The Head of Medusa, and Other Novels
THE novel has become, like the daily newspaper, a record of the most recent facts in human history. Whatever may be the latest mode in theology, philosophy, or art, one will be very sure to find it reproduced in fiction. The novel, indeed, like the newspaper, almost anticipates facts, and eagerly gives us solutions of social and spiritual problems before the new philosophy or new religion has entirely satisfied itself with formula or creed. So susceptible is the novelist to the very breath of the time. What is whispered in the salon is proclaimed on the house-top, and human society is artistically rearranged, often with singular power and beauty, before men and women have quite readjusted themselves to the new conditions of life. Would you know the latest results of modern philosophy as applied to the conduct of life, look for them not in lecture, essay, sermon, or treatise, but in the novel. The novelist makes haste to set down what people are talking about, before the people who talk have reached the end of their conversation.
Here, for example, is a novel by a young woman, —for the personality of George Fleming is not a carefully guarded secret: and the reader who interests himself in The Head of Medusa1 is struck with the facility shown in appropriating the latest substitute for Christianity. Upon the fly-leaf are mottoes from Bagehot and Morley, and their tenor prepares one for the serious view which the author means to take of her work. A prelude follows, and this is not unlike the overture of an opera. It contains the theme of the story, and presents the chief characters in the position and relation which they hold at the end of the book ; for in point of time the prelude is the latest chapter. The reader, upon reviewing this prelude after he has read the novel, perceives more clearly, of course, the exact significance of all the words, gestures, and attitudes which are contained in it; yet his first reading, before he knows the story of which it is the sequel, cannot fail to impress upon him a tone which is the prevalent one in the book. When he hears Barbara say under her breath, “ There is always Guido, and to give thanks is good, and to forgive,” he does not understand the facts which lie behind, but he knows he is to be introduced to suffering, to wrong, to charity and forgiveness. It is at his own peril, therefore, that the reader takes up the story itself.
The use of this prelude is certainly artistic, and whether it was written first or last by the writer its place in the book serves to give the pitch of the story. It is one of sacrifice, and so profoundly is this felt by the writer that from the very first the reader knows he is invited to witness an unescapable fate. The title is well chosen, for not merely in the principal incident, but in the whole course of the novel, one is aware of the presence of some fateful, mysterious power that will petrify all the warmth of a human heart. A young American girl from the South, with a very ill-defined parentage and history, is discovered emerging from a solitary and unsympathetic life into a gayer circle of Roman society. The two or three American and English men and women whom she meets are reasonable and agreeable people, and one of the young Americans would, under ordinary novel-treatment, become on the last page of the story her admiring husband. The pleasantness of this unacquired fortune is used as a foil for the fate which waits upon her. At her first advent in society she meets an Italian count, who is secretly betrayed to the reader as an ignoble character, but poses before Barbara as a pathetic crushed hero. He moves in the little circle which entertains her with a melancholy alternating with moroseness, and it is not made wholly clear how he succeeds in obtaining a final ascendency over her; but the reader suspects his power to be in part magnetic, in part a hypocritical appeal to her high sense of duty, — a sense which would express itself most loftily in complete sacrifice. To such sacrifice, at any rate, Barbara comes, and so inwoven is the idea with that of love as to make even her moments of delusive passion for her lover tremulous with tearfulness. It is a little difficult for one to have Barbara’s eyes when he looks upon this moody, stalking Italian pretender to real nobility, and this makes the defect of the story ; for it is not enough that we should take Barbara’s high-mindedness as explanatory of all her mistake ; we must be permitted a little delusion with regard to her husband, and that the author does not grant us. His meanness is exhibited clearly to the reader from the outset, and thus our feeling of pity toward Barbara is tinged with a little impatience at her blindness ; nor can we entirely understand the exact nature of the sacrifice which she is conscious of making. The ideality of Barbara’s act of submission to this brute has about it something unreal, and this unreality vitiates our sympathy. Nevertheless, when we have once accepted Barbara’s view of the case, and said she must be right because she could not possibly choose wrong, what do we have as the outcome of her fatal marriage ? A life of painful and patient resignation to her destiny. The moral is unexceptionable. The girl finds that she has made a horrible mistake, — two mistakes, in truth ; for, besides marrying a man utterly false to the ideal which he had created in her mind, she has lost the sunny life which she might have led with the man to whom she really belonged by right, and who from indolence only, as we guess, failed to claim her at the proper juncture. Having made the mistake, she has no way of rectifying it; she can only atone for it by pursuing a heroic course of duty toward others, and of silent acceptance of her repulsive companion. The count is clearly past redemption in her eyes, and no intimation is given that her life with him can he anything more than endurance.
We have no disposition to quarrel with the final moral of this story. If the author brings the girl into so melancholy a strait, she owes it to her not to weaken her consciousness of uprightness. Our complaint rather is that the story appears in its whole course to be a strained application of a philosophy of life which removes from the world all the joy of living. Barbara did not reach the happiness which her nature craved. Lexeter had his half-disclosed misery. Count Lalli lived on wormwood for the chief of his diet. Even Hardinge’s pleasure was, apparently, only accidentally known to himself. The one satisfaction which remains to Barbara is in the indestructibility of her ideal of Hardinge, the man whom she discovered too late to be her love. “ Failure in life,” the author sententiously observes, “ is to have no ideal.” Barbara’s ideal in Count Lalli had been murdered; that in Hardinge remained absolute ; but hope, which is the administrator of salvation in human life, seems wholly absent from this novel, and the absence of hope is the characteristic of the reactionary philosophy of the day.
In the midst of the somewhat sublimated and mournful vision of life which this book affords, one is amused, as by a sudden apparition of womanly petulance and freakish spite, at the occasional obtrusion from the novel of a certain character, Mr. Clifford Dix, who has nothing whatever to do with the story, does not help forward the plot in the least, nor throw light upon any of the movements, but is simply an image for George Fleming to stick pins into. The little digs which she gives him, though impertinent, afford some solace to the reader, as he finds himself growing numb under the Gorgon’s spell. Mr. Dix says very clever and quotable things, but his critical air and his assumption of cosmopolitanism are game for the author. The frequent wit and satire in the book are keen, the aspects of nature are rendered with skill and often with beauty, but the world which the author creates out of her material is a sad old world. We suspect that Egypt and Rome have been too much with her, and that the metamorphosis in her case, by which she would have glimpses that would make her less forlorn, would not be through the Pagan creed, but through the Christian hope.
The hand that traced the outline of Mr. Clifford Dix might be expected to write down Washington Square2 with some satirical generalities. Certainly, if one presents to himself the high problems of life for solution, he may be pardoned a little impatience over the elaborate nonentities who occupy the pages of Washington Square. A polite young adventurer aims at the purse and hand of a commonplace young woman, and when he learns that he can have the latter only by relinquishing the former he gets out of the scrape with as much fine sentiment as the difficulty of the situation leaves to him. Meanwhile, this commonplace Catherine, whose love had grown solid through a long contest with her immovable father, finds herself left with the useless remnants of her attachment, and moves on with no outward show of discomposure, but with a silent entombment of her obstinate passion and a dreary extension of her flat existence. Mr. James appears to have set himself the task of portraying the mental features of a dull woman capable of a species of dumb devotion to a man who easily assumes the place of an ideal being in the somewhat arid waste of her life. That she is capable of steadfastness, and, after she is jilted, of self-respect, are the results which he extracts from his observation, and he has succeeded in making these evident. He has sketched also a silly aunt, who busies herself as stage manager of all the romantic scenes; and he has given us the character of a father who, from first to last, looks upon his daughter with scarcely a spark of paternal feeling. That the book is witty and sometimes ingenious is almost its sole excuse for being, but the wit is expended by the author in his own reflections, and rarely emanates from the characters and situations. Does he not indeed feel a certain contempt for his heroine ? At least, he fails to give the reader any stronger interest in her behavior than one of curiosity. We should have been glad to be allowed to pity her, even if we could not greatly admire her, but in the passages which treat of her suffering at the hands of her father and lover, the author introduces so effectively his own wit and ingenuity that he withdraws our sympathy from her, and enlists our admiration only for his own cunning. He makes us curious to know how he will arrange her next pose, and he lets the villain escape from our indignation by diverting our attention, when we might have been joining in the hue and cry after him.
There was a strong picture in one of the London exhibitions, a few years since, representing a gladiatorial combat, not by a direct scene in the arena but by its reflection in the faces of the spectators. In their countenances one could read the crisis of the combat, and the indirect testimony to the savagery of the scene was subtle and powerful. The conception was essentially modern, and it has been employed more than once in literature. It will be recognized in Browning’s Karshish, and finds a recent very full expression in General Wallace’s Ben-Hur.3 We suspect that many readers, besides the inertia to be overcome in taking up a historical romance, will be conscious of a repulsion from a story which may dramatize at all the human career of the Saviour. We can assure such that they will be agreeably disappointed when they find how very inconsiderable is the presence of the personal Jesus as an actor in the story, yet how completely the historical force of the Christ dominates the whole conception of the book. He is seen chiefly in his effect upon the characters of the novel. These are typical men of the time, whose action is to themselves apparently independent, for the most part, of the personal influence of the Saviour, while the deeper movement which underlies their lives and gives rise to the hidden springs of action is referable to his presence on the earth. In other words, the author has sought to disclose the life of the Roman and Jewish world at the beginning of the Christian era by the light which Christianity has thrown back upon it; to use as a novelist the interpretative power which is obtained from a study of historic forces, in action then but not intelligible to the actors. This is, to be sure, the final problem of all historical romance, and the difficulty with the class is in the danger lest the knowledge of a later day should be read into the conscious lives of the actors. How immensely is this danger increased when our historic imagination is called upon to exercise its power upon a period which lies beyond the cycle of modern thought! It is but fair to say that General Wallace has been aware of his danger and has endeavored to avoid it, yet it remains that the various characters in their attitude to the Christ are dangerously conversant with modern speculations; their talk, under the disguise of archaic forms, is the issue of thought which owes its birth to Christianity.
Ben-Hur himself is the son and representative of a noble Jewish family, who, by a sudden catastrophe, sees his home destroyed by the proconsul and himself consigned to the galleys. There he attracts the attention of a Roman, whose life he saves, and who rewards him with adoption. He becomes, therefore, a Romanized Jew, who never deserts the faith of his fathers, but adds to his life the training of a military Roman, and is endowed with fabulous wealth. His ambition is to destroy the Roman supremacy over Judæa, and his purposes culminate with the manifestation and progress of the mysterious King of the Jews. The climax of the book discloses him waiting breathlessly upon the last movements of Jesus of Nazareth, and brought at the foot of the cross to a dim discovery of the meaning of that greater than earthly kingdoms which was then revealed. By a felicitous touch he is identified with the young man in the Gospels who leaves his cloak behind him and escapes from the guard upon the night of the betrayal, and also with the unknown man who lifts the sponge dipped in vinegar.
The greater part of the book, however, is entirely independent of the sacred narrative. We are introduced, indeed, at the beginning to the three Magi in a singularly picturesque and romantic scene, but the action of the book lies largely in the period which follows, before the manifestation of John the Baptist. We are given a picture of the Roman and Greek world in the fortune of Ben-Hur, and glimpses are granted also of Egypt in the persons of one of the Magi and of a voluptuous, sorceresslike woman. The passions of vindictiveness and treachery and insolence, so significant of the ante-Christian period, are displayed in some powerful scenes, and by many ingenious devices the author does his best to remove the reader from his modern life. It is to be regretted that the book, with all its irregular power, should fall so frequently into sloughs which intimate an untrained hand in the writer. He has apparently great powers of appropriation, and he has amassed a store of ancient and Oriental material, which he uses, as in the scene in the circus, with minute and confident care; but he becomes entangled in the threads of his story, and confuses the reader by the very elaborateness of his descriptions. Once or twice he takes the reader into his confidence unnecessarily, and explains to him his reason for employing certain machinery. The most serious blemish is in the imminent danger which the book is always in of dropping into the habits of the dime novel. The concluding pages, for example, are a sad concession to the supposed demands of the modern novelreader. Ben-Hur is shown to have a happy domestic life in a villa near Rome ! This, coming after a picture of the crucifixion which falters through the author’s reverent timidity, is a dreadful fall, but it is one which we are apprehending all the way through the book. In spite of its merits,—and these are by no means inconsiderable, — the book must be pronounced a failure, artistically. It avoids the big-wig style of historical novels, as a rule, but lacks the sincere dignity and sustained sweep which a novel with the ambitious purpose of this must have in order to take rank as a great historical picture. We cannot so much commend it to the hardened novel-reader as we can advise all who are curious of a most difficult problem— perhaps, on the whole, the most difficult problem in imaginative literature— to read attentively this ambitious and very interesting attempt at a solution.
A milder and more innocent form of the historical novel will be found in the pretty story of Mother Molly.4 The impersonation by the writer of a young girl telling a story which relates chiefly to herself, sisters, and brothers easily suggests a naive and prattling style, and as the incidents of the story are somewhat trivial we are not quite sure that the author intended the book for an audience of mature readers. If we had a graded literature, after the manner of school-books, this might find a place somewhere between undoubted books for young people and those which their parents will read; but we have our suspicion that none but very discreetly educated maidens would extract a sincere pleasure from it. The scene is laid on the southwest coast of England, during the scare which attended the expected descent of the French on the coast in 1779, and the incidents gather about the fortunes of a motherless family of girls and boys, whose father is a captain of the navy on duty, and who are left to the special care of Mother Molly, the oldest daughter. A French émigré, who is really a spy, manages to ingratiate himself with all of the family save Mother Molly, and only his sudden capsize in a boat prevents him from making them the foolish betrayers of their country. The scenes, which move with little friction, are gently interesting, and one can scarcely desire to use very hard words regarding so unpretentious a story. Its sweetness, however, becomes somewhat insipid, and we are warned how much the charm of such a book depends upon there being a genuine story to be told. It strikes us that the author, in her attempt at reproducing the manner of the close of the last century, has really gone farther back, and given a flavor of the Queen Anne period.
It happens that another writer, with larger equipment than Miss Peard, has gone somewhat in the same direction for his subject, and has come back with an uncommonly clever story, which claims our attention by no means as a mere rescript of a historic period, but as a bright and entertaining picture of the life of a few people who happen to disport themselves before a historic background. The Trumpet Major,1 Mr. Hardy’s latest novel, may be unreservedly recommended to all who get their pleasure, in novels, from close portraiture of humorous characters and the vicissitudes of village love. The minuteness with which this writer portrays faces and persons is well worth attention, for the vividness of Ins characters is largely due to a great number of fine touches. The Trumpet Major himself is scarcely the hero of the story, yet it would almost seem as if Mr. Hardy, amusing himself with the story, was undecided in his own mind as to the final disposition of his characters. The fickleness and half witch-like nature of the heroine, Anne, determines the event. This character is one of the most unmoral young women whom one could meet with in fiction. Mr. Hardy appears to have an affection for young women without consciences, and he has achieved a success here in depicting a girl swayed this way and that, a creature of caprice, and apparently true only to a lover as fickle as herself. One looks at Anne and Bob with amusement and amazement. They contrive between them to render the painfully conscientious John an object rather of ridicule than of pity. It really seems as if in the world of Mr. Hardy’s fiction truth was a plaything to be tossed about in sport. Poor John, who immolates himself so constantly on the altar of duty, gets his sacrifice for his pains, and the two giddy young people, who play fast and loose with each other, carry off all the prizes. If John represents Mr. Hardy’s faithful attempt at portraying dull truth, it is plain that his real pleasure is in Anne and Bob ; and in the absence of the customary laws of retribution and reward the reader is kept on the qui vive to the close of the book as to how the final toss of the penny will decide the matrimonial question, which impends humorously for chapter after chapter.
The historical background is managed cleverly, and the characters all seem to be skipping about in the very period to which they are assigned. There is a Bob Acres of a Festus Derriman, and a grotesque, somewhat overdone miser in his uncle Benjy. The collection of soldiers, sailors, villagers, is excellently arranged to give color and life to the scenes, but the interest never flags or ceases to centre about the figures of Anne and Bob. One leaves them, finally, with a humorous sense of wonder as to their after-life together, and a doubt whether they will amuse each other half as much as they have amused us. The scenes are given with a singular precision and fitness of words, and the picture of the true - born Englishman who has never strayed from his natal village is especially successful. Who could have better described the drill scene before the village church? It was scarcely necessary for Mr. Hardy to assure us in a foot-note that the drilling of men between services on Sunday was historically true. We should cheerfully take his word for it that the conversation between the drill-sergeant and the recruits was taken down verbatim at the time. It is not often that one is really sorry to come to the end of a novel, but one lays aside this delightful story with regret that he may be no longer entertained by the little comedy which has been enacted for him in it. He even feels a relief that virtue in the person of John is let off so lightly.
The title of Mr. French’s novel5 must not mislead one into supposing that he has taken up an autobiography. It is merely the author’s emphatic way of saying that in the story which he has to tell he means to vindicate the power of the personal will, and to demonstrate the vanity of circumstance. He sets about this task, however, in a manner which renders one somewhat skeptical of the demonstration, for the Ego which rides triumphant at the close of the book has been in alliance with fate and fortune to an extraordinary degree. All the discomfitures which await the hero, even his death, — for he dies outright in the middle of the story, and enjoys an inexplicable, or at any rate unexplained, resurrection.— are met not by the exercise of will so much as by the decrees of destiny. Mr. French has so confused and confounded the personality of his hero that the last lesson extracted by the reader is of any victory over circumstance. He seems to undergo a transformation of identity rather than of character. For the rest, there is such a general cloudiness about the scenes that even the appearance of historic names and geographic details fails to impart any special reality to the story.
My Marriage,6 like the last, professes to be an American book ; at least, it is copyrighted here ; but the story is wholly English in its locality and characters, and we have seen nothing in it which would indicate that an American author had veiled her experience by transferring her tale to foreign soil. The book is written in the first person, present tense. The first person is no novelty, and rhetoricians have agreed that liveliness and a graphic air are secured by the use of the present tense. We wish they would read this book, and tell us if they still think so. From the first sentence, where, after quoting “ Home, home, sweet home ! ” the author begins “ I sing it mournfully,” to the last sentence, where, in the final reconciliation with her husband, “ My arms creep up to lay themselves about his neck, and I whisper softly, ‘ Not as much, but more ! ’ ” the entire narrative is in a long drawn out now, and the use of this conceit somehow intensifies the singular opaqueness of the book. The story is quickly told : a girl who has married a rich and admirable young man after a short acquaintance, not because she loves him, but because she believes the arrangement will be of general service to her burdened family, she being one of a number of daughters in a vicarage, spends her time for several months in acquiring the love which should have been precedent to the marriage, the only obstacle to the acquisition being her own obstinacy and her passionate affection for one of her sisters. Her husband, a model of patience and stupidity, loves her in the grave manner which is becoming in such cases, and after a series of misunderstandings and petty accidents subdues her somewhat obtuse heart. What renders the reader impatient of this couple is that they are both so unnecessarily blind and incapable. The only reason, apparently, why the reconciliation does not come earlier is that it would stop the story. They both seem to be serving their time out in a penitentiary. We are glad, however, that they finally reach the satisfaction in store for them, and that there are no lapses from virtue for either on the way, though the author seeks to give a faint spice to the wretched continuity of misunderstanding by sketching the shadow of infidelity on each side, —a shadow which is cast not by a real object, but by suspicion. It is hard to believe that in real life this state of things would not have yielded earlier, either to common sense or to the subtle power of an unselfish love.
Nestlenook7 may be called a novel of the boneless school; at least, after reading it one carries away only vague impressions of scenes and characters, and finds himself unable to define the story. Its plot, if it has any, is so overgrown with comment, conjecture, dreams, and reverie that it is difficult to trace the line through the pages. The book is called on the title-page a Tale, but that is precisely what it is not, for no one could tell it. We notice it because it serves as an exaggerated example of a vice of our story-tellers, to make the haze of sentiment take the place of firm and intelligible outline. A traveler returning to New York from foreign parts is on his way up the Hudson in a dim search for an old home; he does not seem to know exactly where he is going, nor why he is going. He falls in with a gentleman of the neighborhood, whom he has never met before, and, not unlike the Germans of the Anti-Jacobin, who swear an eternal friendship upon a sudden thought, by the merest hap-hazard joins him in talk, goes to his house, and spends the rest of his storied life there. They are both visionaries, and out of the mist come other shadowy characters ; a vague, carefully veiled lawsuit engages the leisure of various persons; some young people flit noiselessly across the stage, a lost sister is accidentally but opportunely discovered, and the romance of the teller of the story is disclosed in a discursive, meditative fashion. The author seems utterly fatigued with his labor at every step, and not once docs the reader receive a sharp, clearly defined impression. Romance is a very different matter from haziness, and it is quite possible to have a story which shall be real without being realistic. It would do Mr. Kip good as a practical exercise in authorship to write an abstract of his tale on, say, two pages of letter sheet. The old arguments which preceded play or poem had their use for author as well us reader.
The author of Princes’ Favors8 has made a venture in the new and promising field of American political novels. His story is not ill-conceived. The fortune of a young man, brave in the war, upright in life, who is sent to Congress under the impulse of a sincere patriotism in his district, and has thenceforward the success and failure of a man who sacrifices interests — his own and others — to duty, is full of fine opportunities. The earnest young member is used by the older politicians to effect certain party conquests, and has the bait of a cabinet office held out to him ; but when he has done his part faithfully, he suffers the disappointment of many who have put their trust in princes, and the story of his gradual sinking into the mire is painfully impressed on the reader. The author has apparently known the facts of such a probable career intimately, but lacks the story-telling skill; and though his book everywhere indicates an honest and indignant mind, it is ineffective through the unfamiliarity which it shows with the form of the novel. We commend it rather to the student of political natural history than to the novelreader in search of entertainment or a new sensation.
Yet the reader of Princes’ Favors will have a better opinion of it after he has read Endymion.9 We have been wondering what sort of impression this book would create upon a reader who was not aware of the author’s history and position, had never read any other of Disraeli’s novels, and read this fresh from the perusal of the great works of modern fiction. Undoubtedly as long as literature carries with it the history of literature, people will continue to read about Endymion and its author, but the judgment, upon literary standards, of the book itself will in the future be the judgment of passing by on the other side. An unconscious travesty of high life runs throughout the book, and the travesty follows not from the author’s unfamiliarity with the details of this life, but from his importing into the whole conception his own essentially cheapJohn estimate of life itself. There is something marvelous in the worship of Success which underlies Endymion. The hero of the book, at least the young man who gives the name to it, is an almost colorless effigy of humanity, who is moved on through the pages by the alternate efforts of his sister and the woman whom he admires, and afterward marries, to the position of prime minister, a position utterly remote from the logical consequences of his intellect or will. He is the creature of accident, friendliness, and destiny, and as he is shoved along a step higher at each turn of the story, the reader comes to watch for his appearance a little higher up with curiosity, but without the least apprehension. The career of his twin, Myra, who finally becomes queen of a neighboring country, is more distinctly the expression of her own will and determination, but the landing of these two characters at the summit of supposed human ambition is achieved with so mechanical a dexterity that the author’s supreme satisfaction in the result appears positively childish. The figures are so unmistakably puppets, and the properties are so broadly theatrical, that when one considers the place which the author has held in English political life it is impossible to resist the feeling that Endymion is a man’s plaything, and by a converse proposition that the author, as head of the British cabinet, has the attitude of a showman.
The unreality of the book is not the unreality of romance, but of the stage. The country, the characters, the historic events, and especially the morals and the sentiments, are all fictitious. There is a false bottom to everything. It seems the easiest thing in the world to find the living counterparts of the several characters in the book, and one with only ordinary knowledge of modern England will readily name the persons who may be said to have sat to the author for their portraits. But in what does the truthfulness of the likeness consist ? An author who has transplanted images from his observation into the imaginary field of his novel or romance pleases himself with the notion that his characters have their own life in the book, entirely independent of any life which their prototypes may have led in the actual world, and he is apt to resent the imputation of theft, or to deny that he has put his friends into his book. In Endymion one perceives that the likenesses are distorted tracings of actual persons: they bear to the originals the relation not of paintings, but of waxwork; there is a simulation of reality, and not an individual existence as imaginary creations studied from models in real life. It must be added that the artist of this wax-work show has given some vicious little twists to features out of an apparent malice, and has treated his images somewhat as a pettish child sticks pins into her hapless doll. The figure of St. Barbe, for example, is a simulacrum of Thackeray, and the satire is amusing, but not very refined nor comprehensive.
It is, however, in the display of sentiment and morality that one is reminded most forcibly of the waxy character of the book. The marriages, for example, are of the most bloodless and polished sort. It is not that there is an absence of passion, but marriage is apprehended strictly from a diplomatic point of view, and becomes a valuable part of the machinery of the book. When the exigencies of the story require it, a marriage is contracted, as the saying is. Young men and maidens, old men, widows and widowers, all are alike before this manufacturer of marital relations, and the expression of love and choice always has the air of being concocted in the foreign office. The moral, sentences which accompany the characters as footmen in livery are of the most stylish and irreproachable sort; from their dress and general bearing one would never know them from the genuine utterances of the human soul, and their assumption of dignity and authority may well abash the common mind. The author moves about among all these characters and sentiments and scenes with a showman’s complacency, and does not despise a little air of mystery and magic. He has a way of presenting situations with effect, and then leaving them to make their way with the reader, while he skips off to another set of characters. It can hardly be said that his sudden shifting of pieces is a dramatic surprise. One looks upon these evolutions as a regular part of the game, and surveys the unexpected movement of characters as he does the action of a knight on the chessboard ; the rules require that he shall jump as he does.
It is as a game that the right honorable author views political and social life in England, and the almost total absence of principles and one may say passions, or at least irregular passions, from the book produces a singular effect, and renders the novel a piece of unconscious humor. There are high and mighty acts, there are tears and embraces, but the principles behind the acts and the emotions and passions behind the tears and embraces are wanting. The author does not need them, and the reader comes to learn to do without them. There is an order of elves, we believe, which is characterized by the absence of any back. The face and general presence are satisfactory and familiar, but if one could only get behind them he would discover that they were hollow on that side. The unsophisticated reader of Endymion, in his effort to get behind the scenes and characters, is confronted by the same phenomenon.
- The Head of Medusa. By GEORGE FLEMING author of Kismet and Mirage. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1880.↩
- Washington Square. By HENRY JAMES, JR. Illustrated by GEORGE DU MAURIER. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1881.↩
- Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. By LEW WALLACE. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1880.↩
- Mother Molly. By FRANCES MARY PEARD. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1880.↩
- The Trumpet Major. By THOMAS HARDY. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1880. [Leisure Hour Series, No. 118.]↩
- Ego. BY HARRY W. FRENCH. Boston: Lee and Shepard. 1880.↩
- My Marriage. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1880.↩
- Nestlenook. By LEONARD KIP. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.↩
- Princes’ Favors. A Story of Love, War, and Politics. By WILSON J. VANCE. New York: The American News Company. 1880.↩
- Endymion. By the Right Honorable the EARL OF BEACONSFIELD, K. G. New York: D. Appleton & Co. 1880.↩