Dr. Heidenhoff's Process, and Other Novels
AN ingenious theory was once suggested that the entire process of dreaming was confined to the single moment before waking, and various illustrations were given — of very logical dreams, to be sure — where the denoument was coincident with some external disturbance. A man, for instance, dreamed of being charged with some capital offense, and proceeded with various details of having his photograph taken for an illustrated paper, and of being visited by friends who assured him that he need have no apprehension, for, though he was to be hanged, he would be cut down before life was extinct. Accordingly his dream carried him through the almost fatal scene, and he revived after he was cut down, to find that the cords of his hammock,
which had previously been partially severed by some mischievous comrade, had suddenly given way. The philosopher either invented the dream to support his thesis, or arranged his theory after the fortuitous circumstance. It matters little either way, but the nonsense recurs to us after reading Mr. Bellamy’s uncommonly clever story of Dr. Heidenhoff’s Process.1 The dream here which closes the book accounts for the origin of the previous facts. The writer has worked backward in his mind until he has produced a chain of events which, to speak paradoxically, hangs from a staple at the lower end of its length. There is thus a certain displeasure to an artistic mind, and a general sense that a really profound conception has been vaporized. Nevertheless, we do not hesitate to place it first in our list of recent fiction as indicating unusual power.
The story opens with a realistic sketch of a village prayer-meeting, at which a young man who was known as a penitent thief and a sincerely reformed sinner, but who had apparently never forgiven himself, rises at the last moment to relate a phase of his experience. He speaks plaintively of the impossibility of forgetfulness. “ ‘ Just think,’ he says, ‘ how blessed a thing for men it would be . . . if their memories could be cleansed and disinfected at the same time their hearts were purified! Then the most disgraced and ashamed might live good and happy lives again. Men would be redeemed from their sins in fact, and not merely in name. The figurative promises of the Gospel would become literally true. But this is idle dreaming. I will not keep you,’ and, checking himself abruptly, he sat down.” The whole confession of which this is the end makes the little congregation uncomfortable, but they pass out into the air, and among them go a young man named Henry Burr and a young woman, the village coquette, Madeline Brand. They are under the influence of George Bayley’s words, but gradually pass to a lighter mood. The explanation of the confession appears the next day, when it is found that Bayley was really making his adieu to his friends, for in the night he had put an end to himself. The village tragedy changes for a time the course of youthful life, but soon that is resumed in its customary form, and in the frolic of the summer Henry and Madeline are brought to the verge of betrothal. Just at this point, however, a disturbing element appears in the arrival from the city of a young clerk, who brings a supposed higher degree of civility, and the coquette begins her arts upon him. Henry is driven to despair, and leaves the village for the city, where he tries to take up a fresh life. He is drawn back by his sincere love only to find that the clerk has achieved a base victory over the coquette, has deserted her, and that she has fled to the city in her shame, He returns at once, and after a long search finds her, and then begins his heroic effort to reinstate her. He gives her his love still, but she in her dullness has nothing but a miserable gratitude to offer him. She allows him to remain her friend, and she has no love left for her betrayer. His calm persistence makes Henry a pure and unattainable saint in her eyes, and at length her indifference and her dull languor give place to a sense of her own unworthiness, and because she loves him she resolves to destroy herself.
It is at this point that Dr. Heidenhoff appears. Henry obtain from Madeline, as he thinks, a promise to be his wife, which is sealed by a kiss. “ Her lips were soft and yielding, clinging, dewy wet. He had never thought a kiss could be so sweet, and yet he could have wept, he knew not why.” He goes home to his lodgings, and, too excited to sleep naturally, takes a sleeping-powder and goes to bed. There follows then the dream to which, as we have said, the story leads, but it is introduced so skillfully that the reader has no suspicion of it upon his first reading. He “ finally went to bed,” we are told, and the next paragraph begins : “ It seemed to him that he went all the next day in a dazed, dreaming state, until the moment when he presented himself, after tea, at Madeline’s lodgings, and she opened the door to him.” A change had come over the girl. She had been reading an article in a scientific magazine giving the experiments of a certain Dr. Heidenhoff, who professed to have discovered the means of extirpating thought, — a discovery resting on the physical basis of the intellect, and consisting in the destruction, by means of a galvanic battery, of the corpuscles which recorded in the brain certain classes of sensations and ideas. Madeline demands to have the experiment tried upon her, and together they visit the doctor, who operates successfully. The recollection of her sin and disaster is blotted out, and she becomes again a happy, laughing girl; perplexed, indeed, by some mystery about herself, but light-hearted and looking forward with delight to their wedding. Then the wedding dress arrives, and she leaves him to don it, and appears again.
“ At length there was a rustling on the stairway, and she reëntered the room all sheeny white in lustrous satin. Behind the gauzy veil that fell from the coronal of dark-brown hair adown the shoulders, her face shone with a look he had never seen in it. It was no longer the mirthful, self-reliant girl who stood before him, but the shrinking, trustful bride. The flashing, imperious expression that so well became her bold beauty at other times had given place to a shy and blushing softness, inexpressibly charming to her lover. In her shining eyes a host of virginal alarms were mingled with the tender, solemn trust of love. As he gazed, his eyes began to swim with tenderness, and her face grew dim and misty to his vision. Then her white dress lost its sheen and form, and he found himself staring at the white window-shade of his bedroom, through which the morning light was peering. Startled, bewildered, he raised himself on his elbow in bed. Yes, he was in bed.”
The unsuspecting reader, brought to this rude awaking, is startled and shocked with Henry. So skillfully has the author managed the dream, suppressing the grotesqueness in the conception of Dr. Heidenhoff, that, in spite of the somewhat uncanny nature of the subject, one has only to be thoroughly interested in Madeline to go along with the story in simple credulity. Scarcely, however, has his mind become adjusted to the situation, before it is again rudely pained by the brief conclusion. A letter is at this moment brought to Henry. It is Madeline’s real good-by, before, like George Bayley, she seeks to plunge into the river of Lethe.
The painfulness of the story is genuine. There remains in the reader’s mind a tenderness for the girl, a profound sadness. The figure of Madeline throughout the narrative is admirably sketched, and the change in her life is firmly and not sentimentally presented. Praise belongs also to the truthfulness of the picture which Mr. Bellamy draws of commonplace village life. There is no caricature and no sentimentalizing, but the rude love-making and limited intellectual life are given with a true touch. It often happens that a citizen writing from recollection or observation of country life almost unconsciously offers some comparison between the two modes ; there is nothing of that here. Mr. Bellamy writes like one of the villagers, yet with an intellectual power of selection which one only so bred would not have. We do not observe a false note in the realism of the story, and there is an abundance of felicitous touches.
To read Mr. Blackmore’s novels is to find again the historic Englishman, a personage that has pretty much disappeared from current English fiction. In the present transition from an insular England to a British Empire, the character of the native Englishman is unquestionably undergoing change also, and transition periods rarely offer the best types. Mr. Blackmore, in most of his novels, we believe, goes back of men’s recollections and keeps away from London. He has a passion for persons and scenes which offer positive traits and broad effects, and his books are refreshingly and heartily English. Indeed, his belief in the England of song once in a while carries him close to the melodramatic, but his masculine temper and his vigor of thought save him from sentimentality. In his latest story, Mary Anerley,2 the time taken is the beginning of this century, and the incidents are grouped mainly about the person of one Robin Lyth, a free-hearted young smuggler on the coast of Yorkshire. The figures in the story are squires, lawyers, sailors, farmers, and country clergymen, with but small sprinkling of the gentry, and the author delights in individualizing his crowd of characters. He cares so much for this that he is not always at pains to keep a true distance between his chief and his subordinate persons, and the reader follows carefully a minute succession of petty incidents which are not, after all, essential to the story. But there is a story, and the treatment is so far removed from the introspective mode of modern fiction that the book does, what few novels nowadays do, really give a tired man an honest relaxation. It may be that some, used to another mode, will find Blackmore at first rugged and apparently artificial, but he is not a careless writer; he is close and indeed scholarly, with a keen love of adventure and a broad range of sympathy. Mary Anerley is one of the few novels which would be equally entertaining to man and boy ; the love-making is so frank and generous, and bears so right a proportion to the story, that a man will respect it, and a boy take it for what it is,— a necessary part of the tale.
Blackmore’s novels offer a refreshing escape from the subtlety and introspection of current fictitious literature. They are robust and nervous in strength, and their mannerisms seem rather the excess of these qualities ; but they do not secure a reaction against the prevailing mode by a return to antiquated fashions. For this one may look to the easy-going
stories of Mr. John Esten Cooke, and find examples of a story-telling art curiously faithful to traditions undisturbed by recent literary development. In reading, for instance, The Virginia Bohemians,3 although the scenes are post bellum, one faintly recalls the once popular tales of Kennedy, and is affected by forms of art very much as when, in real life, he finds himself once more in a stage-coach, — not the tally-ho of a fantastic revival, but the actual vehicle which has rumbled over country roads from necessity. Mr. Cooke takes us into a valley lying between ranges of the Blue Ridge, and, gently removing us from the roar of cities and too close reminder of the restless life of the day, spins a pleasant web about the fortunes of a few characters who are equally removed with us from actual experience. There are members of a circus troupe who are not what they seem, and moonshiners who enjoy a mild glory of freebooting; there is a young New Yorker who is placidly untypical of that cosmopolitan city, and a designing young woman whom the author would fain have us believe to be wicked and beautiful ; there are other women, generously Southern, but temperate and not exuberant, who diffuse a gentle warmth over the pages, and there are mountaineers who present themselves to our imagination as winking under calcium lights upon pasteboard steeps. Mysteries are created and solved, relationships are constructed out of apparently unpromising material, the right heroes rescue the right heroines, and no doubt is left as to the final disposition of each character. There is something agreeable in the thin veil of romance which covers the whole story. We have stepped into the story-teller’s world as it used to be, and out of that realistic inclosure which modern fiction would fain have us accept as a clever substitute for the world we live in. Mr. Cooke gives us county and town names, and paints his scenery with an air of candor and affection ; we only smile, and assure him that it is all the same; the Virginian Bohemia answers every purpose, whether he has described it or imagined it. The country and the characters, even including the civilly treated United States marshal, are all pleasantly unreal, and that is what we ask for in his book. There is a consistency of unreality about it. It is the real country of the novel as distinguished from the hard city to which we have become accustomed.
Mr. Cooke writes of Southern life as a native, but representations of Southern characteristics by Northern writers are pretty sure to emphasize the distinctions of life in the two sections. In literature, even more than in politics, the South is still a foreign land to the North, and travelers are likely to bring back from it only what does not grow at the North. Mr. Bache’s modest little venture 4 can scarcely be called a novel; it is hardly even a tale, but it illustrates tolerably well the impression made upon a young Northern gentleman of the more refined side of Southern life just before the war, and then briefly of the havoc which war made in the neighborhood which he revisited as a Union officer. The contrast will one day be effectively used in fiction, when “'t is sixty years since;” and such memoranda as Mr. Bache gives will be of service. He has so little of the novelist about him that he is contented to give sketches only of what under a trained hand would have given opportunity for powerful situations ; but the sketches are perhaps the more to be trusted from the absence of sensational strokes in them.
Since we are upon novels of Southern life, we will just mention two further contributions to a literature portentously large in volume, which yet awaits an adequate analysis. Myrtle Lawn,5 by a writer who adds to his name on the title-page “ of North Carolina,” and The Mystery of Allanwold,6 by one of the authors so lavishly and comprehensively praised by the Messrs. Peterson, belong to a class where feebleness of construction and a swollen diction, which pertain exclusively to no latitude, have been aggravated by a peculiar literary disease of the South, which causes a distention of all objects upon Southern soil, so that planters’ houses are seen to dilate into gorgeous palaces, and Southern virtue, beauty, and manliness to be beyond verbal bounds. The old merchant who lives “ in a stately-looking brown stone mansion, not many miles distant from Maryland’s great business and commercial city,” is a princely old merchant, and all the appointments of life in Myrtle Lawn and at the Melton Mansion are of the rosiest kind. “ In a spacious room, near an open window which overlooked this scene of loveliness, sat Mr. Evarts in an easy rockingchair.” By such little touches these writers prepare their readers for refined society. It would be idle to chase through these books as literature, but we cannot help wondering if a good deal of political wrong thinking is not due to a foolish class of books which, failing to convey a just idea of Southern life, create false notions of Southern magnificence. These rankly imaginative writers really seem to have deceived themselves into fancying that their fiction is a flower of Southern soil ; their readers, whether at the South or the North, so far as they take in these preposterous representations, are unfitted to deal with the urgent problems which affect our common life, and the day is farther postponed when a genuine understanding shall prevail between the two sections.
We can hardly expect the readers of these last-named books to take up The Grandissimes,7 but if they would and could give heed to it they would find a novel wholly Southern in locale, yet entirely serious in workmanship and historically truthful. We say this with no more special knowledge of New Orleans and creoles than such as the book gives, but the internal evidence of conscientious labor is unmistakable. Mr. Cable has chosen for his story a place and time hitherto quite untouched by other novelists than himself. The scene is laid in New Orleans at the beginning of the present century, just at the time of the cession of Louisiana to the United States by France, and the change of sovereignty is made the background upon which the picture of life is drawn. Governor Claiborne scarcely appears on the scene, and the few “ Yankees ” about him are known only by their shadows ; the entire story is wrought by creoles, quadroons, and blacks, with the important addition of a young solitary German immigrant, and as regards history one is given rather the culmination of an old order of things than the beginning of a new. The antiquarian details seem carefully studied, and the author certainly succeeds in presenting the New Orleans of 1803 without requiring the reader to make frequent comparisons with the city which he may happen to know to-day. Nevertheless, he is not unmindful of the posterior relation which he holds to the story, and thus the narrator establishes a sympathy with the reader. These things were, he plainly says, but let us draw near enough to them in imagination to see them distinctly and minutely. As a historical composition, therefore, The Grandissimes has a frank and natural treatment.
There is, however, something more than this. The author has taken not merely a picturesque theme and treated it with freshness and veracity; he has had a profound sense of the larger laws of history underlying the change in which his scenes are laid. He has read to admirable advantage the occult pathology of slavery, and has perceived the nature of the problem which confronted Governor Claiborne and all sagacious statesmen, when a province so foreign from the customary traditions of the United States passed under the control of the government at Washington. A surprise awaits the novel-reader in this book. He is drawn into a strong interest in the characters displayed and their personal fortunes, but discovers that the novelist has offered also a parable. The questions, in a word, which agitated so much of the new nation as regarded Louisiana are, with only slight variations, such as have perplexed the entire body of thoughtful men in the nation ever since the downfall of the Confederacy. Mr. Cable is too sincere an artist to push this parallel, but the reader will make it for himself out of the excellent materials offered. There can be no mistaking the undercurrent of thought in the short interview which is given between Honoré Grandissime and Claiborne. It is introduced very cleverly by the spectacle of the two men riding together through the Place d’Armes. In the interview recorded afterward, Honoré says to the governor: —
“Your principal danger — at least, I mean difficulty —is this : that the Louisianais themselves, some in pure lawlessness, some through loss of office, some in a vague hope of preserving the old condition of things, will not only hold off from all participation in your government, but will make all sympathy with it, all advocacy of its principles, and especially all office-holding under it odious, disreputable, infamous. You may find yourself constrained to fill your offices with men who can face down the contumely of a whole people. You know what such men generally are. One out of a hundred may be a moral hero, the ninety-nine will be scamps ; and the moral hero will most likely get his brains blown out early in the day. Count O’Reilly, when he established the Spanish power here thirty-five years ago, cut a similar knot with the executioner’s sword ; but, my dear sir, you are here to establish a free government, and how can you make it freer than the people wish it ? There is your riddle ! They hold off, and say, ‘ Make your government as free as you can, but do not ask us to help you ; ’ and before you know it you have no retainers, but a gang of shameless mercenaries, who will desert you whenever the indignation of this people overbalances their indolence; and you will fall the victim of what you may call our mutinous patriotism. . . . How many, many communities have committed suicide ! And this one ? Why, it is just the kind to do it! ”
We have taken the liberty to give the creole’s words in intelligible English, not to confuse the reader unaccustomed to the singular cacoepy of the Englishspeaking French of the book. A more tragic interest attaches to Mr. Cable’s presentation of African slavery. He has, with excellent judgment, made the conscience regarding slavery to reside chiefly in the person of Joseph Frowenfeld, a young German immigrant, who is stripped of his entire family by yellow fever shortly after coming to New Orleans, and, setting himself up as apothecary, becomes in many ways the central figure of the story. To speak more exactly, he is the chorus ; for though his action occasionally affects the story, his chief function is to ask the questions and bring out the prior conditions, and especially, as we have hinted, to be the external conscience. His presence in the community is historically more likely than that, for example, of an upright, over-sensitive New Englander, and his relation to the people about him is more natural, because he is a foreigner, than it would have been in the case of a Northern man. Still, we suspect Mr. Cable has not made Joseph Frowenfeld as good a character as he is a useful part of the machinery of the novel, and his importance in the development of the ideas of the story is out of proportion to his value as one of the dramatis personœ. His chorus function has somewhat interfered with his personal existence. It is not always Frowenfeld, however, who lays bare the tragedy of slavery. The author himself does this with some very trenchant words, and the various characters in their several ways lift the covering now and then from that hideous evil. But the story itself is more effective than any denunciation of the evil could be : the incident of Bras-Coupé is not an episode, but an integral part of the structure of the novel; it is magnificently told, for the author’s fault of eddying about his point has been forgotten in this instance, and he has marched straight forward in a dramatic recital. Bras-Coupé, Palmyre, Clemence, and the other Honoré, — these in their separate ways are marks by which to measure the power of slavery to effect wrong, and the strength of the book is in the masterly tracing of the several threads by which their lives and the lives of their social superiors are interwoven.
It would be a mistake to suppose that the book is simply a clever historical novel, or that it is a philosophical exposition of society in New Orleans under the influence of a dread cause, — the “ shadow of the Ethiopian,” as Frowenfeld well names it. Mr. Cable, with all his insight into history and society, is an artist and a man of large imagination. Indeed, the defects of the book may be traced generally to the struggle after adequate expression of commanding conceptions. It is built upon a large pattern. The author has conceived, with a classic sense, the immense reach of a proud family ; he has constructed a House of Grandissimes, and never loses hold of the idea of this dominating clan. The very names given to the members of the family remind one of the Greek drama, and the turn of the story upon the opportunity of the head of the family to make or mar the fortunes of all is finely intended. Finely intended, we say, for we cannot help feeling that the author has missed a fundamental law of the novel, and has omitted to make Honoré’s decision, admirably as it is described, the significant climax of the story. In the great number of details and half-followed clews, he fails to lead his reader straight on to the moral turning-point with breathless interest. Why, for instance, should we be asked to take so much interest in Dr. Keene ? His actual part in the drama is unimportant, and the figure which he cuts as disappointed lover is not very noble ; yet the author seems to have a consideration for him, based, as it were, upon what he has done or might do outside of the story. The chronology, too, of the tale is confusing, and it is not easy to say how long an interval elapses between the opening and the close, while the reminiscences and the retrocessions in the story add to the reader’s confusion. One hardly succeeds in mastering the ramification of the Grandissime family until he has closed the book; but that is rather the fault of the family, and the details seem necessary to fill out the conception of gens.
The patois and the creole English are evidently given with care. One can amuse himself a little with them if he does not read the book aloud. We do not know why we should not accept this local burr in literature with as much complacency as we do Scotticism. We own to a reluctance to read books where “ Hoot, mon ! ” catches our eye on the printed page, and it certainly would take a novel of the power of the Grandissimes to reconcile us to Honoré’s “ myde’-seh ” and his reckless use of h in impossible combinations. The broken English of the De Grapion ladies, however, is often delicious. If we had not already said so much we should he tempted now to present more carefully to the reader these charming creatures. Mr. Cable has shown himself possessed of a strong imagination and a power to do serious work in fiction. If now he will consider that his public is sufficiently instructed in the superstitions of the creoles, and will order his narrative more perfectly, he may be assured of an increasing attention. His story is not to be read by a languid reader, but it will repay study, even though we think the author has sometimes set unnecessary tasks.
The Grandissimes shows how fine a field there is for the American novelist who will give us a local story with national relations. A Famous Victory 8 points another sort of moral. It is apparently intended to show how great political triumphs turned into ashes in the hand of a man who sacrificed all that was dear to him, wittingly or unwittingly, to secure a public prize. The typical political characters appear in it, and the author wishes to paint the ignoble side of our politics. But the nobility with which he contrasts it is not that of a character in public life, but of a young and charming girl, the daughter of the aspirant for the presidency, and his moral lesson falls to the ground for lack of a proper antithesis. Certain well-known characteristics of notable public men are freely sketched, to give life-likeness to the scenes ; but the author makes no real contribution to our political knowledge, and the cheap sarcasm of the book is not effective. The material in which he works is mean, and his better characters have no real life. There is a briskness about the book which gives it an air of great liveliness, and takes the place of the wit which was intended, but the story is a warning to any one who fancies that the “ go ” of politics offers an opportunity for a good story. To make a consistent character of his hero, the author has been obliged to deny him any higher power than that which belongs to a manipulator of elections. Such men do not secure the office of president.
Three recent volumes of the Leisure Hour Series remind us to how much greater perfection the English have carried the art of manufacturing novels than ourselves. The technique of these stories is excellent, — only a practiced hand could make all the parts join so cleverly,—and the stories are interesting, yet how rarely one comes upon anything like inspiration ! Each succeeding novel is measured by a more careful and exacting judgment in the public mind, and the novelist who has studied his business well — it is quite as often her business — can know pretty surely what kind of a public and how large may be found for the wares which have been put together with so much painstaking. Week after week, year after year, the critical journals and the circulating libraries have been at work adjusting the bounds of the conventional novel, and the writers who supply the novel gauge popular taste as accurately as do the painters who exhibit their pictures each year. Cleverness is the sign manual of them all. We read, we are amused, we are shocked by nothing, unless it be an occasional English idiom ; but one reading is enough. Indeed, the novelists themselves understand the weakness of their reader, and give him as easy a task as they can, skipping as they write, instead of requiring him to skip. And what pains they take with their work to make it substantial! Here, for instance, is Christy Carew,9 a book dealing with society in Dublin and neighborhood, written with immense closeness of detail, and having for its background the political and religious discussions of the day. This fineness of work has its drawback, since some of the characters become confused by the pains taken to set them, but one can scarcely open the book without coming upon such firm and precise drawing as this: “ Miss Christina knew that one of these days she would have to sit in the drawing-room and listen to Mr. Dawson declaring his sentiments for her. She could almost see him, with one lavender kid glove on his left hand, his right hand bare, and the glove belonging to it lying in his hat, which, doubtless in order that his declamation might be unimpeded, he would have deposited in a place of safety at a little distance.” The author might have read Tourgénieff, so closely does she aim at the power to declare her story through significant scenes and words. One scene only seems to us grossly impertinent, and that is the murder by the author of an unoffending child, whose fall into a pond was utterly unnecessary and followed by no consequences that were of value in the story. Christy Carew is a miniature of Dublin life, and its reality is unimpeachable, yet the reader has to take almost as much pains as the author, and the net result is not very large. The absence of any commanding passion and the presence of a hopeless, consumptive attachment leave the book, with all its brightness of detail, arid and unsatisfactory. One feels that there has been a vast expenditure without adequate return, and that the fault is partly in the minuteness of the threads which make up the web of the society portrayed in it.
Troublesome Daughters,10 in the same series, promises more entertainment to the reader than it fairly fulfills. It opens like light comedy, and a capital situation at the beginning makes one pursue the hero and heroine with the expectation of finding a new Taming of the Shrew ; but a change comes over the book, and a more serious cast is given to the story. Captain Evelyn has a silly mother, who marries a widower with four daughters. Her son has never seen her new establishment, and is loitering on the way thither when he is caught in a storm at night-fall, loses his way, and is taken under the protection of a girl who conducts him to the shelter of a comfortable farm-house. He can get very little sight of the maiden, and still less hearing, for she maintains a puzzling silence, and the farmer and his wife are equally non-committal. Evelyn is amused and piqued by the romantic adventure, and carries it very much in his mind as he goes to a friend’s in the neighborhood, and afterwards to his step-father’s place at Carnochan. There he makes the acquaintance of three of his new sisters, but the second in age is not there. Lady Olivia, the mother, has her hands full with these young mistresses, but especially is tormented by Kate, who has lately exiled herself, in a passionate rebellion, and has taken refuge with her discarded governess, a farmer’s daughter.
The reader guesses, a little in advance of Captain Evelyn, that naughty Kate is the unknown lady at Farmer Comline’s, and is prepared for an amusing éclaircissement. Evelyn, finding that there is an unsettled quarrel between his mother and Kate, resolves to act as a mediator, and without disclosing his purpose at Carnochan returns to Farmer Comline’s. He begins by getting acquainted with Kate, and ends by falling in love with her. He goes back and forth between the two places, but being a man afflicted with excessive love of ease and peace does not actually grapple with the difficulty. He proposes a course to Kate which involves deception, and she bursts into an indignant refusal, which brings about a hæmorrhage. The reader, to his surprise, finds that he has come to the end of the comedy, and the rest of the book is taken up with the fortunes of the other troublesome daughters and the final “ as you were ” of Evelyn and Kate, just before they separated. It seems to us that a very entertaining short story has been spoiled to meet the exigencies of a regulation novel, and that the rest of the book, while cleverly done, is less successful than the opening. The confidences between the governess and Captain Evelyn, upon which his final happiness depends, are not very much to the captain’s credit, and the title of the story is more ingenious than it is appropriate.
The author of Probation shows a like carefulness in her new story, The Wellfields,11 which has an excellent plot well filled in, and containing one or two situations which, if not actually novel, are managed to appear so. The book is a fine illustration of that skill in workmanship which renders the best secondrate English novels so satisfactory to the conscientious and appreciative reader. One feels that he has been treated with respect by the author. A preliminary chapter shows us a fine English country place, Wellfield, which lies contiguous to a Jesuit seminary; but in former days both estates were under Roman Catholic ownership. In Henry VIII.’s time, the abbey was granted to a country gentleman, and had ever since remained in Protestant hands ; but there were many old Roman Catholic families in the neighborhood, and the seminary was a stronghold of the Jesuits. The story, which shows for a moment in this prelude the young son of the latest Wellfield, has for its epic content the reunion of the two estates, but the reader’s interest is engaged throughout the book upon the human loves which work toward this end, with only an occasional unmasking of the Jesuit priest who is working the wires to effect his purpose.
Jerome Wellfield, who has led a pleasant, blameless life as a young man, learns at his father’s death-bed that he is left a poor man, with a young sister dependent on him. But at the same time he has come to a crisis in his love with Sara Ford, an English artist living in Germany, and leaving his sister A vice with his betrothed he goes to England to obtain a settlement of his affairs. Wellfield has been bought by a Mr. Bolton, a rich manufacturer with an only daughter. Jerome is courteously invited to stay there, and the daughter loses her heart to him. He is handsome, selfish, weak, and possessed of one absorbing desire, — to get back Wellfield. Here is a way to do it. He is tempted, falls, throws over Sara Ford, and allows himself to become engaged to Anita Bolton, who is ignorant of Sara Ford’s claim.
Jerome’s fall is one from which he never recovers. Thenceforth he leads a cowardly life, and the reader is not required to expend much thought upon him. His attention is rather directed to his wronged fiancée, and the strength of the story is in the picture of the mental experience of this woman, who is rescued from her perilous position by a strong man who has loved her from the beginning and now grasps the situation, marries her almost by the compulsion of his will, and then, placing her in his secluded country house, sets out on his travels until his wife shall have lived down her old love, cast it off entirely, and learned to rely implicitly on him. The development of the plot is admirable, and the reader feels a great respect for the author, who finally lifts the veil at the close and shows Jerome’s wife dying of a broken heart after giving birth to a child, Jerome received into the Roman Catholic church, and the Wellfield property on its way into the hands of the Jesuit fathers.
Beauty’s Daughters 12 is intended, apparently, by the author to take its place in the same general class of clever second-rate novels of which the three just noticed were such good examples; but while it misses, as they do, any very strong imagination, it misses also their good sense and trustworthiness. It is silly where they are sprightly, and its heroics, built upon the love scenes of a crippled man and his betrothed, are in falsetto. The use of beauty in the book is to distract everybody to the verge of wickedness or folly, but one cannot help feeling that it is only a conventional use ; that much of the complication of the characters would be impossible in real life, unless the characters had either a good deal more or a good deal less individuality than they have in the book.
Mr. Black has been amusing himself with a yachting romance,13 in which in a half-indolent fashion he recites the adventures of a little party sailing along the west coast of Scotland. The charm of that coast is not easily lost when once a visitor has caught it, and Mr. Black may be pardoned for expecting his readers once more to humor him as he tells of the names of loch and cape and island : —
Knoydart, Moydart, Morrer, Ardgower, and
Here I see him and here.”
The story is so slight that it does not seem the occasion of the book, but only a concession to a public which will follow Mr. Black to Skye, if he will beguile them with a little romance on the way. It is a mere excuse for a vacation on the part of the writer, and its lazy movement made it an exceptionally good magazine serial. Its thinness is more apparent within book covers.
Mr. Trollope is on good enough terms with his readers to be sure of a hearty consent when he refers, in the first sentence of The Duke’s Children,14 to “ our old friend the Duke of Omnium.” Those who have not read the chronicles which record the fortunes of this graven image and other characters in the story will have no difficulty in catching all of the past that is necessary to an understanding of The Duke’s Children. It is curious to see how Mr. Trollope warms himself by his own fire. The story opens and continues flat and uneventful, when, as the reader doubts if his interest will hold out to the end, the author begins to have a livelier concern in his creation ; his characters quicken under his touch, and the whole book rises steadily in power and in dramatic action. Not only so, but the characters themselves are redeemed. Lord Silverbridge, especially, changes from a Dundrearylike mortal into a man of resolution and acuteness. Shall we say that he owes his new life to his passion for the beautiful American ? But no one in the book seems to notice any change, and we do not think Mr. Trollope intended that he should be any more at the end than he was at the beginning. In the former half of the book, one is tempted to take a somewhat sardonic view of the British aristocracy, under Mr. Trollope’s lead. Can it be, we ask, that the men and women alike are so utterly vapid and prosaic? The beautiful American girl, though she has scarcely a particle of Americanism about her that we can discover, becomes differentiated from the equally lovely English girls of the book by a certain positiveness of in-
dividuality. She does not lapse into the dissolute English of her contemporaries, and really has a mind of her own. It appears to us that Mr. Trollope, in devising a fair American who shall be equal to the part of a future Duchess of Omnium, has not so much attempted to draw from American sources as he has produced an agreeable variation of the English gentlewoman. He needed to make her more beautiful, wittier, more engaging every way, than his English countrywomen, in order that she might play her proper part in the book, and she needed also to be American in name for the same reason ; therefore she is simply a more carefully drawn character, and pleases the reader chiefly by her contrast to the more slipshod ladies of Mr. Trollope’s company. But even in the best parts of the book how sorry a set of figures is presented! They may be photographically true, and the word is not ill adapted to express the realism of the book, for it is the cheaper, more ignoble side of cultivated life which is shown, but they are not imaginatively true. If this were to be taken for a picture of English society, then one would be tempted to say that the temple had become a den of thieves. The whole atmosphere of the book is that of the market-place. Men and women and place and honor are bought and sold almost unblushingly, and high purposes are made to have an uncomfortable look of being secredy laughed at. Yet, for all that, this story, like other of Trollope’s, has something of the sure fate of a Greek drama, and we are convinced that it is this which preserves his work and makes it have a certain enduring quality. Lady Mabel Grex, in some respects the central character of the book, illustrates this point, and one cannot help feeling that the close of this chapter of the chronicles only hides from immediate view some disaster to Lord Silverbridge and Frank Tregear. They have escaped Nemesis for a time ; the wedding-bells ring and everything is merry; only the dark shadow of Mabel Grex crosses the path, and we wonder if the curtain, when lifted again, will not disclose a heavier cloud over these two men’s lives.
To come back to American stories, there are three or four remaining on our list which must mainly be classed under novels of good intention. The formlessness of many native ventures in fiction is a little too well illustrated by such a book as The Octagon Club.15 On one of the opening pages a hint is given of some blot upon the reputation of an absent member of the club. His name is mentioned sadly, and before the meeting, which starts the book, is broken up it is resolved to meet on the next anniversary in Frankfort, with special reference to this black sheep, and the chapter ends : “ Slowly Ware and More strolled off, arm in arm, discussing a matter about which, for once, they were of one mind. This was Talfourd, and how this once sadly erring member of their club could be induced to come back and take up once more the thread of his life among those whose friendship he so keenly felt he had dishonored.” This first chapter appears as a prelude, introducing the male characters, and the reader, though he thinks their conversation rather callow, and more like the imaginary speculations of young sophomores than the usual discussion of mature men, settles himself to the book with the expectation that this unfortunate Talfourd is to be cleared, and that the club is to have the satisfaction of wiping out its little spots. This is all he gets when he has patiently read the book through : —
“ When Talfourd entered the library he found himself face to face with all the remaining members of the club, — the only men now living who held the secret of his past. Carbonne grasped one hand, Ware the other ; and, looking in the faces of these old comrades, all of whom knew his blight and deemed it not irrevocable, Talfourd felt the burthen of long years lift from his soul and flee away, leaving him on the threshold, as it were, of a new life.”
Absolutely that is all. Now the story of Talfourd may not have amounted to anything, but the book holds it before the reader as if it were its one theme, and all that came between were merely episodical. What comes between is chiefly crude speculation on woman and marriage, with one or two love passages, which are incidents in the book rather than part of its plan. The writer, like many others, mistakes fluency and a certain sprightliness of talk for reason and wit. There is no appearance of any consecutive purpose. It will not do to call it a character study ; one might as well call a tumbled pile of decorative stuff a study in color. A study implies at least preparation for a picture or a novel, and even conceding this book to be a study of character, we complain that no writer is justified in calling us in to see, not her failure in attempting a work, but her failure when she has not attempted a work. The book is scarcely worth dissecting, but it represents a growing class of American productions which are wholly inexcusable. Their writers affect humility by such terms as “a character study.” A real humility would lead them to see that their “ studies ” should be for their own benefit, not for their neighbors’ attention.
Tit for Tat16 belongs to the same class of novels. It has a plan, indeed, which is obvious from the beginning to the most guileless reader, but it is equally idle, and equally offensive for its assumption of knowingness. The young men of the story are represented as society young men, and the author has therefore given them a negligée manner, and endeavored to palm them off on her readers as real people. Their jauntiness is insufferable, and again we are reminded how easy it is to be lively and airy in a story without being either light or graceful, and how entirely insufficient such airs as this book takes on are to cover the emptiness and cheapness of the story.
This is a wicked world, but no one can know how wicked it is till he has read George Bailey.17 This novel happens to be put by the publishers into the same dress as that which becomes Mary Anerley. Can it be that there was a sly intimation of the equality of all books before the law of the publisher ? Certainly, the natural inequality of the two books is patent to the most careless reader. Mary Anerley, as we have tried to show, is a book worth studying, even. George Bailey is not worth reading. The reader, to be sure, would extract some fun from it. In one of the darkest moments of this dark book, where the villain of the story strikes his wife, we have this touch of nature: “ With a dignity which Finch had never before witnessed, Grace simply said, ‘ Hands off, coward ! ’ and seized a pair of large scissors which lay near her, and holding the point out before his face said, ‘ If ever you touch me again I shall kill you on the spot!’ ” No one will be surprised that a few lines after that scene, “ Myron Finch retired, with the expression of a baffled fiend marked on every line of his pale, flabby face.”
There is little hope for E. M. H., or the Marchioness Clara Lanza, and none for Oliver Oldboy, but one may confidently expect better things of the author of Salvage.18 The scheme of the book is good, the action is rapid, and beneath the surface of the story runs a strong and righteous purpose. Colonel Lancelot Wolcott, of the Confederate service, was a Southerner, who had married for her money a half-educated, unsophisticated New York girl. The war brought a division not long after their marriage, for the wife, in a spirited and somewhat unexpected encounter with him, showed so stout a Northern spirit that he left her in her father’s home, and joined the Southern army. After the war he went abroad, and in his restlessness sought occupation and distraction in perilous travel. He explored the interior of Asia, and penetrated, with a single English comrade, fastnesses hitherto unentered. He wrote his Travels, and the book preceding him to England created a great sensation. He found himself suddenly famous. His picture was in The Illustration, though by a trifling inaccuracy the draughtsman had copied the portrait of another Southerner, in the service of the Khedive of Egypt, and he was flooded with invitations. It is at the hour of his arrival in London that the reader is introduced to him, and finds a man eager to enter on this new life, and somewhat impatiently waiting the issue of measures which he had set on foot for a divorce from his wife. His lawyer’s letter, awaiting him, informs him of the progress of affairs, and mentions casually the existence of his boy of seven. Colonel Wolcott had never heard of the birth of his child, having had absolutely no intelligence of his wife since he had left her. This fact changes the entire current of his mind. A son! He instantly determines to go back to America, for now he has a new interest, and he must secure the custody of his child. On his way to Liverpool he is shut up in the railway carriage with an English gentleman having under his charge a lady and her son. It is his own wife and child, who have crossed the Atlantic; the mother to hide the child from the father. We are to believe that Colonel Wolcott has so altered in appearance, and his wife is so near-sighted, that they make their journey without his being discovered, while yet he engages the attention and affection of the boy. He talks with his wife (as if his voice too had changed, or she were hard of hearing as well as nearsighted !), and to his amazement finds that she has developed into an educated, brilliant, and admirable woman. An accident throws them still nearer together, and the wife recognizes her husband, but conceals her knowledge from dread of the consequences to the son. It turns out that they are both going to America on the Crimea, a steamer belonging to Mrs. Wolcott’s father. Colonel Wolcott takes the place of a drummer who at the last moment gave up his passage, and not choosing to divulge his name helps himself to the drummer’s name for the time. Lancelot is left in England, and Mrs. Wolcott, torn with anxiety, finds herself on the steamer with her husband. They carry on for some little time an acquaintance which is a thin dissimulation, and Wolcott not only becomes powerfully drawn to his wife, but learns how abhorrent to her is the idea of a divorce, and that she has secretly preserved her passion and respect for him. The situation is complicated by the presence on the steamer of a widow with whom Wolcott was in love before he married his wife, and who turns up now a vulgar woman, with a still more unendurable child, a negro steward who had been one of Wolcott’s plantation hands, and a dog which had once been his also, and must now have been rather too aged, one must think, for the feats which it afterward performed.
The restoration of the old union is effected in connection with a shipwreck of the Crimea and a rescue on the coast of Ireland, chiefly through the aid of Wolcott’s remarkable dog, and the story ends with the triumph of the wife’s principles and steadfastness, the justification of marriage vows, and the satisfaction of the minor characters. Some of the artistic crudities and improbabilities of the story have been hinted at, and others might be pointed out, but it is pleasanter as well as juster to call attention to the manliness of the book, its frequent sharpness of outline, its uninterrupted interest, and the honorable tone which marks its ulterior purpose. If it be a first book, as many signs intimate, it is one of which its author need never hereafter be ashamed, however much he may improve upon it. We hope it is not the sudden impulse of a cultivated man who had a momentary desire to point a moral, for we should be sorry to think that it was not the first fruits of a more admirable harvest. The hand that has wrought so firmly in Salvage is one that inspires confidence in capacity and conscience.
- Dr. Heidenhoff’s Process. By EDWARD BELLAMY. New York : D. Appleton & Co. 1880. [Appleton’s New Handy-Volume Series. No, 54.]↩
- Mary Anerley. A Yorkshire Tale. By R. D. BLACKMORE. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1880.↩
- The Virginia Bohemians. A Novel. By JOHN ESTEN COOKE. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1880.↩
- Under the Palmetto in Peace and War. By RICHARD MEADE BACHE. Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen and Haffelfinger. 1880.↩
- Myrtle Lawn. A Novel. By ROBERT E. BALLARD, of North Carolina. Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson and Brothers. 1880.↩
- The Mystery of Allanwold. By MRS. ELIZABETH VAN LOON. Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson and Brothers. 1880.↩
- The Grandissimes. A Story of Creole Life. By GEORGE W. CABLE, Author of Old Creole Days. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1880.↩
- A Famous Victory. Chicago: Jansen, McClurg & Co. 1880.↩
- Christy Carew. A Novel, By MARY LAFFAN. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1880. [Leisure Hour Series, No. 112.]↩
- Troublesome Daughters, By L. B. WALFORD. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1880. [Leisure Hour Series, No. 113.]↩
- The Wellfields. By JESSIE FOTHERGILL. New York : Henry Holt & Co. 1880. [Leisure Hour Series, No. 115.]↩
- Beauty’s Daughters. Philadelphia : J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1880.↩
- White Wings: A Yachting Romance. By WILLIAM BLACK. New York : Harper and Brothers. 1880.↩
- The Duke’s Children. By ANTHONY TROLLOPE. New York : Harper and Brothers. 1880. [Franklin Square Library, No. 126.]↩
- The Octagon Club. A Character Study. By E. M. H. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1880.↩
- Tit for Tat. A Teutonic Adventure. By the MARCHIONESS CLARA LANZA. New York G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1880.↩
- George Bailey. A Tale of New York Mercantile Life. By OLIVER OLDBOY. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1880.↩
- Salvage. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1880. [No Name Series.]↩