Recent American Fiction

WE have almost ceased asking, with tiresome monotony, for the great American novel, for we are constantly preoccupied with lesser works of fiction which are conspicuously native and with an interest for us, when we have had our pleasure out of them, through their nativity. We shall not try to play hide and seek with posterity, but we are quite sure that our philosophic descendants will be reading the psychological history of their New England ancestors by the light of Mrs. Whitney’s tallow dip. Did our fresh youth of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, they will ask, really take their little spades and dig to the centre of the earth? We can imagine them threading the bushy paths of Odd, or Even ? 1 picking out the story of the grotesquely named characters, and trying to reconstruct in their imagination the social life of Boston and the hill country. For ourselves it is not so difficult a matter. Does not the interrogation mark which forms a constituent part of the title of Mrs. Whitney’s story stand for the perpetual questioning which not merely the characters in the book, but a goodly portion of our restless community, have inherited from an ancestral speculation ? We look upon France Everidge and Bernard Kingsworth and Israel Welcome Heywood as engaged, not upon Carlyle’s Everlasting Yes, but upon New England’s Eternal Is it ? We suspect that the mood in which Mrs. Whitney’s book leaves us is not altogether favorable to a just or wise opinion of it; we are tempted to ejaculate our judgment and to enigmatize our criticism. It is true that if we were to attempt a statement of the motif of the book a very few words would be sufficient to put the reader in possession of the main facts of the story, but how inadequate an account would that be which represented Mrs. Whitney’s purpose as a relation of the steps by which a young Boston girl comes to marry a New Hampshire or Vermont farmer! As soon as we have said this we seem to be reminded how fascinated novelists are to-day with the general subject of leveling distinctions of rank. Mrs. Whitney is not alone in her disposition toward an essential democracy, but, like others who have tried to reorganize society, she has made her selection where the difficulties are least. Her heroine is recognized by her own class as exceptional, odd, and independent; the social objections raised in her own mind are scarcely perceptible. The hero, on the other hand, has all the external features of a horny-handed farmer, but it was misfortune and his own nobility of character which turned him aside from the pursuit of civil engineering.

It would be a mistake to suppose that Mrs. Whitney had in mind only to settle a dispute between truth and conventionalism. She means more than that in her novel, for she interests herself in the growth of character of a young girl brought face to face with realities of life, and compelled to choose between the real and the conventional. It is her favorite theme, and we have no quarrel with a writer who asks our attention to the deep things of life. The story, with its episode of Sarrell and Mother Pemble, is acted among the hills chiefly, and the incidents are common ones of farm life, but every movement is invested with all its spiritual meaning. If the people are all oracular, so that the commonest farm hands open their mouths in parables, it is only because the writer, with her art of seeing double, cannot divest the story of herself. She reads out to us every change, and turns the light from every side of the truth she sees ; thus the book glitters with an epigrammatic sparkle. Even the names must be made parabolic, and one is teased with a conviction that he must go back when he is through, and squeeze words which looked innocent to see if they did not perhaps conceal ideas overlooked at the time. It would be easy to quote sentence after seutence of fine wisdom and trenchant wit; many who read the book will doubtless find pass-keys to truths which before lay just beyond their reach, and, to vary George Herbert’s lines, with metrical disaster,

“ A novel may find him who a sermon flies,
And turn delight into a sacrifice.”

A reverence for all that is noble pervades the book, and makes it pure and honorable. If — but we must take what we have — if Mrs. Whitney’s art had the element of repose; if she would be content with such a view of her characters as did not turn their souls wholly inside out; if, by a wise selection from a throng of incidents, those only were taken which would enable the reader to spell out the destiny of the dramatis personœ ; and if she were not bound always to tell both the dream and the interpretation thereof, her books would be greater and more enduring. That this, the latest, is well worth reading for its wit and wisdom is what we would say distinctly, before putting it on the shelf.

If any one is disposed to cavil at Mrs. Whitney’s style, and to complain that she works her words too hard, let him give her the benefit of comparison with Sylvester Judd, whose Richard Edney 2 has been revived for a generation to whom Margaret also is scarcely more than a name. Curiously enough, the social problem of the book has a likeness to that of Odd, or Even ? Here, as there, a man of the people is mated with a girl born in the purple; but Judd’s purpose was a more deliberate one, and his book rather the result of a theory than an artistic development of characters and a situation. Here, too, we have New England again, but the New England of 1840-1850, and since both books carry internal evidence of truthfulness as records of manners, they offer a curious study of the changes which have taken place, and of the unchanged character of New England life. It is unfortunate for Mr. Judd that his scenes, truthful in point of incident, are singularly distorted in artistic expression. Perhaps as good an account as any of the author’s mental attitude toward his work will be found in his own words, taken from a letter preserved in his Life : “ By dwelling upon certain sentiments, ideas, things, we get far into them, and forget at what a distance we have left the world behind us ; we may even close the entrance after us, and the world has no other notion of our whereabouts than by certain subterranean hollowings, the precise place of which it is always difficult to identify. We are innocently guilty of a species of intellectual ventriloquism.” This clever phrase admirably describes the impression which a reader gets from Richard Edney. He follows the writer through a series of incidents which are realistic in the extreme, yet constantly suggestive of an unrevealed thought. There are a few passages of dramatic force ; there are others which just miss of being good; and there is a great proportion of the book which leaves no doubt of the author’s sincerity, but some doubt of his sanity. Has the reader ever fallen asleep after dinner over a book, and gone on constructing a similar one out of the material he has just acquired ? If so, he will recognize a state of mind suggested by Richard Edney. It is the nebulous production of a man who, when wide awake, had a good book in his head.

We do not get very far away from the combination of social opposites in marriage when we take up Mrs. Burnett’s Louisiana,3 but we have put a wide interval between the scenes of those stories and of this. A lady from New York, whose surroundings have been those chiefly of literature and art, is alone at a North Carolina watering-place, and amuses herself with a new and interesting type of Southern native humanity, a young girl of great beauty and simplicity, but utterly ignorant of the world in which Miss Olivia Ferrol has lived. Louisiana, as the girl is grotesquely named, is also alone, and gives her heart to the good-natured New Yorker, who, in an access of playfulness and wit, transforms her from an ill-dressed country girl into an occupant of one of Worth’s dresses. Struck by the marvelous effect upon the girl, she suddenly persuades her to continue the masquerade as a mystification of Mr. Lawrence Eerrol, Olivia’s brother, who was shortly to appear at the Springs. Louisiana hesitatingly complies, but the sport suddenly becomes serious to all concerned. They have gone for a drive among the mountains, when they are forced to take shelter in a farm-house. It is Louisiana’s home, and by a sudden resolution she induces her father to ignore the relationship for the time, — as a joke, she explains, but in reality because she is overwhelmed at the possibility of her friends amusing themselves with her father. Unfortunately, they do amuse themselves, and there is a passionate outburst of humiliated confession from the girl. She remains with her father, and the remorseful Olivia and penitent Lawrence return to the Springs. Mr. Rogers, the father of Louisiana, has penetrated, as he thinks, the girl’s disguise, and, loving her with a fond selfabnegation, from this time sets himself to making her happy by giving her one thing after another. He rebuilds his house, buys clothes and pictures for his daughter, and gently heaps upon her all his long-won wealth. He offers her European travel, and while he admits that he cannot change himself, will change everything else about her. Louisiana receives it all with renewed protestations of undivided love for her father, yet with secret and repressed love for Lawrence. At length, before the old man is stricken with paralysis, there comes an explanation. Louisiana was not ashamed of her father, as he had supposed, and the loving cross-purposes at which they had been playing give place to a perfect understanding. The nobility of his character fills the girl’s mind, yet it cannot close the opening she has had into another world, and after his death, when Lawrence, who could no longer resist the memory of her charm, comes back to be forgiven, there is a fulfillment of her life.

The pathos of the story, while there is a touch of unreality about it, is fine and pervading, while the special charm is in the pictures of mountain life in North Carolina. It is true that this life is presented too much from the observation of a New York littérateur, yet it suggests anew what has been so often said, that the variations of life in America afford immense opportunities to the novelist. The difficulty in this case is that North Carolina is shown to us by a stranger, keen observer though she be. The best of dialect in speech and manners must come from those who have been bred in it. The book is graceful, and if the plot is a trifle artificial the execution is so skillfully and affectionately done that we are almost ready to forgive the author for limiting herself as she has.

When we look for a picture of American society we are offered Mr. Fawcett’s A Hopeless Case,4 and think ourselves well off with so entertaining a story. As a portraiture of one phase of New York society, it seems to us exceptionally clever. Mrs. Leroy, Rivington Van Corlear, Oscar Schuyler, Mr. Gascoigne, and other ladies and gentlemen are positively present, and the success is attained by no elaborateness of touch, but by a simple and truthful display of characters needed to present a full group of society figures. The placidity of their unemotional life is made apparent to the reader, and he does not feel that it is insipid. The subtle grace and charm of the do-nothing world has been reproduced to a shade, and the petty ambition and discontent of the unfortunate aspirants to fame in it are not allowed to disturb the even tone of the picture.

Yet Mr. Fawcett knew very well that this flat background, however exquisitely painted, would not of itself make a picture, and he has projected from it, as a contrasting object, the figure of Agnes Wolverton, representing a life and society more in earnest and moved by higher impulses. If the society was good, Miss Wolverton, shot into it from another sphere, was to reveal its insufficiency and to supply a standard which should measure its short-comings. It is perhaps the misfortune of the contrast that Miss Wolverton is less a high-spirited, ingenuous, and noble girl, making the light in which the other life is read, than a somewhat angular, aggressive, and self-sufficient maiden, who enters the arena not only with a misconception of what lies before her, but with a misapprehension of what really constitutes the best society. We are to be persuaded that it was a hopeless case when Mrs. Leroy ventured to transform her cousin into a charming girl of society, and we grant that the venture was not successful ; but there is implied in all this that Agnes was right and loyal to an ideal, while Mrs. Leroy was the delicate slave of a petted conventionalism. Now we are not prepared to accept Miss Wolverton’s reading of the case. We think the Van Corlear set were better to her than she deserved, and that instead of going off into blankness after undertaking to arrange society to her mind, it would have been more becoming if she had shown a little humility, — we are almost ready to add, and modesty, — and disappeared from the story hand in hand with Mr. Livingston Maxwell. Her society friends were really forbearing toward this inharmonious creature, and we think Mr. Fawcett has himself furnished the key in the admirable turn which he has given to the book’s close:

“ Fond of me ! ’ cried Mrs. Leroy, starting up from her seat. ‘ She despised me.’

“ Rivington now slowly rose. He looked excessively astonished. His sister had begun to pace the room in a restless, impetuous way.

“ ' Upon my word, Augusta,’ he presently said, ' I should think you might afford to stand her contempt.’

“ Mrs. Leroy turned suddenly and faced him. She seemed wretchedly overcome. There was more distress than anger in her look. ' Oh, Rivington,’ she cried again, ' I am fond of that girl—I can’t help it — I miss her already — II loved her ! ’ ”

This is nature itself, and proves how well Mr. Fawcett has read the society life. He has seen the woman beneath the fashionable figure, and has presented her to our respect. Now given this sincerity and real humanness, we contend that Agnes Wolverton, with all her fine sentiments, failed clearly to discern it, and our complaint is that Mr. Fawcett has tried his hand at depicting a girl of a higher plane, and has left out the true woman. He redeemed his woman of fashion, but left the girl who was to be the companion of poets to save herself. If she impresses us, therefore, as a refined Pharisee, we must doubt if the author of her being so intended her.

Perhaps Mr. Fawcett would tell us that his Brooklyn girl was in effect a fatal variation of Boston society. Shall we look for the true picture of that other shade of high life in Mrs. Beauchamp Brown ?5 That lady is represented by the author as giving the word to Beacon Hill, and as surrounded by an irreproachable set of young women and young men of Boston-andLondon mixture,— irreproachable, that is, in manners and style. Yet these people act throughout the story with a disregard of the simplest rules of good breeding, and the politeness of the camp in which they are intrenched is of the thinnest sort. We have little patience to follow the rather aimless wanderings of an author who had a clever fancy in transporting her characters from Boston to Plum Island without spilling a drop of their life on the way or afterward, but turned what might have been an amusing farce into a piece of disagreeable mockery. The religious portion seems the most unreal of all, and in her apparent glorification of a few fervid devotees she succeeds in making them little more than posturers. It is singular to see, by the way, how the utter unreality of the story is emphasized by the familiar use of realistic properties. The Tremont House, St. Margaret’s, Hovey’s, and Doll and Richards’s play about as important a part as Mr. Crummles’s real pump in Nicholas Nickleby. It is very certain that the historian of manners and morals in Boston society has not been found in the author of this unpleasant compound of half-grown wit and suppressed wickedness.

If our readers will artlessly follow us and read these stories in the order we are setting down,—for what reviewer does not secretly fancy that his notices are read before the books of which they treat? — we can promise a genuine pleasure in passing from the thin humanity and varnished politeness of Mrs. Beauchamp Brown to the delightful innocence of Rudder Grange.6 We would believe that we are telling most of our readers what they already know when we remind them that Rudder Grange is the fit name of an abandoned canal-boat, which the reporter of the story, his wife, servant Pomona, and a boarder took possession of and transformed into a floating hut; that when the canal boat went under, in a sudden storm, the Grangers transferred the title to a less unique house, which they hired and finally bought, in the country; and that about these two houses, the water house and the land house, most of the adventures of these babes in worldliness gathered. Those who remember the fun of the Sparrowgrass Papers, and do not go back to the book now after a course of more aggressive American humor, will understand us when we say that Rudder Grange has a likeness to that book, but is the better for a more unsophisticated tone. The charm which lies behind the drollery of Rudder Grange — if one wishes to inquire further — is in its sweetness and bucolic simplicity. It stops just short, too, of the extravagance which makes much of our fun heavy, — or would stop short if the author would only omit the last two chapters, which are an excrescence to be regretted. The surprises which meet the reader at every turn are original and unhackneyed. The author does not draw from any old Joe Miller for his jests, but amuses us with his own dry wit and ingenious situations. If he is sometimes careless in manner, the carelessness offends less than it would in a book of more artistic plan. This has apparently grown like a country house, by the addition of porches and lean-tos to the original structure, and the rambling character of the story is saved from aimlessness of effect by an adherence to a very few persons. Pomona, with her taste for violent reading, her ingenuity in devices, and her experience as a newly married bride, is a positive contribution to the characters of humorous literature. Indeed, the faithfulness with which the characters are drawn gives the book a position much above that of most contemporaneous fun. There is conscientious literary work in it and an unfailing healthfulness of play.

It is never a shock to turn to sober realities after enjoying guileless fun, and it may even be that the innocence of Rudder Grange steadies the mind for a proper appreciation of Mrs. Campbell’s melancholy story of Unto the Third and Fourth Generation.7 The writer calls it a study, and its impulse evidently comes from a grave consideration of the phenomena of heredity. She has not studied the subject in a merely speculative or dilettante mood, but writes like one who has been oppressed in her mind by inevitable facts. A wild, lawless, but generous fellow, living in the Adirondacks, wins the love of a girl who has been brought up after the straightest sect of Scottish fatalists, — for such they may be called who have pushed the doctrine of predestination to its farthest logical extreme. She marries him against the consent of her stern father, and not long after the officers arrest her husband on the charge of murder and robbery. He pleads guilty to the former charge, but not to the latter. He is convicted, nevertheless, on both charges, and as a warning in a district where lawlessness had become alarmingly prevalent he is executed, and his widow, who has sued in vain for a reprieve, goes back to her father. In her narrow, iron-bound creed, she knows of no escape from a curse which consigns him to everlasting punishment. “ No murderer shall inherit the kingdom of heaven ” is seared into her soul, and thenceforth she lives a silent, stony life, which foresees only eternal separation from her husband. A child is born to her, and with a pitiless logic she sees the curse resting upon him also. With something of the desperate single-handed contest with destiny which has its lighter example in the vain attempt of the king to save his daughter from the wicked fairy by shutting her in the tower chamber, she steals away from the place, after her father’s death, and, leaving no traces behind her, finds a new home on the shore of Lake Superior. There she tries to guard her son against contact with men, in hopes that he will die before he has committed the unpardonable sin. Sbe herself carefully withholds from him every demonstration of motherly affection, and seeks to encase them both in the armor of stern obedience, but it is obedience to a merciless God. Her boy, catching a glimpse of the outer world, inevitably breaks away from the solitude, and falls in love with the daughter of the man who had been the unwilling cause of his father’s conviction. This man longs for the union of the two as an expiation of his own guilt in giving up his friend, but when the disclosure comes to the young man he is filled with a passionate aversion from the girl’s father, and feels the murderer rising within him. He flees, and makes his way to his father’s old home, determined to learn the exact truth. Then, through the confession of a dying man, it transpires that his father did not commit the murder, though he supposed that he had done so when fighting with an enemy; that this dying wretch had killed the disabled man in robbing him. With this removal of the stain from his father’s life, the cloud lifts, and an evening glow spreads over the story.

The reader will have perceived from this hasty summary the weakness of the story as a demonstration of the power to escape an inherited curse. The misery all depends from an error of knowledge ; the curse is imaginary. If it is proved that the curse descends from one generation to another, the way of deliverance is not shown, for the discovery of the truth is not a logical result in the story. There are now and then revelations from another side of the incompleteness of Patty Pearson’s creed, but they are not for her or for her son. These get their relief from misery only through a sudden intervention, and the God who interposes is still the same distant Providence, whose law is a curse, and whose mercy is a miracle. But though the story flinches as an exposition of heredity, it is so strong in many of its passages, and is relieved by so much clever portraiture of country life and character, that we commend it as one worth reading. It is serious work, and its artistic faults appear to follow in part from the author’s attempt at making the theory carry the story instead of the story carry the theory. Patty Pearson will be refused by some as an impossibility, yet we think her character, sombre as it is, the one consistent figure in the book. It is a womanly and motherly nature not frequent in fiction, hut with suggestive prototypes in real life.

The realistic character of this book goes with the weight of the human history which seems recorded in it. In the stories of Mr. L. Clarke Davis8 there is a suggestion of literary manufacture, which recognizes realism as a desirable quality, but works toward it rather than by it. That is, while Unto the Third and Fourth Generation reads like the history of a real woman, A Stranded Ship reads like the attempt at realizing an abstract conception. A situation is in the mind of the author, and he sets about constructing figures and lives which shall converge toward and radiate from this situation. In the climax of the story, the hero says, “ I have read somewhere that God grants it to but few men to carry a line to a stranded ship. 1 have a fancy that he will grant it to me.” The very formula by which this key to the construction of the story is introduced betrays the literary origin of the work. The author read that pregnant sentence somewhere, and straightway invented a set of characters and circumstances which should lead to the actual bearing of a line to a stranded ship. We are not objecting to his discovery of a suggestion for a story in the passage, but we are saying that the entire story begins at the wrong end. It does not begin in life and end in life, but is a web woven about an idea, and the author never forgets that his hero is made for no purpose but to expand and illustrate the idea. Hence he makes mental and moral caricatures of the principal characters by his insistence upon those features of their life which shall have some direct relation to the little incident which he is working toward. Our criticism is that the construction of the book is artificial, and that thus the characters and their actions never lose an artificiality even when they are most realistic. They do not live the story out, but work it out. The other stories in the book, A Queen of Burlesque and Dick Lyle’s Fee, have the same fictitious air of reality. The staging remains about the buildings which the novelist has been constructing.

A residence in Florence seems to be the chief excuse for the production of A Foreign Marriage.9 It has not been the reviewer’s good fortune to visit that city, yet he finds himself distrusting the author’s descriptions of life there, because the American portions of the story and the characterization generally are so untrue to nature. Perhaps this is shallow logic; may not a writer be a good landscapist even if a poor figure painter ? But there is so much of au air of ignorance about the writer’s account of Herringville and its inhabitants, as if all knowledge had been obtained at second or third hand, that we cannot help wondering if Florence may not be almost as foreign a place. The story is of an American girl marrying an Italian prince with money, which turns out after all to belong to a young sculptor; but as the discovery is made only at the end of the book, and the sculptor declines to call in the money already spent, there is no such dramatic overturning as a more ready novelist might have produced with these materials.

In Uncle Jack’s Executors 10 we have a book of another sort. It goes almost as far in explicit naturalism as A Foreign Marriage in vague conventionalism. Uncle Jack was a country doctor, dead before the book begins, and his executors are three young women living together on the old place with their aunt. A more cheerful, optimistic collection of women it would be hard to find. One is an artist, with proclivities for surgery and medicine ; another is a writer ; and the third the general utility member. They have little money besides what the two professional sisters earn, but their life is a free and unconstrained one. The aunt is a cleverly sketched inconsecutive old lady, with a little echo in her of Mrs. Nickleby, but more refined and less of a caricature. Three men are introduced, one of whom, Jerry Scudder, a well-todo farmer, wishes to marry the housekeeperly Dorothy, but is easily persuaded by her to keep his affections till she finds a wife for him, which she does in Molly Howells. A second is a young clergyman of sense and spirit, and the third an editor. We have met this editor before in books. He is the man whom refined and modest contributors wish to exist, and they make him with great satisfaction to themselves and with credit to the profession. We are tempted to raise the question why it is that in novels the introduction of professional littérateurs is inevitably attended with confusion and weakness. Let who will answer it, we only assert the fact that it is so, and humbly suggest that the personality of the author in such cases disturbs the focus under which the character is seen. The clergyman and the editor are left for the other two girls, and a mild shuffling of lovers goes on through the book, a process so innocently and openly done that the reader smiles behind his hand, and looks on with hypocritical astonishment when the final result is produced. We can promise our readers a very agreeable hour over the book. It is not, Heaven be praised, in the highest style of art, but it is full of good nature and kindliness; some of the scenes are sketched with real humor, and if the book seems amateurish it has at any rate a refinement and quality of freshness which we wish were more common in professional work. We give a taste of its amusing nonsense, premising that the pleasure of the book lies largely in its continuous spirit of humor rather than in isolated good points; —

“ Hester stepped back from her work to let Marion come nearer, and in her turn expressed disapprobation. On the easel were two photographs, — one of a good-natured, big-eyed man, with light hair elaborately brushed, with awkward large hands crossed on his breast, and a general air of rusticity and good clothes. The other picture, evidently thrown up from an old daguerreotype, was of a moon-faced woman. It was whity blank where shadows should be, void of expression, and grotesque with the fashion of a dress long out of date.

“ ‘ What do you paint such caricatures for, Hester ? ’

“ ‘ Did not Dorothy tell you what I was doing ? I was reading on the piazza one day last week, when a man — the original of this photograph—opened the gate, came up the walk, and asked if the young woman who worked in oil was “ to home.” I knew what he wanted when he said that he was Mr. Jerry Scudder, and that Uncle Jack once told him that I could paint photographs. Here “was his, and there was hers. His was taken the week before ; hers was from a picture taken fifteen years before.” She was dead, and he wished her photograph painted as a companion piece to his own. He explained it all, with a faith in me that was quite touching. He said, “ I’d like to have you fix her to look as she would if she had lived up to date.”

“ ‘ I said I could not; but he declared that I could. He said I must paint off those “ long, loose ringlets, that ain’t worn now, and put on frizzles along the seam of her head, you know. Could n’t I do that ? I said perhaps I could, if that was all. No: her family all had weak eyes when “ they got along about so far,” and wore gold glasses. Now Elizabeth would look more natural and “nowadays-like” to him in eye-glasses, could that be managed. It appeared to me a great liberty to take with the late Mrs. Scudder, — “ she as was a Perry,” so he said, — but, if her husband insisted, I could not refuse. The longer he talked the droller it seemed, and I became actually interested in the task he set for me. The unpainted old dress is hideous ; but, after I have done my best with her face, I shall put on a neat black dress and lace collar, instead of that plaid with huge frills.’

“ ‘ Yes. And at last who will she be, I would like to know ? ’ asked Marion.

“ ‘ Oh ! it will not be a be, but a might have been,’ said Hester absurdly.”

There are stories which we cannot warmly recommend to readers, yet can praise for qualities of work often wanting in more successful books. Thus, From Madge to Margaret11 has little to attract the hardened novel-reader, yet if one attends to it carefully he will lay it aside with respect for an author who has set herself a difficult task, and has labored at it conscientiously. As the title suggests, the story is one of development of character, by which a country girl, married to a city lover, grows from a petted playmate to a revered wife. The courtship is quickly disposed of, — too quickly for one who has any sentiment ; but the author is plainly anxious to get to business, and to show the process by which a girl of happy temperament and self-indulgent ways and a man of serious nature and extreme self-rigor drift apart after they are married, and are brought together again, not by any violent collision, but by a succession of resolute efforts. The scenes are homely and simple ; no great demand is made on the fancy or imagination, and the writer shrinks from the usual dramatic material of such cases, refusing to make her evil characters very evil, or to let tendencies go much beyond the limit of easy recall. For the refinement of the book and its intelligent purpose, steadily kept in view, we can have only praise, but the writer has not such command over her material as to make the reader feel her interest, or to have more than a languid anxiety over the fortunes of her heroine.

The excellent Leisure Hour Series, which has so far introduced only English novels and translations, permits a break in its traditions to make room for Democracy,12 an American novel, as the title-page declares. Yet we are almost tempted to believe that there has been no real break, and that we still have an English novel, with the scene laid in Washington. Not that the book betrays any English ignorance of American life and manners. There is not, apparently, a false accent in it. Nevertheless, with all due respect to the clever author, it seems to us not to have caught the best or the fairest view of what its title intends. Mrs. Lightfoot Lee, a young widow of wealth and social position, determines to leave New York and spend the winter in Washington. She has exhausted the resources of the metropolis, and wishes to try the capital, not only to revive her jaded spirits, but to get, if possible, at the secret of American government. “ Here, then, was the explanation of her restlessness, discontent, ambition, — call it what you will. It was the feeling of a passenger on an ocean steamer whose mind will not give him rest until he has been in the engineroom and talked with the engineer. She wanted to see with her own eyes the action of primary forces ; to touch with her own hands the massive machinery of society; to measure with her own mind the capacity of the motive power. She was bent upon getting to the heart of the great American mystery of democracy and government. She cared little where her pursuit might lead her, for she put no extravagant value upon life, having already, as she said, exhausted at least two lives, and being fairly hardened to insensibility in this process.

' To lose a husband and a baby,’said she,

‘ and keep one’s courage and reason, one must become very hard or very soft. I am now pure steel. You may beat my heart with a trip-hammer, and it will beat the trip-hammer back again.’ ”

She was therefore not only directly qualified for her observation, the author would have us believe, but fortified against any possible disturbance of her judgment by passion. It is not long before she discovers, as she thinks, the last personal power in Washington in a certain Senator Ratcliffe, and she secures an acquaintance, which ripens into intimacy. Ratcliffe’s power, however, is not for others only. He gradually seems to be drawing Mrs. Lee herself within his circle, and the reader, though scarcely doubting the issue, watches with interest the double game which these two characters play. They are not the only characters. With Mrs. Lee is her sister, Sybil Ross, and very near is a young Virginian connection of the family, John Carrington, while upon the outskirts of the circle hover the English ambassador, a wicked diplomat, Baron Jacobi, who represents the cynical foreigner, a young English lord, and representatives from New England and New York. The interest, however, centres mainly about the course of Ratcliffe, the Peoria Giant as he is called, •— a crafty, astute Western politician, who aims at the control of the government, with the presidency as his final prize. As a picture of this very possible character, Ratcliffe is surprisingly well done, and we know nothing in its way so good in our literature. Carrington, we are asked to believe, is the modern reproduction of Washington, and is offered by the author as almost the only redeeming character among the American politicians, but, through some weakness of conception, he impresses us as Washington gone to seed. Mrs. Lee does not marry Ratcliffe ; she discovers a piece of subtle dishonesty akin to financial corruption, and throws him overboard, just as he with reason thinks he has won his matrimonial prize. Thus the principles of justice are vindicated, but the last words in the book are Mrs. Lee’s : —

“ The bitterest part of all this horrid story is that nine out of ten of our countrymen would say I had made a mistake.”

Whatever may have been Mrs. Lee’s judgment of her countrymen, the cool judgment to be passed upon the book itself is that the author makes a mistake if it is intended that we shall take this story for a real exposition of American life at its core. Mrs. Lee, with all her equipment, was scarcely qualified to discover the secret of democracy. She had not the esoteric initiation. Again, it may be doubted if Washington presents, after all, the true point of view. The book itself very clearly displays the essential masquerading character of life there, and strongly prejudices us against accepting a judgment founded exclusively upon observation formed within one circle of political life. If we could divest ourselves of sensitiveness we should find it easier to praise this book. As it is, we confess its skill and adroitness. In one point especially it shows ability. It sketches public characters without unerringly pointing to men actually occupying public positions. One thinks he is on the scent of some particular person, and is presently thrown off in the most skillful manner. Able as the book is, it lacks the essential quality of the higher truthfulness. The writer has left out of account forces which, if wisely considered, would crowd back the life here presented into narrower bounds.

If we protest against the inconclusiveness of Democracy, shall we find any relief in an abler book, A Fool’s Errand ? 13 Like Democracy, this too professes to uncover certain phases of current political history, but its field is broader and its theme an ampler one. There is, in fact, a certain incongruity in placing this book among recent novels. We declare, as we read it, that it is not fiction, but history, and the weight with which it lies on the mind of the reader is not the weight of imaginary woes. We can sleep off the sheet-iron thunder of the latest tempestuous novel, but this Macbeth does murder sleep. The story is of an officer in the Union army, determining at the close of the war to return with his wife and child to the South, make himself a Southern citizen, and carry forward, in the peaceful form of a planter, that further work of building a free civilization which he sees was begun, not ended, by the war. He is so conscious of his own integrity and blamelessness in this course that he never anticipates from his Southern neighbors anything worse than a coolness at first, to be lived down aud transformed into coöperation with him. He chooses a plantation near where he had last been quartered, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, as the author, who uses generally fictitious names for his localities, betrays in this passage: “ The lawyers were of course in the lead, as the profession always is in all matters of public interest in our land. They descanted largely upon Magna Charta and the law-abiding and liberty-loving spirit of the people of the grand old county, on which the sun of American liberty first arose, and had shone his very brightest ever since.” The story runs from the close of the war to the time when the Southern gentlemen had recovered their political ascendency ; it presents step by step, through the personal experience of an honorable man, the gradual winning back of the power which the South was supposed to have lost at Lee’s surrender, and the horrors of the intimidation policy are revealed with directness and circumstantiality.

A Fool’s Errand, then, is a record of life from the heart of the South, written by a man who was either personally engaged in the scenes, or so intimate with them as to write like an eye-witness. The Fool saw his hopes of a new South crushed before his eyes, but he did not despair. He rested his belief in a final restoration only upon those immutable decrees which make any lasting nationality possible. The outcome of the political situation is given in these words : —

“ ‘ Well, you see that the remedy is not from within,’ said the Fool. ‘ The minority knows its power, and the majority realizes its weakness so keenly as to render that impossible. That which has made bulldozing possible renders progress impossible. Then it seems to me that the question is already answered, — it must be from without !

“‘But how?’ queried the old man, impatiently.

“‘How?’ said the Fool. ‘I am amazed that you do not see, — that the country will not see ; or rather that, seeing, they will let the ghost of a dogma, which rivers of blood have been shed to lay, frighten them from adopting the course which lies before us, broad and plain as the king’s highway. The remedy for darkness is light ; for ignorance, knowledge ; for wrong, righteousness.”

“ ‘ True enough as an abstraction, my friend; but how shall it be reduced to practice ? ' queried his listener.

“ ‘ The nation nourished and protected slavery. The fruitage of slavery has been the impotent freedtnan, the ignorant poor-white man, and the arrogant master. The impotence of the freedman, the ignorance of the poor-white, the arrogance of the late master, are all the result of national power exercised in restraint of free thought, free labor, and free speech. Now, let the nation undo the evil it has permitted and encouraged. Let it educate those whom it made ignorant, and protect those whom it made weak. It is not a matter of favor to the black, but of safety to the nation. Make the spelling-book the sceptre of national power. Let the nation educate the colored man and the poor-white man, because the nation held them in bondage, and is responsible for their education; educate the voter, because the nation cannot afford that he should be ignorant. Do not try to shuffle off the responsibility, nor cloak the danger. Honest ignorance in the masses is more to be dreaded than malevolent intelligence in the few. It furnished the rank and file of rebellion, and the prejudiceblinded multitude who made the policy of repression effectual. Poor-whites, freedmen, Ku-Klux, and the bulldozers are all alike the harvest of ignorance. The nation cannot afford to grow such a crop. . . . The South — that pseudoSouth which has the power—does not wish this thing to be done to her people, and will oppose it with might and main. If done at all it must be done by the North — by the nation moved, instigated, and controlled by the North, I mean — in its own self-defense. It must be an act of sovereignty, an exercise of power. The nation expected the liberated slave to be an ally of freedom. It was altogether right and proper that it should desire and expect this. But it made the fatal mistake of expecting the freedman to do successful battle on his part of the line, without training or knowledge. This mistake must be remedied. As to the means, I feel sure that when the nation has smarted enough for its folly it will find a way to undo the evil, whether the state-right Moloch stand in the way, or not.’ ”

It is not necessary to think with this author politically, on every point, to find immense food for thought, not only in his facts, but in his reasonings. Of course everything depends on the honesty of this witness; but this is assured not only by the patience and self-control of the author, but by his admirable analysis of the Southern inherited character and by the generous, impartial tribute which he pays to Southern manhood. It is rare to find an author, with wrongs before him like those which are portrayed in A Fool’s Errand, who has the courage and the conscience to turn, so clearly as he does, the best side of the wrong-doer before one, and it is because this best side is in part the explanation of the wrong that the historical honesty of the book is forced upon the reader.

It is, as we said, for its historical value that the book will be read, but the causes which have made it worth reading on this side have conspired to render it also a strong piece of novel-work. The characters are clearly defined and typical, the actual events seem to make the plot, and the author has wisely as well as truthfully spared us the distress of seeing the worst calamities falling on the family of the hero. On the contrary, such light as comes issues from the women of the household, and the girl Lily Servosse, who in a more trivial story might be only a conventional piece of dash, rises through the earnestness of the writer into a flesh-and-blood heroine. The title of the book is a stroke of genius, for it results from the story, and is not a clever catch. Throughout the book the irony of the name Fool is skillfully used. When Servosse is about ordinary matters, his name is quietly taken, but when he speaks and acts as the daimon of the book he is the Fool. The distinction is used adroitly, and at times with great effect.

  1. Odd, or Even ? By MRS. A. D. T. WHITNEY. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1880.
  2. Richard Edney and the Governor’s Family. By SYLVESTER JUDD. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1880.
  3. Louisiana. By FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1880.
  4. A Hopeless Case. By EDGAR FAWCETT. Boston; Houghton, Milfflin & Co. 1880.
  5. Mrs. Beauchamp Brown [No-Name Series]. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1880.
  6. Rudder Grange. By FRANK R. STOCKTON. New York; Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1880.
  7. Unto the Third and Fourth Generation. A Study. By HELEN CAMPBELL. New York: Fords, Hovard, and Hulbert. 1880.
  8. A Stranded Ship. A Story of Sea and Shore. By L. CLARKE DAVIS. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1880.
  9. A Foreign Marriage: or,Buying a Title. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1880.
  10. Uncle Jack’s Executors. By ANNETTE LUCILLE NOBLE. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1880.
  11. From Madge to Margaret. By CARROLL WINCHESTER. Boston: Lee and Shepard. 1880.
  12. Democracy. An American Novel. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1880[Leisure Hour Series. No. 112.]
  13. A Fool’s Errand. By ONE OF THE FOOLS. New York: Fords, Howard and Halbert. 1880.