Comment on New Books
Fiction. The Children of the King, by F. Marion Crawford. (Macmillan.) Mr. Crawford will not in this book disappoint those readers who expect much from so accomplished and versatile a story-teller. We use the last words advisedly of one who is a story-teller by inborn gift, and not, like many of his more or less successful co-workers, by force or circumstance. The blasé gentleman and the noble son of the people are familiar characters in fiction, and are often depicted with so much conventional sentiment, not to say cant, that all the reader’s sympathy is perversely given to the high-born reprobate. But Ruggiero, who, with his brother, is the last of a family of Calabrian peasants that has no other surname than del figli del Rè, perhaps a long-past inheritance from some Norman conqueror, is a genuinely heroic figure. The author’s touch has seldom been more vigorous and truthful than in the sketch of this strong, brave, honest, and, we may say, primitive man. The well-bred and worthless Conte di San Miniato, the indolent, selfindulgent, and heartless marchesa, and their victim, the clever, impulsive, charming Beatrice, are drawn with equal delicacy and effectiveness. How San Miniato and the marchesa make their evil bargain, covering ugly truths with the suavest Italian courtesy of phrase, and how Ruggiero, loving Beatrice with an entirely hopeless passion, gives himself body and soul to save her from a hateful marriage, is what the story admirably sets forth. The tale is excellent in construction and swift in movement, save for some quite unnecessary deliberation in the introductory chapters. That it has the color and atmosphere of Southern Italy need not be said. — A Mere Cipher, by Mary Angela Dickens. (Macmillan.) The heroine of this novel, and by far the most interesting character in it, is Mrs. Custance, the cowed, shrinking, colorless, and almost inarticulate wife of an indolent and selfindulgent doctor, whose heartlessness and utter want of principle are somewhat veiled by a certain attraction of person and manner. Though no one recognizes the fact, least of all the young man himself, Mrs. Custance is really the good angel of the hero of the tale, who has won the forlorn woman’s heart by simply treating her with the courtesy and consideration to which, in her wretched married life, she had grown unaccustomed. Her timid pleadings rouse him from the apathy and despair to which his own folly and weakness have brought him ; she turns to him the heart of the woman he loves, and finally, at the heaviest possible cost, saves him from ruin. This pathetic figure is exceedingly well drawn, — sympathetically, yet without exaggeration or false sentiment. As we have intimated, the interest centres in herself and her pitiful story. The other characters are more or less conventional, and the chapters devoted to the exposition of the hero’s philanthropic schemes are, truth to tell, rather tiresome. — Playthings and Parodies, by Barry Pain. (Cassell.) Capital criticism on literature and life in the form of imitations, parodies, and mock-serious essays. The fun in the book is never uproarious, but it is often exceedingly keen, and the gravity of demeanor with which Mr. Pain announces his whimsies adds to the humor. — By Subtle Fragrance Held, by Mary Fletcher Stevens. (Lippineott.) A slight novel, in which the author aims to transform a not too hardened society girl into a woman of principle and with power of loving. There are the customary misunderstandings, the timely loss of property, the masterful young man who has himself already been converted from the error of his selfish ways; and though the incidents are not many or important, and the characters not very effectively modeled, there is refinement, honest sentiment, and good English. — An Artist in Crime, by Rodrigues Otto Ungui. (Putnams.) A well written and cleverly planned detective story. It is the old game of Button, button, who’s got the button ? and we can promise those who like literature of this sort more satisfaction than they often get; for though the book belongs to the order of puzzles in literature, the touch is lighter and the handling more skillful than is usually the case. — Sybil Trevyllian, by Mrs. Reginald Hughes. (Ward & Drummond, New York.) An English love story, correctly written, with figures that are almost venerable in the service of novelists, and misunderstandings and readjustments which have become so well known in books that it would seem almost impossible for the reader of fiction ever to make similar mistakes in real life. There is a death by drowning, of course, and a rescue and “mine at last” on the seventh page from the end; the closing six pages being reserved for explanations. — Mr. Eggleston’s The Hoosier Schoolmaster (Orange Judd Co., New York) comes to us in a new edition, with an Introduction and Notes on the Dialect by the author. This introduction is entertaining from its half autobiographical nature and the freedom with which Mr. Eggleston lays about him.
History and Biography. The Tragedy of the Cæsars : A Study of the Characters of the Cfesars of the Julian and Claudian Houses, by S. Baring-Gould, M. A. (Imported by Scribners.) Those readers (a large class, we think) to whom the personal element in history most strongly appeals will find these volumes peculiarly attractive. Indeed, the narrative is biographical rather than historical, and only such political and military events are described as are in the writer’s view needful for the proper comprehension of certain great actors therein. As a preliminary to his work, Mr. BaringGould devoted much time to a careful study of the faces of his subjects, as shown in the portrait - busts preserved in various museums, thus adding greatly, he feels assured, to his knowledge of the men and women of the Julian and Claudian houses. The author’s position is that of an Imperialist, so to speak ; and as to the first three Cæsars, it may be briefly said that he idolizes the great Julius, warmly admires Augustus, and regards Tiberius with a mixture of respect and pity. In contradistinction to this, it hardly needs saying that Cicero is treated with consistent injustice by a writer who, as a devotee of Cæsar, goes beyond even Mommsen. Two of the most curious passages in the book are the rapt description of the face of Cæsar, with its “ sweet, sad, patient smile, , . . and that far-off look into the heavens, as of one searching the unseen,” and the presentment of Cicero as an intellectual but time-serving English parson on the look-out for a deanery. The latter portion of the work tells the direful tale of Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, the terrible ending of the Julian race. The book is vigorously written, and is readable from beginning to end. If the writer is sometimes carried away by partisan zeal, he does not forget in certain matters, which he views without prejudice, that persons greatly placed are also greatly libeled, and that the gossip of old Rome was inexpressibly malignant and virulent. In many cases, the reader will be willing to give with him the benefit of very real doubts. The book is admirably and very fully illustrated with portraits taken from statues, busts, medals, coins, and gems, all of which are described in detail, while the questions as to their authenticity and comparative value are intelligently discussed. This feature of the work deserves the heartiest commendation. — Memories of tlie Professional and Social Life of John E. Owens, by his wife. (John Murphy & Co., Baltimore.) A familiar narrative of the career of a well-known comedian, written not by some one who saw Mr. Owens from the front of the stage, but by one who knew him as something besides an actor, a kindly, cheerful and enthusiastic man. It is full of detail, without very much regard to the importance of the details, and is enlivened with anecdote, gossip, and slight running comment and criticism on impersonations. In reading memoirs of actors, one is struck with the almost vain effort to make scenes vivid which depend for their vividness upon the histrionic. One is reluctant to confess that a book will not do what the stage does, and the anecdotes all seem to lack the accompanying gesture and facial expression which made them so witty at first hand. — Through Colonial Doorways, by Anne Hollingsworth Wharton. (Lippincott.) An exceedingly pretty book in its exterior presentment, and disclosing when one comes to the contents a light and agreeable réchauffée of the humane side of our colonial antiquities. The Mesehianza, that pageant of Rvevolutionary days which glitters like a jewel in the distance and shows paste when one gets nearer, the Wistar Parties, in which Philadelphia society shows how it can be dignified in the midst of frivolity, the Philadelphia Dancing Assemblies, New York Balls and Receptions, —these and similar topics enable the author to give some notion of the frisky side of not too distant antiquity. May not our descendants have historical societies devoted to the great Whist Revival of the last Decade of the Nineteenth Century ? — The Lost Atlantis and other Ethnographic Studies, by Sir Daniel Wilson. (Macmillan.) Eight papers, chiefly on prehistoric subjects, which the author collected from their temporary depositaries and revised before his death. They relate to the Lost Atlantis, the Vinland of the Northmen, Trade and Commerce in the Stone Age, Pre-Aryan American Man, Relative Racial Brain-Weight and Size, and are marked by the patient accumulation of facts and cautious deductions of a trained scientific mind. In his paper on Vinland, for example, Sir Daniel recites with perfect courtesy the conjectures of enthusiastic men who have established Leif’s landfall as confidently as if they had access to his log, but quietly dismisses the result with an exclamation point and a “to his own satisfaction, at least, it is manifest that the author has identified tlie site.”
Economics. American Marine. The Shipping Question in History and Politics, by William W. Bates. (Houghton.) In an octavo volume of nearly five hundred pages Mr. Bates has reviewed the history of navigation in this country, especially in its connection with legislation. He has considered the question of materials, of seamen, of insurance, of commercial profit, and above all of national self-reliance. He has amassed a great body of facts which men of different way of thinking will use differently, but he makes them all support his thesis of governmental support. His book will be of great service to students, not only as a vigorous plea by a man of long experience, but as an arsenal of weapons to be used on both sides of the economic controversy.
Education and Text Books. Alcuin and the Rise of the Christian Schools, by Andrew Fleming West. (Scribners.) A volume in The Great Educators series. A careful, reserved study of the man and his influence with special reference to the place which he occupied in the transmission of learning. It is a glimmering light in the darkness which Alcuin’s lamp seems to show, but it makes the darkness more visible.—The Theory of Education, by William T. Harris. (Bardeen.) In this address, besides making an historical résumé, Dr. Harris assails vigorously the lazy oral method; lazy, that is, for the scholar. — The Foundations of Rhetoric, by Adams Sherman Hill. (Harpers.) Mr. Hill regards words as the raw material of literature, and his method leads him to proceed from the consideration of words to sentences, from sentences to paragraphs. The method has its advantages, and inasmuch as the process looks to a constant criticism and vigilance, and to a study of good usage, tlie only peril lies in an exaggerated attention to details and an undue uneasiness over form. It is a risk worth taking, when so many young writers rely upon the standard of familiar speech. — Figure Drawing for Children, by Caroline Hunt Rimmer. (Lothrop.) This charming little volume, by the artist daughter of the late Dr. Rimmer, tells in a simple and fascinating way, how the method of drawing the adult human figure, taught by that distinguished artist, may be applied to the education of the child. It is no quack pretense of teaching one to draw perfectly in so many lessons, but aims to awaken the artistic feeling in a child, by giving, in the first place, the fundamental proportions and lines of the figure, then showing how these lines rightly dividedcan be made to express action and “tell a story ; ” then how by the addition of the rounded outline of flesh and muscle a beautiful and harmonious whole is formed. To a child thus taught, the liabit of observation roused, and the universal desire of imitation rightly directed, infinite avenues of pleasure are opened wide. — Recent numbers in Heath’s Modern Language Series are L’Expédition de la Jeune-Hardie, by Jules Verne, edited by W. S. Lyon ; Schiller’s Der Neffe als Onkel, edited by H. S. Beresford-Webb ; Assolant’s Une Aventure dn Célèbre Pierrot, edited by R. E. Pain ; Gervais’ Un Cas de Conscience, edited by R. P. Horsley ; Legouvé and Labiche’s La Cigale chez les Fourmis, edited by W. H. Witlierby.
Theology. Prayer-Meeting Theology. A Dialogue, by E. J. Morris. (Putnams.) Three men, who have been steadfast in all weathers and under all discouragements at the prayer-meeting of their church in the country for twenty years, fall to discussingfirst the cause of the decline of interest in the meeting, and then those fundamental questions of faith and life which are restated and re-answered in modern Christianity. The writer has a pungent and forcible style, and though he does not put much vitality into the persons of his interlocutors, who are reduced to the letters A, B, and C, he distinguishes their separate attitudes toward the subjects discussed, and is plainly no indifferentist himself, but an open-minded, earnest pursuer of the elusive truth, who rests his faith on something more than logic. The book is well worth reading.
Poetry. A Paradise of English Poetry. Arranged by H. C. Beeching. In two volumes. (Macmillan.) Under such comprehensive terms as Love, Home Affections and Friendship, Man, Patriotism, Art, Romance, Nature, Pastorals, Death, Religion, Mr. Beeching has brought together from the lyric and dramatic poetry of England the most lofty and permanent examples. He has arranged his matter substantially in chronological order, and as he excludes copyright poems and poems of living writers, he has the advantage of Time as a critic. Why he should have disregarded all sonnets we do not quite see ; the exclusion seems somewhat arbitrary; but by narrowing his range and drawing from the great springs of poetry, he has produced a book of high order. There is a small body of judicious and serviceable notes, and the editor professes to have used great care in his text . — The Eloping Angels ; a Caprice, by William Watson. (Macmillan.) A little volume of twenty-nine eight-line stanzas. Surely Mr, Watson need not have stepped down quite so far after his poems had been brought together. The audacity is in the title alone ; there is no wit in the scheme nor poetry in the execution.
Travel. A Handbook for Travelers in Japan. (Imported by Scribners.) This is one of Murray’s handbooks, and bears on the title-page for its chief editor that master of things Japanese, Basil Hall Chamberlain. Mr. W. B. Mason, associated with him, is late of the Japanese Department of Communications. The book is based on Saton and Hawes’s original handbook, published a dozen years ago, but is after all practically a new and up to date book, though it should be said that two years have elapsed since the Preface was dated. The plan followed is that familiar through Murray’s classic series. There is useful introductory matter and there is a good index, there are fifteen maps, and there is a compactness about the plan which permits fullness of information and paucity of mere comment.
Bibliography. The Best Reading. Fourth Series. Edited by Lynds E. Jones. (Putnams.) A most useful little book, giving in classified form the titles in brief, with prices and places of publication of the more important English and American publications for the five years ending December 1, 1891. One may not always agree with Mr. Jones in his relative estimate of the writers of fiction, whom ho ranks as a, b, c, and we question the wisdom of attempting such judgments, as when he undertakes to put Miss Wilkins and Kipling among the b’s, and Ruskin in his King of the Golden River among the a’s ; but this is a slight blemish. The book must be of service to librarians and other book buyers.
Books for the Young. The Moon Prince and other Nabobs, by Richard Kendall Munkittrick. (Harpers.) An entertaining piece of nonsense, as uninterrupted in its succession of fancies as a variety show, but much more refined. There is an endless play on words and situations, and we can imagine a child sitting down and reading the book gravely through, bewildered by the friskiness, but on the alert to know what comes next. A little less fancy, a little more imagination, might last longer, but the book is a study in fun.