Books of the Month
Fiction. Zury, the Meanest Man in Spring County, a novel of Western Life, by Joseph Kirkland. (Houghton.) Books, like men, have their conscious and their unconscious lives. Mr. Kirkland has set himself deliberately to sketch the development of a man bred under pioneer influences in Illinois, presumably, growing up with a powerfully mean streak in his nature, exhibiting his meanness by the most flagrant crime against honor, and then undergoing transformation at the hands of the woman he has wronged. The picture which he draws of an agricultural community on the prairie has the note of fidelity, and the pains which he takes to reproduce the uncouth speech of his characters calls out the reader’s sympathy even after the speech has grown wearisome. Nor is the psychological truthfulness to be gainsaid. Low types of intellectual and moral nature have limitations which have been carefully studied and portrayed. Nevertheless, we think the author has missed the mark if he really has essayed anything beyond a photographic sketch of life ; he fails to account for the redemptive power in Anne or to indicate a real change and growth in Zury. Unconsciously, the book is a travesty of the genteel realism of the day. Instead of West End ladies and gentlemen engaged in their little atomic dance, we have Western clodhoppers very close to the earth, moving around an equally confined circle. In neither case does there seem to come in a breath of strong air suggestive of the fields of light atmosphere in which this globe of ours is swimming, — The Devil’s Hat, a Sketch in Oil, by Melville Phillips. (Ticknor.) A novel of incident connected with the petroleum region. It is a somewhat noisy book, in which there are glimpses of natural scenes ; but the author appears to have marked all his goods up far above their real value, and to be vainly endeavoring to transact his literary business on this false basis. — The Lovely Wang, a Bit of China, by the Hon. Lewis Wingfield. (Holt.) One of the Leisure Hour Series, but deplorably out of place in that generally choice series. It is a vulgar piece of work, by some one who has seen the outside of China and writes like an English barbarian. A cheap wit plays about a feeble story, and one wonders if this writer knows what an English gentleman is. He certainly is incapable of recognizing a Chinese gentleman. —A Week away from Time. (Roberts.) A very modern Septemeron, in which in a secluded Cape Cod village a half dozen nice people entertain themselves with stories, reminiscences, and conversation ; the whole amateurish to a degree, but having a charm which is often lacking in the professional exercises, — the charm, that is, of refinement of touch and the pathos which comes from playing at work. The shopkeepers in a charity bazaar, the players in parlor theatricals, the authors in anonymous literary escapades, all have a good time and get very tired and find out a little of the life they imitate, and their professional brethren look on with an amused, half-compassionate sympathy. — In Ole Virginia, or Marse Chan and other Stories, by Thomas Nelson Page. (Scribners.) The picturesqueness of dialect quickly wears off; the picturesqueness of language is independent of dialect. It seems to us that in these stories the dialect is worked too severely, and that the stories themselves suffer from the close-fitting garment of tortuous English. Is not the darkey more than the patch on his trousers ? — Miss Bayle’s Romance, a story of to-day. (Holt.) Since this volume is copyrighted, it is presumably by an American author, though published in the Leisure Hour Series. The air of the book, nevertheless, is Anglican; the witticism of Alma J. Bayle is highly Anglican, and the American variation of the lady is an English conception. Probably the writer has crossed the Atlantic back and forth so often as to have lost his bearings as to nationality. He certainly has lost his manners, and fiction has dropped pretty low when it has to resort to the tricks and devices of this book to attract readers. — Lights and Shadows of a Life, by Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren. (Ticknor.) A novel in autobiographic form. The shadows are cast by a supposed African taint in the blood of the hero; the light comes from his deliverance from the suspicion of this frightful crime. It was not the fact of slavery, but of color, which rendered the hero damnable ; and not of color to the eye, but in the genealogical table, which was supposed to have had a mahogany character. The mother of the hero was in reality a slave, but then she was a white slave, which makes all the difference in the world. — A Summer in Oldport Harbor, by W. II. Metcalf. (Lippincott.) An amiable novel of the jaunty order, in which a summer picnic makes the basis of a somewhat conventional story. — Daniele Cortis, translated from the Italian of Antonio Fogazzaro, by Mrs. T. R. Tilton. (Holt.) A somewhat confusing story, since the author relies almost wholly upon conversation, but with a good deal of suppressed passion. There is incidentally an insight into current Italian political life. — A Humble Romance and other Stories, by Mary E. Wilkins. (Harpers.) A volume of short stories of the domestic order; they are simple, pathetic, forcible, with little strain about them, and if they are practice work, it is not impossible that the writer will yet produce stories of larger make and equal firmness of touch. — Tempest Driven, by Richard Dowling. (Appleton.) A melodramatic novel, intended to keep the reader in perpetual agitation, and leaving him finally in a general condition of mental prostration. — The Van Gelder Papers and other Sketches, edited by J. T. I. (Putnams. ) A collection of imaginary legends of Long Island, of the traditional type, in which the Knickerbocker school is slightly modernized and adapted to current tastes. — Between Whiles, by Helen Jackson. (Roberts.) A collection of half a dozen of H. H.’s contributions to fiction. They have some of the better qualities of this author’s work in them. — A recent number of Harper’s Franklin Square Library is Amor Vincit, by Mrs. Herbert Martin. — Ticknor & Co. have begun the reissue of some favorite novels in a paper dress suitable for the summer season and for the silver period, among them Miss Howard’s Guenn, The Reverend Idol, Mr. Henderson’s The Prelate, and Mrs. Austin’s A Nameless Nobleman.
Travel and Nature. Around the World on a Bicycle. Volume I. From San Francisco to Teheran. By Thomas Stevens. (Scribners.) Seated say four feet above the earth, with nothing to obstruct his view in any direction, Mr. Stevens undertook to bowl over the round globe, and this book is the first installment of the record of what he saw on his trip. He is alert and self-possessed, as one bent on such an adventure must needs be, and the very form of his journey produces a freshness of incident. Thus the book, besides being a book of travel, has a certain value as a history of pluck. The sketches which illustrate it are often spirited and effective. — Rural Hours, by Susan Fenimore Cooper. (Houghton.) Miss Cooper has revised a book which was almost a pioneer in its field when first issued, and by the omission of much which was merely incidental or is now obsolete has brought her pleasant work into moderate compass. It does in a modest, agreeable way for the lake region of central New York what has been done more freely for New England, turning country life and scenes into literature. The diary form gives a little touch of personality which one would be sorry to miss. —Episodes in a Life of Adventure, or Moss from a Rolling Stone, by Laurence Oliphant. (Harpers.) Mr. Oliphant could scarcely have hit upon a more acceptable form in which to give his autobiography. He selects the salient points of adventure in his life, and while telling the story of what he has seen in many lands, among many peoples, he succeeds in reporting characteristics of his own interesting nature without the appearance of egotism. He is as good as a figure in a capital novel, any time.
History. Mr. John Addington Symonds has apparently completed his important work on the Renaissance in Italy by adding two volumes on The Catholic Reaction. (Holt.) We shall return to this book. — Connecticut, a study of a commonwealth-democracy, by Alexander Johnston. (Houghton.) A new number of the American Commonwealths, and one of the best in the series. Mr. Johnston has produced a consistent volume, for he has seen the genius of Connecticut, and has used his historical material for the concrete development of the idea which he holds. The book is a model of judicious historical writing-; the author does not stray from his subject, and, recognizing that there is little of the dramatic in the history of Connecticut, he occupies himself with what may be called the psychology of the State.—Memoirs of the Men who saved the Union, by Donn Piatt. (Belford, Clarke & Co.) The men of whom Mr. Piatt records his personal knowledge are Lincoln, Stanton, Chase, Seward, and Thomas, a great group, and Mr. Piatt’s robust taste is well illustrated in his treatment of the men. He is not smooth in his judgment, and the reader will sometimes dissent from him, perhaps even with indignation, but he is well worth attention, and his anecdotes help to a just understanding of his subjects. — Memorials of a Half-Century, by Bela Hubbard. (Putnams.) This book, like the last cited, belongs quite as much among biographies as among histories, but after all, though it records the impressions of one man, these impressions are objective rather than subjective. They deal with facts in the development of a great centre like Detroit, and have to do both with nature and with human nature. He speaks of the works of the MoundBuilders, of the influence of the French on Detroit, of the Indians, and while narrating experiences of travel he dwells upon the historical associations of the places visited. Altogether his book is of considerable service in supplying the mortar which fills the chinks of more considerable historical structures. — Assyria is the latest in the Stories of the Nation’s series (Putnams), and is by Zenaide A. Ragozin, a brilliant if not wholly trustworthy writer. The book is a successor to the same author’s Chaldea. The illustrations are helpful.— The Federal Constitution, by John F. Baker. (Putnams.) A brief historical essay upon the origin, growth, and principles of constitutional liberty as enunciated by the Federal Constitution. Mr. Baker is not a specially critical student, and his aim is chiefly to give honor to the great instrument of our government. —The Personal Memoirs and Military History of U. S. Grant versus The Record of the Army of the Potomac, by Carswell McClellan. (Houghton.) A painstaking and searching examination of the joints in Grant’s armor by a soldier who bears no malice, yet is warmly concerned in the good name of other military commanders. Such criticism helps to make up the great account. — The American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia has issued the first volume of its Records, covering the transactions from 1884 to 1886, and contains papers on William Penn, French Refugee Trappists in the United States, The Planting of the Church in Delaware, and other subjects.
Education and Text-Books. Elements of Botany, including organography, vegetable histology, vegetable physiology, and vegetable taxonomy, and a glossary of botanical terms, by Edson S. Bastin. (G. P. Engelhard & Co., Chicago.) The author has had in view high schools, academies, and colleges of pharmacy and medicine, and has aimed " to present the elementary facts and principles of the subject simply, clearly, and with regard to the natural order of growth of the mental faculties of the student.” — On Teaching English, with detailed examples, and an inquiry into the definition of poetry, by Alexander Bain. (Appleton.) Of some use to teachers of literature, but curiously unimaginative. Somehow, poetry, under this writer’s guidance, becomes a suit of intellectual clothing. — The Ruling Principle of Method applied to Education, by Antonio Rosmini Serbati, translated by Mrs. William Grey. (Heath.) An important work, if for no other reason than that it compels the student to go back of concrete examples to fundamental principles, and to study the development of the will. — Hints on Early Education and Nursery Discipline. (Funk & Wagnalls. ) A modest little English book, published anonymously in the early part of the century, and now reissued. The writer takes a plain, homely view of her subject, and while what she says is sensible, there is considerable generalizing and a certain antiquated character which makes the book liable to miss the mark with a good many readers to-day, — The Phillips Exeter Lectures (Houghton) is the title of a volume which collects half a dozen lectures by college presidents and others, addressed to the members of the academy so named. They are to the point, manly, thoughtful, and noticeably respectful to the boys. — Suggestive Lessons in Language and Reading, for primary schools. A manual for teachers. By Anna B. Badlam. (Heath.) A very serviceable book, especially to teachers who are capable of working out their own schemes of instruction. Indeed, Miss Badlam very properly supposes intelligence and training in those who are to use her book. We like especially those lessons which stimulate imaginative work. We are somewhat doubtful if she has done well in translating the fables into a simpler and more conversational style than the originals adopt. After all, there is a form in this order of literature which it is not well to ignore. There is such a thing as cheapening literature.