Mr. Howells's an Open-Eyed Conspiracy
Mr. Howells has been for a long period so anxiously and almost morbidly preoccupied with American types and social portents and problems that it is a great pleasure to find him, in An Open-Eyed Conspiracy, dropping into something like the gay and engaging manner of former days. We are glad to meet Mr. and Mrs. March again upon their summer travels, and to perceive how lightly, after all, that worthy pair have been touched by the twenty-five years or so that have intervened since they kindly took Kitty Ellison to Canada, and made, to that good girl’s temporary cost, the chance acquaintance of the fade and futile Mr. Arbuton.
We know now that Mrs. March, at least, will never grow old; and that we should find her after another quarter century, were any of us to live so long, as defiantly impulsive and illogical, as inconsistently concerned, and as incurably sympathetic with youthful romance, as ever. There is an accent of deep conviction underlying the final bonmot with which Mr. March concludes the Saratoga Idyl: “ The girlhood passes, but the girl remains.” Yet it is rather base of him to say it plaintively, when the results, in his own wife’s case, have been so charming; and Mr. March appears to us upon the whole not quite as clearly unspotted from the world as his constructively mundane consort. He was ever prone, beneath his outward bonhomie, to fix a somewhat too sad and haggard eye upon those contrasts of material condition in our American life, which hardly deserve to be called social distinctions. Both the Marches ought to have known, by the present decade, that two such clear-headed and final-secular young persons as Miss Gage and Mr. Kendrick would assuredly arrange their own little affairs, and work out unassisted their own salvation or the reverse. The scenery of the beautiful but no longer fashionable spa where the idyl takes place is portrayed with photographic precision, and a disdain of the methods of mere impressionism which warms one’s heart; while the fatal occasion of the hop at the Grand Union Hotel and the conspicuously ineffectual chaperonage of Mr. March are described with a deal of quaint humor, quite in the irresistible manner of the author’s best period. The Saratoga Idyl is as light as those unattached gossamers which float about in the warm air on dreamy October days, and are sometimes called Virgin’s Thread. But like them it seems a true though slight product of the “ season of rest and mellow fruitfulness,” and the leisurely reader will find it haunted by all the peculiar and penetrating charm of the alienis mensibus œstas.