Comment on New Books
Fiction. The Refugees, a Tale of Two Continents, by A. Conan Doyle. (Harpers.) In saying that this exceedingly clever and entertaining tale is a novel of incident rather than of character, we do not mean to insinuate that many of its personages are not instinct with a good deal of vigorous life. It is at once Dr. Doyle’s fortune and misfortune that his pictures of the court of Louis XIV. cannot fail to recall to many readers certain immortal works of the great Alexandre ; but for our part we are glad to take the good provided us without indulging in invidious comparisons. We must own that we cannot share the author’s evident admiration for Madame de Maintenon, nor find the spectacle of the granddaughter of Agrippa d’Aubigné urging the revocation of the Edict of Nantes an edifying one ; but it is consolatory to note that even the writer’s excellent intentions and skillful performance fail to make her an attractive figure. The book has almost the effect of two separate narratives, so sharp is the distinction between the French and American portions of the work ; but though this is undoubtedly an artistic defect, few readers, we imagine, would be willing to spare the closing chapters. The author of Micah Clarke has shown that he has rare gifts as an historical novelist, and despite some well - conceived and brilliantly executed episodes in his latest volume, we think, remembering the former book, that his best work will be done on his own soil and amongst his own people.—The Dictator, a Novel of Politics and Society, by Justin McCarthy, M. P. (Harpers.) This story has no reference to the late Irish leader or to recent parliamentary history, as we might hastily infer from a glance at the title page. The hero, the son of an English father, is the exiled Dictator and would-be regenerator of the South American republic of Gloria, and he is adored more or less enthusiastically by all the dramatis personœ save a cynical gentleman, his rival in love, and certain criminals from Gloria. The latter appear in London, with murderous intent, in the very probable disguise of simple scholars from Denver and Omaha. It is needless to say that the Dictator escapes unharmed, and he finally returns in triumph to Gloria, taking with him the beautiful daughter and heiress of a distinguished cabinet minister. One of the minor characters is an American duchess, and the writer, while insisting on her beauty and good nature, forbearingly gives no hint, except in her colloquialisms, as to the lowly conditions from which she must have risen to her present altitude. The story is, of course, well written and readable, but the author’s literary skill and agreeable style fail to make the all-conquering Dictator an interesting or impressive figure to the reader, or to give the men and women surrounding him any real existence. Otherwise we might perhaps wonder that so ordinary an occurrence as a South American revolution should be a subject of such absorbing interest to the world of London. — Heather and Snow, by George Macdonald. (Harpers.) The powers of Good and Evil who are fighting for the soul of Francis Gordon, the uninteresting hero, though by no means the central figure of this tale, may be said to be personified, on the one hand by the peasant girl, Kirsty Barclay, athletic and vigorous as the heroine of a Norse saga, and deeply imbued with that religious sentiment — in this case but slightly tinged with mysticism — familiar to all readers of Dr. Macdonald’s books ; and on the other by the young gentleman’s extremely unpleasant mother. The character on which the writer has bestowed the most loving care is the half-witted brother of Kirsty, as strong spiritually as he is weak mentally; but the result is not altogether fortunate. The strongest portion of the work is the wonderfully vivid description of the snowstorm in which Steenie loses his life, after vainly endeavoring to save the pretty, shallow Phemie, with whose butterfly nature the author deals with almost feminine hardness. Of course the speech is “ the broad Saxon of Aberdeen,” a different matter from the classic lowland Scotch which two great writers have made so pleasantly familiar. Even the well-born Gordon seldom deviates into English. That his mother habitually uses that language is, we fear, not the least of her misdemeanors. — Sweetheart Gwen, a Welsh Idyll, by William Tirebuck. (Longmans.) A slight story, or rather sketch, giving glimpses of Welsh rural life as seen through the eyes of a child ; the main theme being the boy’s love for the pretty grown-up cousin who has charge of him. The childish mental outlook is very well indicated, but the reflections of the mature Mark in the concluding chapters might have been omitted without harm to the book. — A Leafless Spring, by Ossip Schubin. Translated by Mary J. Safford. (Lippincott.) The story of a prodigal who, after squandering his patrimony in the most approved fashion, and endeavoring with but ill success to live by art, is induced to marry a rich wife whom he does not love ; the speedy result being that he and the woman whom he does love, and cannot marry, die together. He and most of his fellow-actors are supposed to be English, generally types ; all Britons having been assorted and labeled by the author, greatly to his own satisfaction.—Only a Flock of Women, by Mrs. A. M. Diaz. (Lothrop.) Mrs. Diaz takes for a title the slighting remark flung at a woman’s club, and in twoscore brief papers demonstrates by her own pungent observations the capacity of women to strike at the heart of social problems, great and little, and to disclose some of the solutions. For, in dealing with these problems in real life, it is conscience, sensitiveness to responsibility, unselfish and quick regard for others, that do the work, while intellectual subtlety is analyzing and formulating ; and these qualities are feminine qualities, even when found in men. — Elizabeth, Christian Scientist, by Matt Crim. (Webster.) The makers of fiction are not slow to avail themselves of the progress of science, Christian or physical. This time it is a beautiful young Southern woman in New York who heals the bodies, restores the souls, and wins the hearts of men, women, and boys. There is less extravagance in the telling of the story than its theme would lead one to expect, but in spite of the straightforwardness, be it said, less power to move or convince than one might wish. — Mr. Billy Downs and his Likes, by Richard Malcolm Johnston. (Webster.) When the Comparative Anatomy of American Dialects comes to be written, — a work of vast proportions, — Colonel Johnston’s people will have their separate, chapter. In this new volume of the Fiction, Fact, and Fancy Series they talk as of old. The humor, too, is their own, but it seems to us that they have shown more of it before. — Val-Maria, by Mrs. Lawrence Turnbull. (Lippincott.) The figure of Napoleon seems to lose none of its charm for writers of historical romance. In its historical character, this story, of the period in which the Consul became the Emperor, makes the familiar endeavor to put an estimate upon the true greatness of the man. This attempt does not lighten the story’s other part, which has to do with the devotion of an artistic, short-lived boy to Napoleon as his hero. The book, indeed, has rather too much the character of an essay and a short story poured together to attain the success either story or essay might possibly have made alone. — Late additions to the uniform edition of the works of William Black (Harpers) are : Judith Shakespeare, with its charming pictures of the country by the Avon and its attractive heroine, who, though she bears a strong family resemblance to many other young women to whom Mr. Black has introduced us, has a certain quality not unbefitting the daughter of the man who is only spoken of in the romance as “ Judith’s father ; ” and The Wise Woman of Inverness, and Other Miscellanies, which includes not only short stories and sketches, but also rhymes, as the author modestly calls them. — The Nameless City, a Rommany Romance, by Stephen Grail, and Half a Hero, by Anthony Hope, have been added to Harper’s Franklin Square Library.
Literature and Literary History. Books in Manuscript, by Falconer Madan. ( Imported by Scribners.) This last addition to the series of Books about Books is concerned mainly with the days before printing began to make books common. The facilities for making and keeping books in ancient times, the ways of the monastic scribes, and even of that more recent penman, the literary forger, are among the subjects treated. As in a previous volume of the series, the ground the book has to cover is almost too extensive for a work of its length. It will serve well, however, as what the writers of textbooks would call An Introduction to the Study of Ancient Manuscripts. — Leigh Hunt’s What is Poetry ? edited by Albert S. Cook. (Ginn.) To strengthen one of the accepted, elaborate definitions of the undefinable, Coleridge and Wordsworth on Imagination and Fancy are brought forward. Hunt’s careless quotations from the poets are put right, judicious notes of reference are added, and all is set forth for the use of schools and colleges. — A Short History of English Literature for Young People, by Miss E. S. Kirkland. (McClurg.) A rapid survey of names and epochs, not ill done, and generally sensible in point of judgment, though with perhaps some tendency to commonplace moralizing. It is hard to regard the book otherwise than as a convenient handbook of reference. Certainly no child should be set to studying it ; for such an approach to the enjoyment of literature would, we fear, be almost fatal in its effect on the interest. As well introduce one to music by compelling him to read Beethoven’s letters. — Stories from the Rabbis, by Abram S. Isaacs, Ph. D. (Webster.) Here is another reminder that the Orient is the source of everything. Faust, Brer Fox, Rip Van Winkle, and other old friends of tradition appear side by side in this group of little stories from the Talmud and Midrash. The tales are judiciously chosen and simply told. The book will appeal particularly to the students of comparative folklore, and the amateurs of this science have so grown in numbers as to make a decent audience for any modest work. — The Gods of Olympos, translated and edited from the twentieth edition of A. H. Petiscus by Katherine A. Raleigh. (Cassell.) A work on mythology which has run through twenty editions in the land of the German universities surely has sufficient excuse for making its appearance in English. In its new language, the book is enriched with additions of text, illustrations, and notes, to say nothing of an ample index. It is intended primarily for elementary learners, who, if they will, may make their beginnings as specialists with the aid of the references supplied by the translator. — English Prose, Selections with Critical Introductions by Various Writers, and General Introductions to each Period, edited by Henry Craik. (Macmillan.) It is enough to say, in vouching for this book, that it undertakes to do for English prose exactly what Ward’s English Poets does for poetry. Only the first volume, Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century, is before us. Its arrangement, the character and the authorship of its critical sketches, all show the identity of its plan with that of the English Poets. It would be unreasonable to expect equal satisfaction from such a treatment of English prose, except in the case of writers of whom a mere nibbling is a sufficient taste ; but the new series gives promise of accomplishing its task as well as it can be done. — Columbia’s Emblem, Indian Corn. A Garland of Tributes in Prose and Verse. (Houghton.) The needs of the buttonhole are not considered by the advocates of corn as a national flower. Another part of the coat is provided for, however, by this pretty little volume, which will slip into any reasonable pocket. The book contains an excellent selection of short prose passages and bits of verse — kernels, they might be called—in praise of corn, either for its own sake or as a “ candidate for national honors.” — Other Essays from the Easy Chair, by George William Curtis. (Harpers.) For the second time a collection of Mr. Curtis’s Easy Chair papers is given to the public. Since the Chair is no more, all who cared for it must be glad to see its memory preserved in books, small though they be. Perhaps it is better that little essays should be kept in little books. Certain it is that the art of doing little things well was beautifully practiced by Mr. Curtis in his monthly papers. Whether American manners provoked him to good-natured reprimand,, or the greatness of a contemporary brought forth his words of appreciation, — as in the admirable paper on Emerson’s death and life, — his touch was the touch of a master. His art, adapted to the times in which it throve, was worthy of its succession from the first Spectator.
Magazine Books. The fashion of making little books of reprints from periodicals has grown so rapidly within a year or two that one may hope it has reached its height. We have before us specimens of three attractive series of such “ vest-pocket ” works: Stories from Scribner, collecting from Scribner’s Magazine the best stories of the Sea, of the South, of the Railway, and so on ; the Black and White Series, reprinting from the Harper periodicals all manner of grave and gay productions that will be likely to sell alone ; and the Distaff Series (Harpers), comprising the New York classified exhibit at Chicago of the contributions of New York women—not always spinsters, be it said — to periodical literature. To comment upon these miniature volumes separately is to divide a magazine by ten, or to deal in decimal fractions. Of course there are a few, a very few magazine papers, such as the best biographical articles and the best short essays of our greatest writers, which well deserve little covers of their own. But the multiplication of books by the use of every conceivable piece of work, which had its sufficient excuse for being when it appeared with other little works in a magazine, or may reasonably be used again in a collection of its author’s writings, seems to us a wrong rather than a service to the public. It is carrying the magazine principle of reducing the difficulties of reading a step too far. The magazines have enough to answer for in the unfitting of many minds for the continued reading of books. Can it be that the publishers, in order to disprove this charge against them, have set about supplying the public with books in comparison with which the magazine is a magnum opus ? Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. Let not the reader, unsettled by periodicals, rush upon ruin with a “ booklet ” in his hand.
Theology, Ethics, and Manners. The Divinity of Jesus Christ, by the Authors of Progressive Orthodoxy. The editors of the Andover Review, professors in the Andover Seminary, collect in this volume a series of papers one might call the Lux Mundi of the New Orthodoxy. The authors think the time has come for a fuller discussion of their previous statement : “ The Jesus of history is the Christ of faith ; the Christ of faith is God revealed and known.” This dogma they confirm undogmatically, in that the book is free from the spirit which has given dogma its bad name. — Straight Sermons, by Henry Van Dyke, D. D. (Scribners.) The unfortunate title of this book recalls the man who objected to the shape of his rector’s sermons, in that they were long and narrow. The quality of straightness, however, does not keep Dr. Van Dyke’s college sermons from being also short and broad. They were therefore well adapted to the undergraduate congregations of Cambridge, New Haven, and Princeton, and now, appearing between covers, have as much of force and directness as any such discourses can retain in print. Their straightforward manliness gives them their right to preservation.— An Agnostic’s Apology, and Other Essays, by Leslie Stephen. (Putnams.) A group of seven papers bound together in thought by the intellectual attitude of the writer toward Christianity. The convenient name which he accepts for himself implies a certain amount of negation in his philosophy ; the papers are rather critical of the explanations of Christianity than of Christianity itself. Indeed, there appears to be a wariness in approaching the central ideas of Christianity ; it may be doubted if the name of Christ appears in the book. The closing paper, with its somewhat amusingly condescending title, The Religion of all Sensible Men,is scarcely more positive than the others. In fine, the work represents the reflections of a man comfortably inclosed in Christianity, and hardly aware of what would happen to him were the fifteen pounds to the square inch suddenly removed. — Patriotism and Science, by William Morton Fullerton. (Roberts.) The sub-title, Some Studies in Historic Psychology, the title of the first study, On a Certain Danger in Patriotism at the Present Time, and the gratuitous use of quotation marks in the title of the second “ study,” English and “ Americans,” are slight but significant marks of a certain preciosity which pervades this book. Attempts at Appreciation of the Time, Mr. Fullerton also calls his work. However sincere the attempts may be, — and they are by no means without evidences of clever observation,— they all suffer to some degree from the impression they produce of the author’s overserious taking of himself, so to put it, and of something savoring rather strongly of literary affectation. — The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (10 East 22d St., New York) has issued Kindness to Animals, a Manual for Use in Schools and Families. It is a catechism with fifty-two lessons, no weekly vacations being allowed. The logic is sometimes not carried its full length. We suspect some bird-lovers would have inserted a lesson upon the English sparrow not quite in accordance with the 46th lesson, but logically following out the 45th. — Everybody’s Book of Correct Conduct, by Lady M. Colin and M. French-Sheldon. (Harpers.) It is hard to believe that a man can go astray with this book in his pocket, provided he will take it out from time to time for consultation. It is a compact volume, and yet every department of a man’s civilized life is provided with rules through its means. Any one, for example, in doubt as to his duties As a Husband will find first of all that “ it is the correct thing to marry for love;” nor will he be left without the knowledge that In General it is “the correct thing to avoid cheap stationery,” and “ never to commit the gaucherie of using a post card ” in accepting formal invitations. In short, the book is a fair specimen of its kind, telling many things most people know already, and some things which the socially ambitious may find convenient to learn. — The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, translated by Bailey Saunders. (Macmillan.) The translator gives his readers, by way of preface, what is practically an essay on Goethe, after saying he will do nothing or the sort. Many people have acted thus before, but nobody, we believe, has undertaken to put into English the body of these remarkable sayings of Goethe. It was only in 1870 that they first appeared in separate form in Germany. They are wonderfully full of suggestion upon all the Subjects of life, art, science, and nature with which they deal. Most of them are so quick with the wisdom of experience that they may serve as “ points of departure ” for much argument between men of vastly wider knowledge than the youth, well known to story, who put a light value upon the proverbs of Solomon, and was advised to “ write a few.”— The World of the Unseen, by Arthur Willink. (Macmillan.) Mathematics looks one way toward music, another toward metaphysics ; in this book the exact science is called upon to support the unknowable. Mr, Willink asks his readers to assume the conditions of a Fourth Direction, or Dimension, involving a Higher Space into which man might enter by a single step if he but knew which way to face and see the door. Assuming this new Direction, the author undertakes to show how every puzzling spiritual phenomenon, past and present, is merely the reasonable fulfillment of law. The speculation and its suggestions are interesting, but the scientific reader is not easily convinced by deductive reasoning, and the unscientific asks, Why so much ado about a door which, after all, cannot be opened ? — Golden Rule Meditations, by Amos R. Wells. (United Society of Christian Endeavor.) This little book takes its title from the weekly journal in which the Meditations first appeared. They are short, purely religious self - examinations upon many of the actual trials, petty and great, of daily life, and must depend for approval upon the reader’s own depth of nature and the demands he makes upon his spiritual guides. They have the inalienable merits of sincerity and of the absence of bad taste. — Religio Poetæ, etc., by Coventry Patmore. (Bells.) Religious and poetical feeling alike distinguish this little book of short essays. Their atmosphere, indeed, is delightful. Christian morality, love, and literature may be said to be the prevailing themes of the book, which, on the whole, possesses something very like distinction. One need not implicitly follow Mr. Patmore in his conservatism or in his adherence to the religion of authority to feel the genuine quality of refinement in these papers. Vigorous manhood, however, has not been refined away, and that cannot always be said of the few who stand aside, in these hurrying days, and tell the world it is making a sad mistake. Such is the burden of the book’s message. In the matter of love, the message is indirect ; but it is easily understood, and none can doubt that if men and women in general could know the love Mr. Patmore extols — sometimes, perhaps, with too elaborate analogies between the “natural” and “divine” — the number of angels in our houses would be infinitely greater.
History and Biography. William George Ward and the Catholic Revival, by Wilfrid Ward. (Macmillan.) In a previous volume Mr. Ward narrated the course of events which landed his father in the Roman Catholic Church. It was a brilliant report of the Oxford movement, but it had not the value of this book, because the Oxford movement has had many historians, and Church, Shairp, Mozley, Newman, and others have by their skill given it a distinction even beyond what it possessed in nature. The value of the present book lies in its disclosure of the life which opened to the men who shut behind them the door into the English Church, and, above all, in its interpretation to a Protestant public of the processes of mind in English and French Roman Catholicism of the present day. Its analysis of the several schools of thought is masterly, and the work should do much toward giving intelligent readers a clearer knowledge of men whose religious faith seems superficially to set them apart. The figure of W. G. Ward, moreover, is a unique one, and however one may dissent from his intellectual positions, one cannot fail to take an extraordinary interest in the vivid personality here presented. Nor can one lay aside the volume without admiration for the candor, the impartiality, and the literary skill of Mr. Wilfrid Ward, the biographer and critic of his father. — The first volume of a new edition of The American Commonwealth, by James Bryce (Macmillan), has been received, a little less than five years after the publication of the original edition. As a survey of the United States in its political nature, Mr. Bryce’s work has within this time become standard. It is so much more than the philosophical study of a single man ; it embraces, that is to say, so large an induction from a multitude of sources, Mr. Bryce has shown himself so patient a listener to other men, and so judicious an appraiser of their judgments, that the book seems to be rather the growth of a political thought common to the most intelligent minds in America and England. As such a standard work, it will doubtless call for revision, more or less close, from time to time. Mr. Bryce, fortunately, makes the first. Long may it be before we have Bryce’s American Commonwealth edited by So and So. — John Amos Comenius, Bishop of the Moravians, his Life and Educational Works, by S. S. Laurie. (C. W. Bardeen, Syracuse, N. Y.) A new edition of the accepted Life, with portraits, photographic reproductions, and a bibliography. The tercentenary of Comenius’s birth brought his figure into momentary prominence. The problems with which he dealt differed in some respects from problems of this day, yet his view was so comprehensive and he touched so many fundamental considerations that it is by no means a profitless task to go back to his life now. Ur. Laurie has sifted the voluminous product of Comenius’s fertile mind, and the reader is greatly indebted to him for this result. — Princeton Sketches, the Story of Nassau Hall, by George R. Wallace. (Putnams.) This is essentially a book for Princetonians. In a manner inorganic enough to give the title, Sketches, its justification, it brings out of the past many bits of history and tradition, and has its share of assertion regarding the present, and of prophecy for the future of Princeton. The loyal love of Dr. MeCosh which animates a large portion of the book speaks faithfully and well for the spirit of Princeton to-day. It is a rare touch which gives the local the quality of the universal, and this the young writer has not wholly succeeded in bestowing.— The Work of Washington Irving, by Charles Dudley Warner. (Harpers.) A commemorative discourse on Irving, in which Mr. Warner touches lightly on New York as it was at Irving’s birth, and then, sketching Irving’s career, makes some acute observations on his intrinsic literary qualities and the initiative which he took in literature. — Edwin Booth, by Laurence Hutton. (Harpers.) Among the memorials to Mr. Booth springing up on all sides, Mr. Hutton’s paper, reprinted in the Black and White Series from Harper’s Weekly, has its value in its orderly and, one may well believe, trustworthy presentation of the main facts of the great man’s life.
Art. Art for Art’s Sake, by John C. Van Dyke. (Scribners.) It is not an unheard-of thing to choose the title of a book more because it is already a familiar phrase than for its special fitness as a definition of the book’s contents. So it is with this volume, which is more accurately described by its title’s better half, Seven University Lectures on the Technical Beauties of Painting. The lecturer’s object was to make his hearers regard pictures as with the eyes of artists, to bring the atmosphere of the studio out into the air of the world. His spirit is temperate and appreciative, and an inward digestion of what he says would keep many an amateur critic from foolishness in the utterance of terms imperfectly understood. — Art Ont-of-Doors, by Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer. (Scribners.) That art should not be confined within doors, nor that nature should always be given her own way without, is the burden of Mrs. Van Rensselaer’s book. It is a plea for landscape gardeners and their art,— surely no mean one, — and is full of suggestions for the beautifying of private and public places. Sober good sense and taste are the distinguishing qualities of the advice, which, we cannot help thinking, would be no less widely heeded if the manner of its imparting could have taken on a brighter color.
Travel and Science. On Sledge and Horseback to the Outcast Siberian Lepers, by Kate Marsden. (Cassell.) Aided and abetted by Queen Victoria and the Empress of Russia — of whose “ unbounded graciousness ” a very simple little telegram is given in evidence — Miss Marsden, an English nurse, accompanied only by men, made an extraordinary journey far into Siberia. Her purpose was to learn the means of helping the outcast lepers. The exuberance of her narrative may be excused by the zeal which prompted the expedition ; but after the long recital of preliminaries and exploits by the way, after the “peculiar thrill ” that passed through Miss Marsden’s “ whole frame ” when she found herself near the lepers, it is a little disappointing that so small a bit of the book is left for the time remaining to her before the homeward journey must be begun. There is quite enough, however, to remind one anew of the horrors of leprosy ; and when, in conclusion, Miss Marsden tells of the active measures on foot to relieve the sufferers, one can only wish the good work all success, and refrain from remarks upon the literary production of a woman who is not a trained writer. — Modern Meteorology, an Outline of the Growth and Present Condition of Some of its Phases, by Frank Waldo. (Imported by Scribners.)
A volume in the Contemporary Science Series. The Sources of modern meteorology, the apparatus and method, the thermo-dynamics of the atmosphere, the general and the secondary motions of the atmosphere, are all considered, and a final chapter is devoted to applied meteorology, especially in the held of agriculture. The book is freely illustrated by charts, diagrams, and figures of instruments. — How to Know the Wild Flowers, a Guide to the Names, Haunts, and Habits of our Common Wild Flowers, by Mrs. William Starr Dana. Illustrated by Marion Satterlee. (Scribners.) A sensible and well-arranged handbook ; for the compiler, though possessed of botanical knowledge, approaches her subject from the point of view taken by the uninformed observer, and thus is able to answer the questions likely to be raised by those using her book. It is a pity that, on economical grounds, it was not found expedient to color the illustrations ; but they are hold and intelligible in other respects, and the color is described in the text. — Work for the Blind in China, by C. F. Gordon-Cumming. (London, Gilbert & Rivington, Ld.) This little book is professedly hardly more than an appeal for help in the missionary work of the Rev. William Murray among the blind in China. But, in showing how excellent a work it is, Miss Gordon-Cumming tells of the wonderful success Mr. Murray has had in reducing the intricate Chinese language to terms that are easily readable by the fingers of the blind ; and this adds a chapter to the story of great achievements.