’s card ” is one of a pack; but sites of transcendent beauty or antiquity, and the strangest and most suggestive customs, are dismissed with a sentence,— “No doubt many other people have described this.” Lady Anne, to make amends, gives her readers in full what other travelers have thought it unnecessary to mention. The Belgravian habit of mind betrays itself also in the tendency to talk of everybody and everything connected even momentarily with one’s self as of consequence and notoriety. We have to hear at the utmost length of the squabbles of desert tribes with unknown names and no fixed abode, —clans as shifting and indiscriminate as the sands. We are bewildered by a new Antipholus and Dromio multiplication of names: “ Our Faris, who is not at all the same” as Paris Ibn Mohammed, Mohammed El Faris, or Naïf Ibn Faris, all of whom, however, are seen or heard of, and make a fine confusion of dramatis personœ with other Mohammeds, Mahomets, Mahmouds, Ahmets, and Akhmets.

Lady Anne’s style has a queer conversational simplicity, like that of an uncultivated person. Her diffuseness is connected with this, and so are her odd, abrupt, short sighted summaries. Her pages overflow with sentences like the following, which resemble a child’s or a peasant’s way of talking, or uneducated people’s trick of talking to themselves: “ Now I return to my journal; ” “ Now I must leave off; ” “ I will describe the visit;” “ I will try and describe the view;” “ Here I was interrupted ; ” “ Colonel Nixon has given us much valuable information about the population, history, and general affairs of the town, some of which, at the risk of being dull, I think I ought to put down. It appears that Bagdad,” etc. Then follow two pages of history and statistics which might be written either for a child or by a child. She is incredibly prosaic and matter of fact, and unfortunately has no gift oil her .of narration or description ; the latter want is a very strange one in a writer who can sketch. She by no means lacks the sense of the beautiful or the ridiculous, yet her total absence of imagination and

nearly total want of humor prevent her conveying her impressions to the reader. She is full of spirit, but her words are tame; we sometimes understand what she has seen or felt, we never see or feel it. Her first and almost only good bit of word-painting occurs at the approach to Bagdad: “ At last the city of the Caliphs loomed through the driving rain, — a grimy and squalid line of mud houses rising out of a sea of mud. Even the palm groves looked draggled, and the Tigris had that hopeless look a river puts on in the rain. . . . The walls have been pulled down, and one enters by scrambling over the mounds of rubbish where they once stood, and then crossing an intermediate space of broken ground, given over to dogs and jackals, and gradually abandoned by the town as it has shrunk back from its old circuit, like a withered nut inside the shell. One sees at once that at Bagdad is a city long past its prime, a lean and slippered pantaloon, its hose a world too wide for its shrunk shanks. Within there is little to remind one of the days of its greatness. The houses are low and mean and built of mud, the streets narrow and unpaved as those of any Mesopotamian village. There are no open spaces, or fountains, or large mosques, or imposing buildings. The minarets are few and of inconsiderable height, and the bazaars without life or sign of prosperity. No caravans crowd the gates, and hardly a camel is to be met with in the streets. The rich merchant, like the Caliph, the calender, and all the rest, seems to have disappeared. I don’t know how it is, but these signs of decay affect me disagreeably. Bagdad has no right to be anything but prosperous, and stripped of its wealth is uninteresting, - - a colorless Eastern town, and nothing more. The feature of Bagdad is of course the river — the Tigris — on which it stands, and that is still beautiful. On either bank, above and below the town, there is a dense grove of palm-trees with gardens under them, making an agreeable approach for travelers who come by water, and setting off the yellow mud houses to their best advantage. Some of these are picturesquely built and cheerful enough, with bits of terrace and orangetrees in front of them; but they are pretty rather than imposing, and there is an entire absence of really large buildings, or even of important groups of houses, while the flatness of the banks and the want of streets leading down to the river prevent one’s getting any idea of the depth of the city beyond. The Tigris itself is a noble river, flowing at this time of the year in a rapid, turbid stream, and with a breadth of perhaps three hundred yards. The houses come close down to the water’s edge, and there are boats and barges on it, giving it altogether a rather gay appearance; but there are no bridges but a single one of boats, which most of the time we have been here has been taken away in anticipation of a flood.”

The description of El Haddr is perhaps the blankest picture of a series which might have been so splendid and striking. This is a ruined and deserted town, of Greek origin and about the date of Palmyra, belonging, no doubt, to that period of the decadence of Home when the costly self-indulgence of her degenerate and unremembered Cæsars strewed the desert with palaces, temples, and gardens, the courts of luxury, art, and learning. Remnants and traces abound of the ancient glory and beauty of El Haddr amidst the devastations of conquest, time, earthquakes, neglect, and the sweet encroachments of nature, covering what is intact as well as what is defaced with grass and flowers. ” We have been spending the day at El Haddr, and have been far more interested than we thought to be,” begins Lady Anne; “ we were surprised to find a really large city in tolerable preservation.” She tells us that the desert here might be mistaken for one of the turfy downs of Wiltshire, but there are tulips, stocks, marigolds in the grass, “ and pastures sufficient for twice the number of flocks there are to eat it; and the ruins rise out of a bed of green, like ruins preserved for ornamental purposes in England. . . . The moldings and architraves of the door-ways [in the palace] are carefully executed and very beautiful. They would make beautiful chimney-pieces, if one could get them to England. . . . One room would pass without much comment in London as a dining-room.”

The Blunts did not meet with many actual adventures, but they were constantly encountering strange and perilous situations and startling incidents, such as the attack on the Arab camp where they were sojourning by a hostile tribe. Lady Anne takes these things very coolly, and recites them briefly ; one is forced to admire her dauntless nerve, her freedom from exaggeration or love of the marvelous. On the other hand, were they told with more animation, they would be more exciting to the reader. There is ample material for a lively, picturesque, even an engrossing book. The story of the chieftain Abd Ul Kerim, which is scattered about in different and distant chapters, when tacked together is as romantic as a play of Victor Hugo’s, with the power of nature and truth besides. The vicissitudes of the brigand Curro are very amusing and dramatic: " Mérimée would have made a good story out of this,” observes Lady Anne, undisturbed by her own inability to do so. The dead, matter-of-fact manner of repeating extraordinary events sometimes enhances their effect, like our American bathos or anti-climax, but in her case the effect is often evidently unintended by the writer.

Thus Lady Anne pushes through her long and hazardous equestrian journey, — through scenes such as inspired the pen and pencil of Fromentin, and associations which would kindle the soul of Dean Stanley, —her fancy unmoved by the dangers, the beauty, the suggestions, of the way. When one bears in mind her field and mode of travel, her own advantages and acquirements, the wealth of novelty and incident in her hand, the book she has produced is amazingly dull and dry. And there are four hundred and forty-five pages of it! Only an Englishwoman could be content to offer so little to the public, and in such bulk, under such a title. The carelessness with which the book is made up matches the rest. There is no attempt at arrangement or abridgment; obvious mistakes are corrected by foot-notes, instead of being rectified in the text. There are other points in the volume which it would be unfair to pass in entire silence: the strongly-marked figures of sundry strange people whose paths cross hers, and whom we see distinctly, thanks to Lady Anne’s minute and detailed record of their intercourse; her own feats of horsemanship and heroism. But I do not pause upon these, nor upon some less pleasant aspects of her expedition, because I am considering the book as a literary performance. In this light I can discover but two good qualities: First, that through her repetition and multiplication of particulars the reader comes at length to share her life and follow her footsteps as one could not do in a more succinct and rapid narrative; and when the Bedouins cross the landscape we can count the bands of the patriarchal procession, the vanguard of armed horsemen, the camels bearing the women and children with the tents and household stuff, the youth on foot with dogs and donkeys, the flocks and herds bringing up the rear; and we are reminded (although Lady Anne is not) of the meeting of Jacob and Esau. Secondly, the plain English, the simple, straightforward, unaffected style, produce the impression of goodbreeding, in spite of the coarseness of choosing such a journey, with its risks and exposures, and the relapse into barbarism in these English people which seems like a reaction from over-civilization; there is a frank, fearless, natural tone which we can fancy to be the echo of the writer’s voice. It is a lady’s book, beyond a doubt.

By mere chance, the day I finished Lady Anne Blunt’s book I took up Mrs. Pattison’s2 The two are as great a contrast in style as they are in subject. Mrs. Pattison has not the accent of May Fair ; her language is not even English, but the modern lingua Franca which distinguishes the disciples of the NeoRenaissance. So much has been so well said about this school that persons who do not know it by its fruits in art, letters, dress, and morals are referred to Mr. Mallock’s New Republic, to the Monks of Thelema, and to an excellent essay called Thoughts of a Country Critic, which appeared in the Cornhill Magazine early in the year 1875. It is painful to be forced to admit that Mr. Ruskin, who lias enriched English literature with passages of unsurpassed eloquence, and, in spite of prejudice and paradox, with the first great art criticism in the language, is the inventor of this manner of writing. —the poetical and vaticinatory mode of treating of every-day matters It is to be found in the perfection of its beauty and force in Modern Painters, the Seven Lamps, and Stones of Venice. It runs mad or drivels in his later pamphlets, and is not in the least caricatured by the discourse of Mr. Herbert in the New Republic. But it is to his imitators that we owe the corruption of the vernacular which puts “ brilliance” for “brilliancy,” “indenture” for “ indentation,” “to differentiate” for “to mark the difference,” “to requisition ” for “to make requisition,” etc.

The characteristic of Lady Anne Blunt’s style is simplicity, of Mrs. Pattison’s affectation. There is a parade of calling things by their names, yet nothing is said naturally. Her sentences are cumbersome, ill-turned, overloaded, reminding one of the worst architectural productions of the period she is writing about. Now and then there are queer breaks into a colloquial tone, but I am unable to say whether these are momentary slips from a high horse, or only another form of affectation; in view of her preference for “ carven ” to “ carved,” “ wrought ” to “ worked,” and similar mannerisms, it seems probable that they are accidental. Mrs. Pattison has an affection for certain forms of speech: she likes to say “ men ” instead of people, — “ men still thought;" for she cannot mean that women did not think. “ Fit ” is a pet word with her, and she wears out its force by constant use: “ For to him the forms of classic work were not the rigid expression of absolute rules, to be got by heart and repeated in timid obedience; they meant only increased resource. And though he does not hesitate to make variations which are adaptations to the fit fulfillment of his immediate purpose, yet whenever he has recognized, as in the proportions of the orders, a perfection not to be touched without fear, he respects it with scrupulous reverence. " “Fit fulfillment!" — fulfillment alone was enough. Mrs. Pattison has a fatal weakness for adjectives and epithets; if one of her admirers would do her the service of striking the superfluous words from her proof, after the famous example of Alfred de Musset with the first page of Indiana, it would be a benefit to author and reader.

Another form of her affectation is to speak of common things in high-flown phrases. Of Duvet’s engraving of Henri II. she says: “ The knees of the prince are bare even as the knees of the imperial Roman statues are bared.” Then there is the affectation of elegance and lightness of touch: “Reproductions of this group [Pilon’s Graces] have been seen wherever cheap French casts and bronzes penetrate. The Graces of Germain Pilon bear clocks, vases, lamps, and to all graceful trifling they lend themselves with ease.” But Mrs. Pattison has a grand manner, which she assumes in contemplating Jean Cousin’s picture entitled Eva Prima Pandora: “ Eve, the fertile mother of nations, the source of all life,— in her the manifold forces of nature herself are embodied. All desirable charm of beauty reigns in body and face. Latent passion lives in the quick compression of the lips, in the swelling curve of the throat; the lines of the supple limbs tell of bodily strength. But this woman rules not the dominion of sense alone; she holds the keys which open the house of wisdom. The fruit of knowledge was plucked in deliberate choice, not in lustful passion, and the sceptre which she bears in her right hand — the sceptre which speaks her sovereign and author of life— is the broken branch from which the golden apples hang. For her there is neither foul nor fair, but all things are seen with equal eyes. Stretched at length before us on the ground, she pillows her right arm on a death’s-head, whilst from her extended left her instrument, the serpent, having fulfilled her uses, is permitted to uncoil and pass into the vase at her side, from whose secret recesses he had been summoned. She averts her head, but hers is not sickly revulsion from the necessary means by which complete experience has been sought ; no instinct of feeble disgust colors the full and complex expression of the face. Her eyes are without choice or desire of evil or of good, and the weight which hangs on their lids is no burden of melancholy regret born of a weak asceticism, but the profound quiet which is the gift of knowledge. Body and mind alike are poised in calm. . . . The Eva of Cousin claims with well-weighed purpose universal dominion. Hers are the realms of earth and sea and sky; all things shall be under her feet, — shall obey the rightful uses of spirit and sense.”

Mrs. Pattison’s motto is modest and deprecatory : “ On le peut, je l’essaie, un plus sçavant le fasse: ” but the modesty of the book is comprised in this line. “ Un plus sçavant,” would not be easy to find. Mrs. Pattison possesses an amount of information regarding the matter in hand which can have been acquired only by long and wide reading, as well as by special study. She flings the accumulated mass upon her readers, — facts, dates, statistics, extracts from old deeds and documents,—until we have a sense of stifling from the dust of ages which she has raised. When this subsides, instead of the treasures of literature and learning which we supposed she had unearthed for us, we find a load of heterogeneous data, apparently the memoranda of her reading and research. Mrs. Pattison has the same tendency towards dry detail as Lady Anne Blunt; the book bristles with it; and it is tedious and irritating. Whenever the reader fairly gives himself up to an interesting description or anecdote, he is suddenly brought to a reckoning by pounds, shillings, and pence, of which Mrs. Pattison does not spare him the uttermost farthing. Consequently, much of the time it is like reading ledgers or catalogues of sales. The information which the book contains is to be gained only by plodding through dull and tiresome minutiæ. Mrs. Pattison has no power, makes no effort, to combine or collate the facts which she has gathered together. She gives no notion of prices, rate of wages, mode of living, or any of the general statements which convey an idea of the habits and customs of a country or period.

Mrs. Pattison has the predilection for quotation to which I have alluded already as one of the pests of even the best contemporary English writing. Her quotations are generally impressive rather than apposite: “ When Sehelling was asked, ‘ What makes an Ethnos? ’ he answered, ‘ Language and religion.’ ” This is imposing, but so little to the purpose of what follows that at the end of the paragraph the reader looks back, puzzled about the application of the stately formula. The motto of the chapter enticingly headed The Châteaux of Touraine is “ Quid sibi volunt isti lapides? Josh. iv. 6.” Impressive again, but where is the point, since we have under consideration tinroyal Blois, the ruined Etampes, the vanished Anet, Chenonceaux, and Chambord still in perfect preservation, arid other buildings in conditions as various? And why is the sentence in Latin? Why not in Hebrew at once, if English would not answer? Many other quotations follow, in Latin, Greek, old French, and Italian, with numerous references to rare books and MSS. There is plenty of ostentation in these allusions.

It would give a false impression of the two volumes to imply that they are wholly made up of quotations and financial statements. The rest consists principally of the enumeration and description of works of art and the lives of the artists. Mrs. Pattison’s descriptions are of two sorts: one is precise and specific, conveying a distinct notion to the reader’s mind, without being graphic or pictorial. Her way of describing buildings is almost as clear as the ground-plans which accompany some of them; but the image left upon the mind is that of a plan, not of a castle or palace. The best instance of this ability is a passage illustrating the union of architecture and sculpture, which she terms the central point of the Renaissance: “ Bas-reliefs, as in the tomb of Anne of Brittany, continue to be employed for the purpose of giving space to the design. The broad planes of light are modulated, not broken up, by the waves of faint relief which flow over the marble surface without disturbing it. The vigorous channeling of the slender columns, the deep tones of the inlaid marbles, and the full relief of the statues by which the tomb is surmounted strike the eye in forcible contrast to the delicate accent of the interposing passages.” This mode of describing is her own. The other is that of the school to which she belongs, by which small things are described as if they were large, simple things as if they were complex, things no longer in existence as if they had been seen by the writer; the material properties of an object are exaggerated, and meanings ascribed to works of art foreign to the thought of the artist and his time. The engraver Duvet’s print of the Crucifixion is described on the scale of Tintoretto’s or Rubens’s immense canvases; the degree of intention and significance attributed to its details are to be found in no painter earlier than Mr. Burne Jones.

There is a pragmatic tone in Mrs. Pattison’s criticism, a pretension in her positions, which would be more exasperating if they were less absurd. Although she makes a point of calling a. spade a spade, and adopts a fine freedom in expressing

“ All thoughts, all passions, all delights”

to their inmost and uttermost, appropriate to the " deliberate revolt of human intelligence against self-imposed bonds,” one detects now and then the pursed lips of the British matron when the force of early habit momentarily gets the better of higher culture.

There is less instruction to be gained from the book than the labor of writing or even reading it deserves. It is all collection and compilation. Mrs. Pattison draws no conclusions, deduces no principles; she seems to be incapable of intelligent generalizing, or of using the information which she has amassed; in fact, she is unable to cope with it. The period of the French Renaissance includes the reigns of Louis XI and XII., the Valois dynasty and Henri IV., the rule of the Medici women and the Guises, the outburst of the Reformation; it is the most striking epoch in French history, splendid, picturesque, romantic,— heroic, if we consider the Huguenots. In Mrs. Pattison’s hands it becomes as flat and colorless as the reign of Louis XVIII. She wants historical insight, independent thought, æsthetic feeling. Of the extraordinary practical and religious aspects of the time which helped to shape and color its art and literature she has hardly a word to say, and even that is mere echo. A day spent among the court-yards of one of the chateaux of Touraine, till the fancy, stimulated by their beauty, recreates the life which once inhabited them when the province was the seat of royalty, or an hour’s lingering in the galleries of the Louvre, where the Henri II. and Palissy ware, the armor and plate of Benvenuto Cellini and his French followers, are displayed, will do more to imbue a lover of art and history with the spirit and achievements of the period than all Mrs. Pattison’s measurements and sums in addition.

It is with a sensation akin to awe that I write the great name of George Eliot. From the publication of Adam Bede, twenty years ago, to the time, not so very long past, when the months seemed longer because we were waiting for a new number of Daniel Deronda, I have been of those who hold her the foremost female writer of the century. Since Middlomarch I have shared with many people a foreboding that I should have less and less enjoyment from her future writings; but the decrease of pleasure does not alter my estimation of her genius. Even while watching the rapid growth of her defects, especially

of the tendency to interrupt and impede her narrative by axioms and corollaries, I have not ceased to regard the force and completeness with which she states the problems of life and the heart, and sometimes their solution, as proofs of the highest and rarest order of intellect. No writer of fiction with whom I am acquainted has united so profound a metaphysical insight with so much creative power. To all thoughtful admirers uf George Eliot the reading of Theophrastus Such3 must be a prolonged shock,— the after-effect a dull, stunned amazement. A new work by her is such an event in the lives of so many people that on first thoughts it seems a matter of course that any production of hers will be universally read; yet the instinct of self-preservation is so strong, its intuitions are so keen and far-reaching, that this book may remain unknown to numbers who are usually swift to seize upon anything front her pen. For their benefit it maybe mentioned that the Impressions profess to be the observations and ruminations of an old bachelor, whose appearance and personality are defined with more elaboration than distinctness in the first chapter, to grow fainter and disappear in the following ones. There is no connection or cohesion between the chapters; the very paragraphs are more like separate short essays than portions of a whole. One suspects that all the reflections, maxims, aphorisms, and sarcasms which have been struck out of her novels as too paltry or too dull have been swept together and pieced into this patchwork. There are a number of imaginary portraits after the manner of writers of the eighteenth century, French and English: Touchwood the illtempered man, Spike the political mollusk, and others. They are not characteristic likenesses; they are not morally salient; they are emphasized by tricks and grimaces; they are like Dickens’s subordinate personages stripped of their individuality. " He appeared, indeed, to be preoccupied with a sense of his exquisite cleanliness, clapped his hands together and rubbed them frequently, straightened his back, and even opened his mouth and closed it again with a slight snap, apparently for no other purpose than the confirmation to himself of his own powers in that line.” Do we know Spike any better because of these touches?

The author proceeds through this gallery of pale caricatures, moralizing with more or less obvious relevance. Her comments are expressed in an oracular or ironical style, which prevents their being recognized as familiar truisms until we untangle the web of strange words in which they are wrapped. Sometimes they are set off with a sort of cheap smartness, a flippancy which miserably counterfeits the barbed wit or hearty humor of her better vein. It is farfetched and forced. Here is her first joke supposed to be spoken by Theophrastus Such: “ I am spoken of to inquiring beholders as ' the author of a book you have probably not seen.’ (The work was a humorous romance, unique in its kind, and, I am told, is much tasted in a Cherokee translation, where the jokes are all rendered with the serious eloquence characteristic of the red races.) ” This conceit of the Cherokees comes up again. One is led to surmise that Theophrastus Such may be a translation from the Cherokee. Here is a specimen of her irony: “ One wonders whether the remarkable originators who first had the notion of digging wells or of churning for butter, and who were certainly very useful to their own time as well as ours, were left quite free from invidious comparison with predecessors who let the water and the milk alone; or whether some rhetorical nomad, as he stretched himself on the grass with a good appetite for contemporary butter, became loud on the virtue of ancestors who were uncorrupted by the produce of the cow; nay, whether in a high flight of imaginative self-sacrifice (after swallowing the butter) he even wished himself earlier born and already eaten for the sustenance of a generation more naïve than his own.” Here is her conception of a pantomime by which Shakespeare will be made easy to coming generations: “ A bottle-nosed Lear will come on with a monstrous corpulence, from which he will frantically dance himself free during the midnight storm; Rosalind and % Celia will join in a grotesque ballet with shepherds and shepherdesses; Ophelia, in fleshings and a voluminous brevity of grenadine, will dance through the mad scene, finishing with the famous ' attitude of the scissors ’ in the arms of Laertes,” etc., etc. But this is enough, and more than enough; it is painful and humiliating to rehearse these titubations of genius.

Unfortunately, there is not to setoff against them a single sentence*, which raises a genuine smile, or gives food for meditation. Although she takes a tone of lofty sententiousness, although she lashes the sides of platitude with strong and stinging words to make it rear, although she works herself into a frenzy like a pythoness of commonplace, all is stale, flat, unprofitable. Her absence of simplicity is more vexatious than Mrs. Mark Pattison’s: in the first place, it matters very much less how the latter writes; secondly, her inflated periods now and then collapse from her inability to keep up the effort; but every sentence of Theophrastus Such is so artificial that we fear George Eliot could no longer be simple if she should try. She fails in the few passages where she seems to aim at it, as in the pretty one describing her childish rides On a pony beside her father (here depicted as a country clergyman) among the hamlets of her native shire, which made her acquainted with the types and traits of the middle and lower classes, — for this is a bit of autobiography. She laughs at foibles which are held ridiculous by everybody; she withers vices which all condemn; and she satirizes the mediocrity at which people everywhere are too ready to sneer, forgetting that the man with two talents who made them other two was commended in the same words as he who doubled his five. Her violations of good taste are frequent: the most shocking is her sarcastic parallel between some modern fallacy and the treachery of Judas; it is using the thorns of Christ’s passion to point epigrams.

The chapter on Moral Swindlers is the best. It has been said before in substance, but it cannot be said too often in this country, where beyond all others private decorum has a much higher value than public morality and integrity, and where dishonesty, fraud, and even murder are excused in a man who observes the fifth or seventh commandment and keeps early hours.

The concluding chapter, entitled The Modern Hep! Hep! Hep! does not belong to the rest in any respect. It is a plea for tolerance in behalf of the Jews, and is written gravely and earnestly, with some strong passages and sound arguments. This fragment appertains, both from its spirit and style, to Daniel Deronda, and reads like after-thoughts of the same strain, or spare material left over from that novel which seemed to the author too valuable to waste. There is truth and justice in it, but one is impelled to ask, “ What ‘s Hecuba to her? ” The wrong belongs to the past; ghettos and Jewish disability laws have ceased to exist, and to put one’s self into a passion of sympathy over the present condition of the race in civilized Christendom is as much an anachronism as to preach a crusade against Austrian tyranny in Italy or negro slavery in America. George Eliot’s arguments are directed against the prejudices of the intelligent and educated, and not at those of the ignorant and unlearned; but can she suppose that the points on which she lays stress, the position of the Jews in art and literature or their political prominence, are secrets from the majority of well-informed Christians? At any rate, these facts, whether generally known or not, and the recent great Jewish and Gentile intermarriages in England and France prove conclusively that she is fighting a dead ogre.

The height of George Eliot’s fame is happily above the reach even of the mischief which she might do it with her own hands. Of this book, considered separately, no more need be said than that it is totally unworthy of her, and would have given no reputation to an unknown author. It is an epitome of tier faults.

The object of this review has been not so much to criticise generally, as to find out what makes Englishwomen’s books tedious. As we have seen, Lady Anne Blunt shared the life of the Arabs, that extraordinary existence of organized and ordered instability in which thousands of years have made no change. Why is it that her pages do not reflect that unbroken tradition, those sharp outlines, the sombre or vivid intensity, of desert custom? Why, as we follow her through scenes at once so strange and so familiar, do we never feel that we are in the land of the Old Testament, the Arabian Nights, the Koran? If such recollections awake faintly once or twice, it is by an effort of fancy in the reader alone. Why throughout her whole long chronicles do we vainly seek for

8220; Moments fraught with all the treasures
Which her Eastern travel views?”

Why is it that Mrs. Pattison gives us half a dozen ways of spelling a man’s name, yet not one strong sketch or true portrait? — that she can tell us to an inch the dimensions of a masterpiece, and what it cost to a copper; how many days it took to build a palace, carve a monument, arrange a procession in the sixteenth century, yet fail to open a single glimpse of the splendid, pompous pageant of the time?

Because — the writers lack imagination. Not only the books which have just been glanced at, but Baroness Bunsen’s Correspondence, Mrs. Oliphant’s Within the Precincts, and, looking further back, Mrs. Somerville’s. Memoirs, Miss Muloch’s novels, all lead to the same conclusion. The authors want vivacity, versatility; their fancy is strapped to the tread-mill of routine, and recognizes only the practical and positive side of existence, the external aspects of the world. Their eyes are riveted upon the actual, never raised to the ideal, in life and human nature. And even on this lower plane their range is limited, their horizon confined. Habit and training are all-powerful with them; their minds move in ruts so deep that they cannot see over the sides. Even Lady Anne Blunt, although erratic in her proceedings, is perfectly conventional in her notions. The intellectual disposition of mind is also wanting. All that Mrs. Pattison has read and seen has left her essentially uncultivated. Art, poetry, history, the past, have no part in her._ Education must have something to do with this tendency, hut temperament has more.

The absence of poetry on the booklists points to the same causes.

It would be presumptuous to dismiss George Eliot with two words, as if her grand lapses were to be measured by the same guage which is applied to the highest of lesser minds. But want of imagination too in herself and others is at the root of some of her worst defects. It would he beyond the scope of this paper and aside from its purpose to do more than refer to her violent and awkward contrivances for cutting the knots in her novels,—her proneness to distinguish her personages by gestures and postures, like the “ individual motif” in Wagner’s later operas, rather than by developing their characteristics and peculiarities. But, to keep to Theophrastus Such, the wit is like the jests of a clown of literature, adapted to a literary public whose apprehension goes no further than that of the public which sits round the sawdust. The repetition of each idea, beating it thin by iteration, is addressed to brains which can be impressed only by long hammering. Yet George Eliot must know better than most people that nothing rouses the common mind so swiftly and sharply as a flash of imagination; the wit, the proverbs, the watch-words, the war-cries, which have become immortal, are almost invariably the fagot gathered by common sense and experience, kindled and turned into a torch by a spark of fancy or poetry. The euphemisms and figures of speech which veil the grosser realities in the thoughts and words of all but the lowest of mankind are merely the transfiguration of things as they exist to the material sense into their types, images, or higher significations. One of the distinctive qualities of the more delicate and potent intellect is the unconscious exercise of this gracious gift, the habitual translation of crude fact into the abstract idea.

George Eliot once had the power and the will to show us earth and sky, and the faces of our fellows illumined by the light of the inner life; nor did it blind her keen glance to the presence of the humblest flower or the meanest creeping thing. Has she lost that prophetic vision, that sublime gaze of inspiration? If so, it is because, like the others, her eyes are bent on lower things.

  1. Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates. By LADY ANNR BLUNT. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1879.
  2. The Renaissance of Art in France. By MRS. MARK PATTISON. London: C. Kegan Paul. 1879.
  3. Impressions of Theophrastus Such. By GEORGE ELIOT. New York : Harper and Brothers. 1879.