Recent American and English Fiction

FICTION, for many persons, is the one form of art which they are permitted to enjoy to the full ; it sets them free from imprisoning circumstance, and makes them for a while masters of themselves because admitted to the freedom of another world. It is a great gain, therefore, when a novel, besides carrying one away, as the phrase is, by its storytelling power, borrows elements from other forms of art, and enriches the reader by appeals such as architecture, sculpture, music, painting, or poetry makes to the sensitive mind. If, for example, one has never seen a great architectural structure, massive in its complex form, rich in its multitudinous detail, but has read Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, he has received from that work, beyond a notion of other human lives, an impress which is a faint simulacrum of that offered by a great building into which art has wrought a charm independent of the uses of the building. The rustic reader who has never stood before the still-breathing marble, but has brooded over the figures in Hawthorne’s romance, Hilda, Donatello, Miriam, knows something of the charm which springs from companying with the figures of human sculpture when the sculptor has breathed into them the breath of life, yet left them remote, wrapped in the solitude of their own inscrutable being. Again, there is a lyrical beauty about the Vicar of Wakefield which affects one as Haydn’s music may. But no doubt the art which lends most to the novel, and is most conspicuously present in it, is the art of design. That is to say, while the novelist, and the draughtsman both desire to set vividly before the imagination scenes whether of landscape with figures or of figures with a background, and each uses his own means, one words and the other lines, the novelist suggests the draughtsman oftener than the draughtsman suggests the novelist. It is true that a picture is said to tell a story, and this is sometimes considered a condemnation of its value as a work of art, but more often a story is praised heartily for its pictorial effect. Yet there is a further, a heightened value now and then in a novel, which we can state to ourselves in no terms so exact as when we say not merely that the novelist is a designer, a term which may be made to cover pattern-making, but that the novelist is a painter, and this name we should give preëminently to Miss Murfree as represented in her latest, book.1

Whoever has read In the “ Stranger People’s” Country attentively — and the book demands close attention — has seen a succession of masterly paintings, and is almost as much impressed by color, by light and shade, as if his very organs of sight had rested upon canvas and pigments. So intent is the author upon these successive effects that she relies upon them for carrying the story, and leaves the reader to construct one somewhat necessary link in the chain of events which constitutes the plot out of scattered hints and inferences. If one chooses so to regard it, the whole story turns upon the highway robbery and Steve Yates’s connection with it; but one is not present at this scene, and is left to conjecture what circumstances compelled Yates to be a reluctant member of the gang. There is a fine art in this, but we suspect it was less premeditated than due to an instinctive subordination of the mere narrative to the dramatic conception, and the drama is developed rather by successive tableaux vivants than by action. The scene in the robber’s hiding-place when Guthrie surprises the gang is a masterly piece of drawing. In the hands of a lesser artist the violence would have been the prominent element; in Miss Murfree’s handling the attention is concentrated upon the lights and shadows, upon the figures in their changing relations, and all the violence is dispatched in a moment of lightning-like rapidity.

The vividness with which the scenes are presented is due to the meaning with which they are charged, and to the imaginative skill with which the details are perfected. Miss Murfree has completed her analysis of her characters before she draws them. Only now and then does she permit herself, as in the changing relations of Shattuck and Rhodes, to dwell at length upon the movement of mind before action. As a rule, all is translated into the terms of speech and behavior, and given so clear a tone, so sharp an accent, that the meaning cannot be mistaken. Her characters, for this reason, never seem to be getting ready to do something; they are in their places when the reader sees them, and, however slowly they may move, each step, each word, counts. For this reason, as we intimated, the reader finds himself closely attentive to the author’s words, not that he fears he may miss some hidden disclosure on which events turn, but that the perfection of the whole rests upon the exquisite joining of the parts. There is no mere accumulation of details in the attempt to give elaborate fullness to a scene, nor are details elaborated while the reader waits impatiently for the story to move on; but they are lifted into significance by the author’s imaginative power, which so selects and disposes as to disclose their meaning, not to invest them with some adventitious force. For example, there is a striking scene in which Shattuck, the representative of ultramontane civilization, — a character almost always introduced by Miss Murfree into her stories as a contrasting figure to the rude mountain folk. — thinks himself fired at by Yates’s wife, who has threatened to shoot him if he attempts to explore certain pigmy graves which he looks upon with scientific curiosity, she with superstitious reverence; and so thinking, he rides fast to the cottage, and confronts Mrs. Yates. Letitia Pettingill, Baker Anderson, and little Mose, his companions following behind. The picture of the house and its inmates, the disposition of the group of men, the disclosure of character in the sharp conversation, the purposed confusion of the reader as to the actual fact involved, — there is not a word too much, there is no word lacking. Here, for example, is the scene which presented itself to Rhodes, one of Shattuck’s companions, as he flung himself from his horse at the threshold of the house:—

“ No friendly greeting had it been, to judge from the dismayed, deprecatory faces grouped about the fire. Adelaide had risen with a slow look of doubt, a sort of stunned surprise. Letitia, who had been out milking the cows, stood in the back doorway, the brimming piggin on her head, one hand lifted to stay it, the wind rustling the straight skirt of her dress, the twilight and the firelight mingled on her face. Her blue eyes were alight with a sort of wonder, that held nevertheless an intimation of comprehension, which was at variance with the stolid amazement in Baker Anderson’s countenance, as, just arrived and still breathless, he sat squarely in his chair, one hand on either knee, his jaw fallen, gaping thunderstruck at the intruder. The centre of the family group, Moses, was seated upon the floor in the firelight, and turned himself dexterously about to survey over his small shoulder the new-comers ; he was silent in seeming recognition of the fact that their gaze overlooked him, and had no reference to his existence ; his soft face only expressed a sort of infantile apprehensiveness and suspension of opinion. A tallow dip sputtered on the high mantelpiece ; there was pine amongst the fuel, and the resin flared white in the flames. Very distinct the scene was, although, as the lights fluctuated, the fire flickered in the breeze, which swayed it like a canvas : the brown walls ; the purplishblack squares where the night looked in through; the windows, with here a feathery bough, and here a star, and here the dim contours of a dark summit against the sky ; the red-bedecked warping bars ; the table not yet set forth with the supper crockery, save only a great brown pitcher and a yellow bowl; the sheen of tinware on a shelf; even Shattuck’s shadow, as sarcastically nonchalant as the substance which it mimicked, as it waved its hand in mockery of courtesy, while he reiterated his bitterly merry congratulations. The white light showed the very flare of fury in his eyes that oddly dallied with the smile on his face.”

This is painter’s work, and it is the kind which Miss Murfree delights in. Her groups are almost always her most distinct bits of painting, and in composing them she has a fine sense of disposition, so that the figures always have their place, and never crowd confusingly upon the reader’s mind. It may be said, in fact, of the entire story that the figures which appear on the canvas are all so interesting to her, and group themselves so naturally in changing relations, that now one, now another, is the conspicuous man, the hero for the time being ; and the reader, at the close, might be in some doubt whether Guthrie, or Shattuck, or Rhodes, or Yates, or even Buck Cheever was distinctly the central figure of the book. This is to repeat that the strength of Miss Murfree’s art lies in her extraordinary faculty for painting scenes, for presenting tableaux vivants, and for so arranging the succession of these scenes that there is a moving narrative, culminating as this does in the tragic scene at the pigmy grave, where all the currents of life in the tale meet by no melodramatic contrivance, but by the impelling force resident in each.

This characteristic of Miss Murfree’s art must be held to explain and in a large measure justify one feature of her work which has provoked censure, — her deliberate and frequent use of landscape effects. Where such carefully painted scenes detain the reader, restless to pursue an interrupted and exciting narrative, it may fairly be argued that the author has sacrificed to a momentarily dominating element of her art one which is permanently superior, but for the moment must be held as subordinate. That is to say, the material in which Miss Murfree is consciously dealing scarcely separates itself in her mind into the two elements of nature and human nature. The world in which her imagination dwells is geographically the heart of the Tennessee mountains. Here she finds a people at one with humanity, yet marked by distinctive features of their own. These features, whether or no impressed by the individuality of the nature that surrounds them, are at any rate blended with the characteristics of this external nature of mountain, valley, gorge, with the ever-changing sky by day and by night. Thus to the eye of this marvelous painter the scene is one. For her, it is not a landscape with figures, nor a group with a landscape background. By a unity of impression nature and human nature are constantly present to her, and even when some bold action is in progress she cannot help feeling that the mountains, the trees, the sun, moon, and stars, are not merely spectators, but participants. Yet it is also true, and this book illustrates the truth, that, with a growing power in art, Miss Murfree is gradually condensing her expression of inanimate nature and heightening her human effects. Nature always will be present in her work, but we look for such art in her painting of nature as will make words do what sentences have done.

Brightly practical persons, it may perhaps have been noted, are wont to look on the novels of Mr. Thomas Hardy with an ill favor. This lack of approval they often dissemble through fear of being thought not to care for and understand what is “ artistic ; ” but when the disapproval finds vent, it is commonly discovered to have its animus in an irritated feeling that fate is allowed an undue predominance over human will in the most delightful examples of later Victorian fiction. The irritation is not less that Mr. Hardy so seldom offers a point for direct attack: partly because he deals very much in the vraie chose, in his selections from life; partly as well because he never is so ill-advised as to preach a doctrine, whatever doctrinal teaching may be inferred from his books. True it is that “the sisters three and such branches of learning ” have never been handicapped in the race of life which Mr. Hardy so skillfully reflects from reality, and Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos have never had things quite so much their own way, even with Mr. Hardy, as in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, his latest work.2 It is a veritable tragedy, as the Greeks understood and practiced tragedy, and must be accounted the author’s masterpiece until he surpasses it. The Fates have indeed always played the rôle eminent in the works of the author of Desperate Remedies,— Mr. Hardy’s first book, and one to be recommended to younger craftsmen as a deeply interesting study in the novel, — but their part has never been quite so sharply relieved. Under the Greenwood Tree, in fact, shows them bland, flowercrowned, almost to be thought the three Graces instead of the three Fates ; and in The Hand of Ethelberta they seem to have borrowed their cynical divinity from Momus. But throughout the great book which now so widely engages the attention of English-reading people they “ path their native semblance on ; ” and no classic is more relentlessly executed than the work rather unhappily entitled Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

Tess makes one suggestion to English readers which is received in this country only by implication, and from the words “ a pure woman faithfully presented ” following the name of the heroine on the title page. This hinted defense of the singularly real creature of imagination, who has been finely described as an imperfect woman, nobly planned, is more explicitly (though still subtly) undertaken in a preface which the American publishers have seen fit to leave out, together with a chapter having much title to be called the most impressive of all the chapters in the book. “I baptize thee, Sorrow,” the words spoken by poor Tess over the dying child of her misadventure, — a christening being beyond her reach, — will stand as. the record of one of the most memorable episodes in modern fiction ; and the chapter containing it should on every account be restored in a new American edition. The eliminated preface, on the other hand, is to be regretted only because authors are supposed to have rights, as it is by way of polemic, and hints at least a wish to dispute the justice of the punishment for sins of the flesh meted out by the world’s law to men and women respectively. The question has been often mooted of late, not always savorily, and it is a disagreeable surprise to find a consummate artist wishing to make arguments of supererogation from the point of view of art, and not contenting himself with the noble plan of his imperfect, thrice unhappy woman.

But, this slight adverse comment once made, there is nothing save praise to be uttered, for the preface does not injure the body of the work, especially for the multitude of readers who will never see these preliminary words ; and, however little the author should enter into the argument, the question of Tess’s purity will inevitably (and fittingly) be discussed by readers. It is easy to imagine a reader of the Hardy temperament arguing the matter out with one of opposite characteristics, and there could be no better test of the difference in belief between fatalist and non-fatalist, no more pathetic opportunity for the Hopkinsian attempt to reconcile predestination and free will, — if we may take refuge in theology, — than the story of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Granted the gill’s good instincts in the beginning, the strenuous non-fatalist will insist that a vigorous exertion of the will should have kept them pure and delivered Tess from evil. But his interlocutor may meet him with the puzzling reply that the power to will, either in strong or weak degree, is as much a part of our inherited endowment as any other quality or any other defect. Mr. Hardy might well have made it more clear, not why Tess should have yielded in the first instance, — her youth and the power which circumstances gave D’Urberville over her explain that sufficiently, — but why she should have remained so long after her first submission to his wishes with a man whom she had never really loved. Whether, however, Tess’s career justifies the aggressive sub-title of her history already quoted, there can be no doubt that all her instincts toward purity were as strong as those of many women in whom the quality is never questioned, either because temptation has never assailed them or because their lives are imperfectly known. “ To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one out of ten thousand,” was spoken of the honor of men as men understand it, not of the honor of women as men and women understand it; but there are at least ten thousand out of this world’s Lucretias who would conceal a past fault for the sake of making an honorable marriage. When, however, the marriage is to be made with a man whom the woman deeply and truly loves, as Tess loved Angel Clare, deceit assumes another complexion. And Mr. Hardy has not left this consideration unprovided for. The poor girl, having nerved herself to write to Clare, had every reason to believe that the letter had reached him, and that his unaltered demeanor was meant to tell her he forgave, if he could not forget. Then, after Tess had let her whole heart go out to him, came the crushing discovery that Clare had never received the letter of confession. Mr. Hardy might have baptized his story Sorrow, as Tess baptized her child ; for it is only one of the piteous moments in a piteous tale, this moment when love had grown stronger than honor, and the woman allowed the man to marry her in ignorance of her fault.

It is a not insignificant testimony to the illusion of Tess of the D’Urbervilles that it has left at least one reader believing that many of the crimes served up morning and evening in the newspapers would seem less barbarous, less unintelligible, if there were at hand to explain the motives of them some seer of human nature, some Thomas Hardy. Tess, as every one knows, ends with a murder, and the execution of the beautiful unhappy creature who committed it; but it is hardly to be doubted that any faithful reader, of open mind and a right heart, will find himself pitying, not condemning, the murderess, and accepting implicitly from the author the logic of the events that led to the dire conclusion. The seduction of Tess by D’Urberville, shown in the early chapters, is followed by the return home in disgrace. Then comes the second going out into the world, — a neighboring vale being the world for this daughter of a knightly race sunk to the peasant level, — and the pastoral content of life on a large dairy farm. But here, also, at dairyman Crick’s, is Angel Clare, a gentleman learning to be a farmer. Each has a vague memory of having seen the other at a village dance, and soon “ they were converging, under an irresistible law, as surely as two streams in one vale.” The marriage is made. Immediately after it Tess confesses to her husband, and he goes away in righteous anger to the ends of the earth, first having told her to apply to his father and mother in case of need. Nothing in the book is finer than the description of her long journey on foot to that decent clerical abode, and the mingling of pride and timidity which sends her back again, without having made herself known, over the weary road to hard work and temptation. Nothing is more touching than the recital of the constancy and devotion of poor Tess. The man who had betrayed her is ever at her side. Her husband does not come and does not write. At last, in despair of ever seeing Clare again, she yields again to D’Urberville’s importunities, in order to save her people from the lowest depths of poverty. Soon afterward Clare returns, and finds her living with D’Urberville. They have a brief, sorrowful interview, and then there is nothing for Clare to do but leave her. Tortured with the thought of the happiness they have lost, and exposed to the taunts of D’Urberville, what can she do but kill him, and hasten to overtake Clare ? M hat can the justice of England do but kill her, in retribution ? The author, classic again in his forbearance, spares us the horrors of the execution; but the unfurling of the black flag tells Clare and Tess’s sister that she is dead. One is reminded, incongruously enough, as the flag goes up the staff above the prison, — incongruous, yet not unnatural, is the reminder, — of the end of another tragedy, the token of another ruined life, the black feather found floating on the surface of the water by Caleb Balderstone.

The mention of that humorous and pathetic figure is a reminder that, sombre as is Mr. Hardy’s new volume, it is not without sundry of those touches which have helped to make his reputation unique. The story of William Dewey. the fiddle, and the bull could hardly find another environment so appropriate ; but it would be a gem in any setting, this irresponsible and very brief narrative. William, returning with his fiddle from a wedding where he had been playing, was pursued by a bull. Happily mindful of the superstition that all the animals kneel and pray the night before Christmas, he played what he and his friends called the ’Tivity Hymn, “ when, lo and behold, down went the bull on his bended knees, in his ignorance, just as if ’t were the true ’Tivity night and hour. As soon as his horned friend were down, William turned, clinked off like a long-dog, and jumped safe over hedge before the praying bull had got on his feet again to take after him. William used to say that he’d seen a man look a fool a good many times, but never such a fool as that bull looked when he found his pious feelings had been played upon, and ’t was not Christmas Eve.” The ruse was not hit upon at first, but only at last and after much anguish of spirit, when, striving to please the bull à l’Orphée. William had begun to feel that there was only one tune “ between him and eternal welfare.” This formula for quitting the earthly scene recalls irresistibly one whose name was not William, but Launcelot, and his " deceased, or, as you would say in plain terms, gone to heaven ; ” and is but another incentive to the often reiterated remark that Mr. Hardy’s peasants are Shakespearean. Perhaps the truth is more indirect, and the peasants of Wessex have merely remained Shakespearean through the centuries, until there has come a man with eyes to see and ears to hear them; for most of us never know country folk anywhere. Their apparent simplicity often masks something more nearly akin to sophistication, as we occasionally find when we get a key to the combination; and the “ when I were in Boston,” which a good friend of ours uses at elegant moments, — the more grammatical was being thought sufficient for herself and her neighbors, — is a fair example of the company speech which corresponds to the company manners and company dress of the children of nature. Evidently they never say “ when I were in Boston,” or its Wessex equivalent, to Mr. Thomas Hardy. He has long since arrived at the point with his rustics where their oddities are not premeditated, where their grammar or un-grammar is a thing of custom. One of the most vigorous sketches after this kind to be found in any of Mr. Hardy’s books is John Durbeyfield, father to Tess. He is hurried toward futility and defeat by the discovery that he is by right a D’Urberville, of a knightly family so old as to have become new and poor again ; but John of the D’Urbervilles lives long enough to approve himself the peer of Joseph Poorgrass, Grandfer Cantle, and other of the very rarest of the Hardy autochthones. And the magnificent scene in which, after the antiquarian parson has told him of his rank, he stops work, lies down on his Norman back, kicks his knightly heels, and informs the passer-by of his name and lineage has the merit, not common to episodes of humor, of being an integral part of the story.

William and the praying bull, indeed, form the only interlude in a singularly coherent and well-knit fabric. Just here, in the matter of construction, is one of the two or three particulars in which the Hardy of Tess seems to us to have surpassed the Hardy of any former achievement. An artist he has ever been, and in a sense little understood, or at all events little practiced, by English writers ; but the art has sometimes been qualified with artifice, as in Two on a Tower, or—a more common fault with this author — he has, in popular phrase, lost his grip of the theme, and faltered a little toward the end. This was notably the case in A Pair of Blue Eyes and A Laodicean. But his Fates have not deserted him in Tess. The end is the logical goal of the steps of incident by which the story moves forward from the beginning, through scenes which Mr. Hardy makes very near and clear to the inward eye that is the bliss of staying at home. Blakemoor Vale and Froom Vale, with their differences of soil and air, are communicated to the reader as a possession, not a mere territory of the imagination ; and the same hand that draws the variety of green prospect in the two vales, where every prospect pleases, has sketched with a few masterly strokes the harsher outlines of Flintcomb-Ash, where poor Tess served part of her bondage. These pictures of nature do not exceed, though they equal, much that Mr. Hardy has done before ; but more than ever he apprehends effects of light and atmosphere with a sensitiveness that taxes even his flexible power of expression. Never, it would seem, has he been quite so subtle as in what follows: — “ The gray half tones of daybreak are not the gray half tones of the day’s close, though the degree of their shade may be the same. In the twilight of the morning, light seems active, darkness passive ; in the twilight of evening, it is the darkness which is active and crescent, and the light which is the drowsy reverse.

“ The mixed, singular, luminous gloom in which they walked along together to the spot where the cows lay often made him think of the Resurrection-hour. He little thought that the Magdalen might be at his side. Whilst all the landscape was in neutral shade, his companion’s face, which was the focus of his eyes, rising above the mist-stratum, seemed to have a sort of phosphorescence upon it. She looked ghostly, as if she were merely a soul at large. In reality, her face, without appealing to do so, had caught the cold gleam of day from the northeast; his own face, though he did not think of it, wore the same aspect to her.

“It was then, as has been said, that she impressed him most deeply. She was no longer the milkmaid, but a visionary essence of woman,—a whole sex condensed into one typical form. He called her Artemis, Demeter, and other fanciful names, half teasingly, which she did not like because she did not understand them.

“ ‘ Call me Tess,’ she would say, askance ; and he did.

“ Then it would grow lighter, and her features would become simply feminine ; they had changed from those of a divinity who could confer bliss to those of a being who craved it.”

It must not be supposed that in Mr. Hardy’s latest book scenery is out of proportion to character, drama, and narrative. Nothing is out of proportion, and everything lends itself to exhibit in the fullest light the central figure of the story. There is no one chapter, unless indeed it be the unhappily omitted one of the midnight baptism, which has the Old Testament grandeur of that chapter in The Return of the Native telling how the mother was turned away from her son’s house, and went down the hill alone to die ; but Tess as a whole definitely surpasses the rest of Mr. Hardy’s books, — surpasses even The Return of the Native, — if only for its wider intellectual horizon, and its larger, sadder, less hitter irony. The exceeding technical perfection of the novel has already been spoken of, Tess alone remains for comment, and she alone would almost make a novel great. It has been an accompanying quality, and with scarcely a doubt a resulting quality, of Mr. Hardy’s extreme sensitiveness to the play of circumstance upon human lives that his characters have rarely been what is called sympathetic. What happens to them is too paramount. Even his women, fascinating as they never fail to be at the moment of reading, are remembered (do we err in saying it?) after a fashion that, for the most part, fuses individuals in one seductive type, and leaves a pleasantly blurred recollection of a series of beguiling chapters about Eve. Unless we are much at fault, Tess, for some reason, steps forth from the group. Thus she may easily be seen by the reader, and there is no need of an attempt, with blundering, ineffectual words, to analyze the charm of a woman who will be better known, better loved, more deeply pitied, than most women are known, or pitied, or even loved, either in the world of fact or the world of art.

Is it a mere matter of personal preference that Mr. Hardy should almost invariably, in these latter days, deal with the errors of human passion, and Mr. Howells quite as invariably ignore the subjects which spring from the debasement of sexual love? We are tempted to indulge in a pretty bit of social philosophy, and to argue that to a novelist in the Old World, seeking to penetrate the recesses of life, the inevitable theme is the disorder of human passion, because the whole structure of society is in defiance of a genuine social equality, and lust fattens upon social inequality, with the result that the mightiest power in human life is by the conventions of men distorted and made the parent of all evil; while to a novelist in the New World, studying the phases of social democracy, the delicate adjustments of the code of society are of less consequence than those elemental relations which are translating themselves into new terms. To take the great passion of love and confine it in its manifestation to the relations between the socially strong and the socially weak no longer seems the necessity of fiction in the eyes of such a writer, because in the expansion of society the passion of love itself stands revealed in an infinitely greater variety, and for one thing love of one’s neighbor rises to view as capable of affording an endless succession of dramatic situations, of stating profound problems of life. In truth, without attempting too broad generalizations of this nature, it is the confinement of life, the village idea, which gives Mr. Hardy his opportunity, and so fixed are the boundaries of that life that the resultant ethical problem is a piece of casuistry ; it is the expansion of life which gives Mr. Howells his opportunity, and so fluent, are the conditions that the ethical contents of his story resolve themselves into large problems to be solved, and open vistas to the thoughtful reader which end in almost undiscovered territory.

We are moved to these vague and rather high-sounding phrases by a reading of Mr. Howells’s latest novel.3 The love-making is so wholly subordinate to the main theme of the story, is indeed in one case so almost imperceptible, that the reader finds himself, if he would be interested at all, forced to transfer his attention from the lovers to the central figure of the story, a defaulter, whose misdeeds and subsequent dreary attempt to escape from himself into Canada involve all the characters who appear. There can be no harm in apprising the reader what he is to expect in the way of a story.

J. Milton Northwick, a prosperous self-made man, falls into the habit of speculating with the funds of the company of which he is treasurer, and falsifying the books to cover his transaction. At the opening of the tale the secret is out in the board of directors ; the president, Mr. Hilary, has given the transaction its real name, but has persuaded his associates to allow the defaulting treasurer three days in which to make up his shortage. Returning to his country seat, where he lives with his two daughters, Northwick makes up his mind to skip to Canada—it was before the days of the extradition treaty — and retrieve his fortune. He goes off ostensibly for a short journey, and a railway accident so covers his movements that, although no positive evidence of his death is brought forward, the circumstantial evidence points pretty directly to it. At any rate, this is the general conviction. Meanwhile, the story of his dishonesty begins to leak out, the newspapers get hold of some of the facts, and there is a brief period when the fugitive from justice is put in the pillory. His daughters do not lose faith in their father’s probity, but seclude themselves from the world. The only intruders into their seclusion from the world they have lived in are the rector, the doctor, a lawyer who has been the bitter enemy of their father on socialistic grounds, and the family of Mr. Hilary. Mr. Hilary’s son, Matt, is an amateur Tolstóy carrying on a farm in the neighborhood, but on terms of intimacy with his more conventional family. He falls in love with Suzette Northwick, after looking over the field carefully to see that he is not trespassing. Meanwhile, Northwick really has escaped to Canada, and is attacked there not only by a fever, but by a paralysis of will, so to speak, and gives no signs of life for many months, when he makes himself known by a letter to the newspaper which had made the most parade of his case, and sets on foot new movements among the characters in the story, resulting finally in his voluntary return to the United States in charge of the reporter who had worked up the subject. Northwick meets his death before his actual delivery into the hands of Justice as enthroned in the courts.

From this bare outline the reader can easily perceive the use which a novelist intent on adventure and incident would be likely to make of the material at his service. No lover of mere excitement probably would penetrate the book very far, and even one in sympathy with Mr. Howells’s aims may ask himself if the story is not unnecessarily tame; if a somewhat more dramatic use of the situations might not have heightened the interest without the loss of the effect produced by probability and naturalness. It may be, however, that in the absence of sharp dramatic scenes the reader’s mind turns more readily to the considerations which plainly governed Mr. Howells in his choice and treatment of subject.

Here is an incident vulgarized by the newspaper, and so common as to excite attention only so long as its details are fresh in the minds of men, which fills the thought of a novelist whose whole business it is to interpret life. What, he asks himself, is its meaning ? Is it symptomatic of a condition of our social health? Into what elemental forces of human nature is it to be resolved ? Then, as he seeks to set it forth in its reality, he finds himself drawn to consider how this act of moral decadence affected the man himself, his family, his neighbors, the corporation of which he was the agent, the whole community; and having followed the subject in its parallel lines of personal and social destiny, he falls back at last upon the absolute conditions : behind the right and the wrong involved in this course of human affairs, is there an eternal truth which illustrates the whole subject ?

We are aware that in this statement we are rather exploring the recesses of Mr. Howells’s mind than making a brief of the story, and that the author, in the interest which he takes in his characters, may well be supposed to have dismissed such general purposes into the sub-cellar of consciousness; but only thus can we explain to ourselves why there is a certain latent power in a novel which, in the ordinary terms of fiction, cannot be pronounced a marked success. The figures in it are not exactly shadowy, — Mrs. Hilary strikes us as an exceptionally well-modeled figure, — but the author seems to take them almost too much for granted, and to be so intent on his speculations concerning Mr. Northwick’s mind and the general state of social justice and morality as to miss something of his customary fineness of delineation, except perhaps in the case of Pinney, the newspaper reporter, who suggests a sculptor’s piece of work capitally done in clay, but not worth being chiseled in marble. Possibly this lack is due to the familiarity of some of the characters to the author through his use of them in a previous novel, to the occasional bewilderment of the reader, who thinks now and then he must have skipped some passages, and has to he told by the critic that he has skipped the whole of Annie Kilburn.

The book is so inferior to The Hazard of New Fortunes in respect of its characterization and its play of persons that we have taken a little alarm lest Mr. Howells should have been misled by his subject, and be in danger of overvaluing what may be called the essay element in fiction. Up and down through the pages the various phases of this social disease of defalcation are touched with keen. thoughtful words, and great insight is shown into the working of North wick’s mind. Yet we doubt if a novel has justified itself fully when its persons fade in the mind of the reader, and a few abstract principles remain as his chief possession.

Paulo-post future predictions are a crude form of criticism, but to say that a book of to-day will not be read by our descendants is to make an effort to detach the accidental circumstance from the essential art. Modernity is hardly likely to be a password to posterity, which will have its own contemporaries to look after. We are quite willing to give Mr. Howells the benefit of a doubt, because his book is not something to be taken once an hour till the fever subsides; but how is it with books intended to convert the present generation?

That no sane person can entertain the thought of our children, much less our grandchildren, perusing the history of David Grieve 4 is not necessarily a belittling of the talents of Mrs. Humphry Ward. It is merely to say that, both in Robert Elsmere and in the latest pledge of her philanthropy, she has chosen to employ them on subjects which change their complexion so rapidly that books treating of particular phases share the early antiquity of the phases themselves. Every novel in the world, except Don Quixote, has faded more or less, after a sufficient time has been given it for the process. Every novel with a purpose, except Don Quixote, — if indeed Cervantes seriously meant to smile “ Spain’s chivalry away,” — has faded and withered in a surprisingly short time ; and it has already been discovered that the propagation of the New Unitarianism is no exception to the rule which includes the circumlocution office and the re-Judaizing of the Jews. It may confidently be foretold that no better luck is in store for the consideration of the problem which is apparently the motif of David Grieve, namely, whether marriage or the union libre be the greater failure. David tells his dreary little wife, with scant gallantry, that the most unsatisfactory marriage is rather to be chosen than a union of ideal elements not made binding by the law. The profane layman will be likely to suggest, if indeed he has not done so ere now. that Mrs. Ward has given neither the bond marriage nor the free a fair show, in her arrangement of partners; and he may, moreover, indulge in the curious though not very important reflection that, had David and Elise been legally united, they would probably have contrived a modus vivendi in which each would have enjoyed the gifts and graces of the other. Had David and Lucy, on the contrary, entered into the union libre, David’s generosity would have kept him faithful to an arrangement to which Lucy would have clung desperately, through “ hope to rise or fear to fall.” These words, taken from a noble little poem, remind us that in David Grieve there is also a very great deal about religion, and that David is left substantially where Elsmere was, — in a radical but ardent Unitarianism, with a secularized Christ and an infinitely distant God.

This statement of the aims and the results of David Grieve is a meagre, but not, we believe, an unfair summary of a book in which are everywhere to be seen the same largeness and earnestness of spirit, the same high cultivation of mind, the same lucid and ample expression, that were the notes of Robert Elsmere. But Robert Elsmere was a tract writ large, and David Grieve, in spite of still greater pains to disguise its essence, is only less imperfectly a novel. It is, further, appreciably less interesting as controversial literature. Mrs. Ward ought nevertheless to be given the palm freely for managing the novel of purpose better than any one else has done. Being a mortal, she could not be expected to succeed where the conditions of the attempt put absolute success out of the question, and where such writers of authentic genius as Dickens and George Eliot failed. But what she has done is to make a book less unsuccessful as a work of art than Little Dorrit, or Daniel Deronda, or any other novel of tendency in the language ; and this perhaps should console her for the lack of any such splendid redemption of failure as the creation of a Gwendolen or a Grandcourt. In character-drawing, to be sure, as in other details, Mrs. Ward is at least as far from inspiration and from spontaneity as she was in Robert Elsmere. Catherine was distinctly a real person, and Rose and Langham were both cleverly drawn. Over against these are to be set, to the credit of David Grieve, two realities in Louie and Lucy, one moderate bit of cleverness in the delineation of Elise Delaunay, and a good degree of skill in several minor characters. But it is these same lesser personages, with their number and insistence, who help to swamp the story. Mrs. Ward is not content to tell about David, his sister, his mistress, and his wife ; but their friends and relations and forbears must be described, and even some of the servants of their friends and relations, not altogether forgetting the consanguinities of the servants. These servile ramifications are peculiarly trying. In the enormous population of the novel, death, by the law of averages, is a frequent incident. Mrs. Ward shows herself nothing if not mortuary, until at last the deathrate is so high that the whole book seems, like Lear’s hand, to smell of mortality. In her deaths as in her lives Mrs. Ward exhibits the strong literary quality which was so much an emphasis of Robert Elsmere. David’s first journey brings him to gaze upon the tablet in Haworth church bearing the names of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë ; and at the end Mrs. Ward tucks Lucy grotesquely away with the poet’s Lucy in the churchyard by Rotha’s wave. A quotation from Wordsworth is of course the blessing with which she is dismissed. This disposition of Lucy may not afflict the public in general, but Wordsworthians will feel the difference to them.

For the rest, David is made the mouthpiece of much suggestive and stimulating modern thought; but he and most of the other personages of the book are “ once removed,’’ as they say of cousins, in respect of their reality. A film of literature and reflection hangs between them and the reader. Grieve is, besides, as much a woman’s man as Elsmere, or, it may be added, as Deronda ; and Mrs. Ward’s two much-tried heroes are not keenly differentiated by the mere fact of one arriving at the New Unitarianism by the path of orthodoxy, the other over that agnosticism or “ infidelity.” In the relations of David and Louie as children there is an obvious suggestion of Maggie and Tom. Nevertheless, and notwithstanding its length, there is much that is charming in this first outdoor division of David Grieve ; and the Paris division, Storm and Stress, — in which, by the way, the noble figure of Henri Regnault is introduced with contagious enthusiasm, — contains a good deal of interest appropriate to a work of fiction. To be brief and to be fair. Mrs. Ward might write a more than tolerably good novel if she would but remember that the working armament of polemics is impedimenta in art.

It may be doubted if the readers of The Atlantic last year had a positive advantage over those who now read Mrs. Catherwood’s serial5 as a completed book. The retardation of the movement in the earlier pages, the suppressed fire which flames forth in the great culminating passages of this remarkable historical romance, are more apparent and have greater value to one who reads the book at one or two sittings than was likely to be the case where a few months intervened between one’s reading of the first chapter and of the last. The nervous compression of style commands respect, but also compels close attention, for it is not long before one discovers that he has to do with a work of art closely conceived and firmly executed. The appalling historical incident upon which Mrs. Catherwood builds her tale is well known to readers of history, but its tragical elements are heightened by an art which composes the picture with so much contrasting beauty and incisive grotesqueness. We cannot be done with admiring the poetic skill which constructed Le Rossignol and touched the whole tale with the fine nobility of Edelwald. Here is novel-writing which might go far to reconcile us with the theory that all forms of literary art are to be merged in that which goes by the name of fiction. If poetry has had its day in metrical form, the soul of poetry has suffered transmigration in such prose form as this, where one has not to contend with a hybrid prose poem, but is aware that a writer of poetic instinct has used a perfectly well-accepted mode of historical romance as the medium for impressing upon the mind a singularly exalted conception.

We have intimated our opinion that Mr. Thomas Hardy is the most notable artist in English fiction to-day. We do not institute a general comparison between him and a very admirable artist in design who has unexpectedly entered the field of the art of fiction, but we point out a resemblance of curious note : both in Tess and in Peter Ibbetson 6 is a murder committed. With Mr. Hardy it is virtually the conclusion of the whole matter ; Mr. Du Maurier, on the contrary, makes his hero’s deed but the beginning of the end, and uses it as the foundation of the remarkable second half of Peter Ibbetson, which is one of the most original things in fiction. Yet, consummate artist as is Mr. Hardy, and amateur as the other consummate artist becomes on being removed from his own field, the author of Tess is scarcely more skillful than the clever new-comer in causing the tragedy to seem logical, or, as the modern phrase has it, inevitable. Circumstance follows circumstance unfalteringly, until in each case surprise is a very small element in the shock which the reader receives from the murder. It could not be expected that Mr. Du Maurier should be equally professional in all the details of his first novel, — a word, by the way, most imperfectly descriptive of a work so rare and so unusual, — and a certain raggedness as to paragraphs, with even a Sigismundane attitude toward grammar on one or two occasions, betrays the ’prentice hand in writing. But these flaws are extremely trivial, and what appears to be a fault of inexperience on a larger scale is doubtless planned with reference to the following dream chapters of the book. For although the charming recollections of child life at Passy, with all those handsome and unlucky and delightful people, — in whom Mr. Du Maurier cannot take more pleasure than his readers,— although the early records of Gogo Pasquier, otherwise Peter Ibbetson, and Mimsey Seraskier, afterward Duchess of Towers, may seem to be too much protracted, it is soon discovered that the minuteness employed in them adds measurably to the verisimilitude and to the pathos of the dreams which take the poor prisoner and his lost love back to “ Parva sed Apta " and happy hours.

But in one regard Mr. Du Maurier would certainly have done well to seek professional advice, which would have warned him against carrying his dream theory too far. We accept the baseless fabric of the lovers’ ability to meet. sleep having once set their spirits free, and, so strongly has Mr. Du Maurier’s imagination willed, the duration of this marvel through twenty-five years makes little difference in one’s credulity. But to see a great-great-grandmother in a vision is quite another thing, and still less do the lovers “ dream true ” — to use the now famous phrase — when they get back to the period of the mammoth. Mr. Du Maurier’s hand is subdued here to what it has so long worked in, — Punch ; and the realism of the extranatural becomes for the moment its burlesque. As well might Gogo and Mimsey have climbed the ladder of dreams to the topmost branches of the family tree of the race, and there looked upon “ Probably Arboreal,” the greatest grandfather of all.

This, it should hastily be said, is the only real blemish in an exquisite and a very sad book. The latter word is used advisedly, although Peter Ibbetson contains not a few lively observations, and many persons, including most of the professional critics, appear not to have felt the melancholy which is of its essence. But this will not escape parted lovers or travelers in the world who look wistfully back on a childhood passed in some beautiful and distant place. Still less will the sadness of the spell Mr. Du Maurier has woven fail to touch those who are acquainted with grief. And more people than would be willing to admit it have contributed their own bit of pathos to Peter Ibbetson by trying to dream true. “ It’s very easy,’ said the duchess; ‘ ce n’est que le premier pas. My father taught me : you must always sleep on your back with your arms above your head, your hands clasped under it, and your feet crossed, the right one over the left, unless you are left - handed ; and you must never for a moment cease thinking of where you want to be in your dream till you are asleep and get there; and you must never forget in your dream where and what you were when awake. You must join the dream on to reality.’ ”

  1. In theStranger People’s " Country. By CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK. New York: Harper & Brothers. 1891.
  2. Tess of the D’ Urbervilles. A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented. By THOMAS HARDY. New York : Harper & Brothers. 1892.
  3. The Quality of Mercy. By W. D. HowELLS. New York: Harper & Brothers. 1892.
  4. The History of David Grieve. By Mrs. HUMPHRY WARD. London and New York : Macmillan & Co. 1892.
  5. The Lady of Fort St. John. By MARY HARTWELL CATHERWOOD. Boston and New York : Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1891.
  6. Peter Ibbetson. Edited and Illustrated by GEORGE DU MAURIER. New York : Harper & Brothers, 1892.