Some Novels of the Year
IN Helbeck of Bannisdale Mrs. Humphry Ward gives fresh proof of her great skill as a spiritual historian. The hereditary English Catholic, of high descent, heroic sacrifices, and unassailable faith, patient of misconception, proud of his very disabilities, and already, by virtue of his position and circumstances, half detached from the world and its ambitions, is always a romantic and moving figure ; one whose picturesque points have been many times seized and utilized for mere effect by the ordinary novelist. But Mrs. Ward is not an ordinary novelist. Heaven forbid ! She is impelled by the gravest purpose, restrained by the most delicate scruples ; always intensely serious, often resolutely, not to say ruthlessly didactic. She cannot help knowing that she has rare gifts as a story-teller ; but “ gifts must prove their use.” To employ this one for mere purposes of diversion or beguilement would seem to its possessor a sin.
A mind so earnest must needs feel keenly the fascination exercised by the sincere devotee of whatever persuasion, and will readily comprehend a part, at least, of the pietist’s motives. But over and above that reluctant sympathy, which is sometimes considered a hopeful sign of “ prevenient grace,” but is really, for the most part, a matter of temperament, Mrs. Ward has had, for one outside the Roman communion, exceptional opportunities to observe, and aids toward understanding, the curiously remote and baffling inner life of the Roman Catholic mystic. She was born into the Oxford movement; if not in the hour of utmost stress, at least while the sea of theological wrath was yet working wildly after the unprecedented storm. Her grandfather, the famous head master of Rugby, had died in early manhood, with his armor on, fighting stoutly for the cause of English evangelicalism against the silver-tongued champion of the faith delivered to the saints. Her distinguished father, the second Thomas Arnold, was a Roman convert. Her more distinguished uncle, and the more immediate guide and arbiter of her own vivid intellectual life, Matthew Arnold, was pleading, while she grew up, with equal pungency and persuasiveness, for Hellenism as against Hebraism, for literature as against dogma, for the humanities generally as against the pieties. Rent by a sharply divided personal loyalty, Mrs. Ward, nevertheless, came before the world as Matthew Arnold’s disciple, and in her first big work, Robert Elsmere, she solemnly dedicated her very eminent analytic and dramatic power to the propaganda of a blameless and beneficent agnosticism. It would not quite do. Even in this her formal and conscientious confession of unfaith the preacher’s own smothered misgiving makes itself felt; her obstinate suspicion, after all, of some supernatural and superrational verity. She is moved, in spite of herself,to offer a slight constructive compromise ; to suggest a sort of mawkish travesty of worship, almost pitiable in its futility as compared with the all but virile strength and grasp of the rest of the book. The story of Robert and Catherine ought at least to have been fortifying and composing. It is, in fact, unrelieved and heart-dissolving tragedy.
This undertone of irrepressible dissent from the deliberate pulpit utterance grows louder in David Grieve, which has passages and scenes of great beauty, especially in the earlier part, but is, nevertheless, the least consistent and convincing, the least successful as a romance notwithstanding its wealth of lurid incident, of all Mrs. Ward’s longer tales.
In Marcella and in Sir George Tressady we find her trying to set the importunate religious question aside for a time, and concentrating her attention rather upon social and political problems. She suddenly discovers that she has a mission to the most privileged class of her compatriots no less than to the struggling majority and the wholly “ disinherited.” Her ethical scheme must be comprehensive enough to embrace them all; and no sooner has she set about studying, patiently and methodically, as her own thoroughgoing habits of mind require, the evolution of what is, upon the whole, the best if not the most brilliant aristocracy the world has ever seen, than she finds herself irresistibly enamored of that shining class, — its traditions, in the main so brave and wholesome, the ample and ordered splendor of its highly organized daily existence, the immense distinction of some of its individual types. “ The world and the things of the world,” — how fascinating they are, after all ! How is it possible not to “ love ” things which are so alluring ? What place is it permissible to give them in an ideal scheme, a properly altruistic and entirely righteous theory of human living ?
Hitherto — ever since she took her well-earned place as one of the leading writers and moralists of the day — Mrs. Ward has always made the mistake of trying to put too much into each of her pictures ; to set her camera so as to take in her entire generation, and show her puppets not only in their action upon one another, but in their relations to the cosmos. Her heroic determination to be not merely truthful, but universal, to spare no pains and slight no corner of her spacious work, has been crowned with a kind of success. She has overcome a good many technical difficulties, and achieved in a single decade a really vast amount of admirable work. But she has done so at a palpable cost to herself of straining and exhausting effort, which has often reacted in deep weariness even upon her most sympathetic readers.
This time she has happily condescended to a subject, grave indeed, but well within her power, — familiarized by painful experience rather than by observation and study. Her voice, always cultured, and certainly not shrill at any time, drops to a quiet note of personal confidence, with an effect, from the outset, of welcome relaxation and unwonted charm. The story of Helbeck of Bannisdale is very simple. The characters introduced are few, and all, including that of the provoquante and passionate little heroine, strictly subordinated to the majestic central figure. The incidents are sufficiently probable ; the unfolding of the sad intrigue natural, and one may say inevitable. The scenery, beautifully sketched in as background, but never obtruded, is that austere and noble Westmoreland landscape which has fed the inspiration and wrought itself into the meditative life of three generations of Arnolds. The heroine, Laura Fountain, is not exactly a stranger to the reader. She is Rose again ; she is Marcella amid new and exceptionally difficult surroundings ; the airy, starry blossom of a tempestuous period and a more or less unwholesome soil; the bright, eager, blameless girl, overrationalized, if not in any true sense of the term overeducated; pathetically incapable of intellectual or spiritual self-guidance, yet early thrust by the general movement of her time far beyond the possibility of blind obedience or simple, trustful self-surrender.
When she and Helbeck are thrown intimately together among the solemn hills, members for a time of the same recluse and self-denying household, the rigid yet generous and tender ascetic and the wayward, mutinous little heretic love as naturally as if they had been alone in the primeval garden. The situation is romantic, but the treatment is not at all so. The reverse of the saint’s golden medal, — the infinite puerilities of Catholic practice, the wily ways of Catholic counselors, the spiritual indignities perpetually offered to her most loyal subjects by the great secular Church, the mortification and penury, mental as well as physical, enjoined and uncomplainingly accepted, — all these things, and the sickening repulsion they excite in the child of a humanist and freethinker, the girl bred in virtuous and mildly rationalistic English Cambridge, are portrayed in cold blood and with unflinching realism.
How can these two walk together, with such abysses of conscience between them ? No outward mandate interdicts their union. The Church herself, with that awful sagacity of hers, stands silent, and forbids no banns. She will not risk straining the self-devotion of the gallant son who has already given her almost his all. Helbeck, on his part, is too truly chivalrous to constrain, if he could, his darling’s soul. He will not wrestle with this fragile and suffering flesh and blood ; only with principalities and powers for her, by the age-honored methods of penance, vow, and unwearying secret prayer. The loving, clinging, yet untamable sprite feels her light wings caught by invisible threads, makes a frantic effort, and, with sore laceration, frees herself once, only to flutter straight back into the snare, and instantly to realize that escape is no longer possible for her, save by the last exit.
The story, which is essentially that of Robert and Catherine reversed, could not have ended happily. The circumstances of the last scene are perhaps a trifle too melodramatic. Laura, we feel, was exactly the girl to have destroyed herself on a desperate impulse, but never to have written a long letter the night before, announcing her intention to do so.
But the flaw is a slight one, and Helbeck of Bannisdale remains, to our thinking, Mrs. Ward’s highest artistic achievement; while its hero, with his noble and fatal single-mindedness, his spiritual grandeur, and his exasperating limitations, is beyond comparison her most veracious and masterly portrait.
In so far, however, as the book may have been meant for a polemical tract or a plea in behalf of private judgment, it is worse than ineffective or better than its intent according to the reader’s point of view. The intermittent shudder which agitates these pathetic pages constitutes in itself a singular witness to the intact ascendency over the forlorn human soul — possibly in a peculiar manner over the feminine soul — of the one enduring ecclesiastical organization. A fresh wave of reaction toward divinely constituted authority seems to be rising, — possibly, this time, a tidal one. Here and there, the world over, lips opened to curse are trembling into blessing. The Zeitgeist which led the revolutionary chorus so lustily in Matthew Arnold’s heyday has taken to the practice of plain song ; and we feel, whether she herself quite apprehended its outcome or no, that Mrs. Ward’s latest and in some ways most affecting book ranges her definitively with Tolstoy and Maeterlinck, Vogüée and Huysmans, and all the rest of the rather strangely assorted company who go to swell the denomination of the New Mystics.
But the tendency novel, even in the tempered form presented by Helbeck of Bannisdale, is, for the moment, quite out of literary fashion; and the cleverest masculine pens of the day are engaged, almost without exception, on the side of sheer romanticism. The search for motive has given place to the search for adventure, and tumultuous incident leaves no room for subtle analysis. The change is, upon the whole, a healthy and a happy one. It is interesting, too, because it seems to have foreshadowed, and has already, perhaps, done something to promote, the new era of violent activity, which the civilized world will apparently enter at the beginning of the century. With cannon — or whatever deadlier machine may soon have superseded cannon — thundering all round the globe at once, abstract speculation and meditative introspection will necessarily be much interrupted, and a host of morbid fancies and low-lying spiritual vapors will be lifted by a natural law and harmlessly dispelled. This new period of storm and stress will also pass. Another race will be, and other palms will be won by the weapon which is, perhaps, mightier than the sword. But meanwhile the leaders of the romantic revolt in fiction will have done their part in sounding the immediate call to arms,
Mr. Marion Crawford is one of the foremost of these leaders, and in Corleone, the latest novel of the Saracinesca series, he has given us a romance hardly less fascinating than the best of its predecessors, and one whose technical qualities it would be difficult to overpraise. He adds to the gift — rare enough at all times— of a powerful and poetic imagination an excellent method, great care for detail, and the ease that comes of long practice in the arrangement of a plot. There is not much danger that a man thus equipped will “ overwrite ” himself while his prime lasts, even though he may not, and certainly will not, always write as well as he can. All the great masters of romantic as distinguished from analytic or didactic fiction — Dumas, Scott, Shakespeare himself — have written with great rapidity during their culminating period; and the more tales of modern Italian life, of the quality of Don Orsino and Corleone, Mr. Crawford can produce in a given time, the better surely for the entertainment, and, indirectly, also for the enlightenment of the world.
He should stick resolutely to his Italian themes, however, and not be seduced by others less congenial and less thoroughly mastered ; least of all, we are tempted to say, by American themes. He knows more of Italy and the Italians of to-day than any other noted writer now living who is not of Italian lineage. Ouida might be an exception, if her fierce personal prejudices and unbridled passion for the sensational did not give an air of unreality to her strongest pages. Mr. Crawford is certainly better informed than Zola, or Paul Bourget, or that detached and tender pessimist René Bazin. He is more to be depended on, now that Bonghi is no more, than the cleverest of the contemporary Italian writers themselves ; taking a broader view, and suggesting, to the reflective reader, a fairer judgment of the social and political woes which afflict the devoted peninsula just now, than either Fogazzaro or Serao, powerful writers though they both are, and sincere patriots. And it so happens, in the curious arrangement of this world’s affairs, that it still matters about as much to civilized humanity as it has done at any time during the last twentyfive hundred years, how Italy fares and what her fate is to be. Allowance must of course be made for the sable color of Mr. Crawford’s politics ; that is to say, for his strong Catholic and conservative sympathies. He always vindicates the moral empire of the Church, — the regulating and restraining influence exercised in the main by the priest over natures not very open to merely philosophic and doctrinaire considerations ; and he has done no more than justice to the higher type of the Italian secular clergy in the noble portraits of Don Teodoro in Taquisara, and Don Ippolito in Corleone. Mr. Crawford is most at home, no doubt, in those two extremes of society where the most picturesque figures are naturally to be found, — with the old nobility and the sadly overburdened peasantry. The men who are actually wrestling as best they can with the desperate difficulties of the moment, — for some of which they are themselves responsible, but for others not, — the suddenly enfranchised middle class from which the great mass of parliamentary deputies and government impiegati are taken, Mr. Crawford views at a greater distance and from a different angle. But to them, also, he makes earnest if intermittent efforts to be just ; and he has felt and fathomed, as few outsiders have ever done, the peculiar subtlety and complexity of the Italian character; the indelible color imparted by deeply absorbed and half forgotten tradition ; the infinite sophistication of the ancient race, rooted in the immemorially occupied soil ; the enormous moral range of which it is capable, from heights of magnanimity hardly touched elsewhere to inscrutable depths of baseness, and a calm and in some sort naïf capacity for the most atrocious crime.
Sicily, where the scene of Corleone is laid, is Italy intensified, and the moral contrasts we have noted are well exemplified when certain members of Mr. Crawford’s ideal Italian race, the Saracinesca, with whose fine patrician qualities we have long been familiar, are brought into direct contact with what is confessedly “the worst blood in Italy,” — that of the Corleone family, — and with the organized brigandage of the Mafia. The story of such a struggle must needs be melodramatic ; but it is melodramatic with a method and meaning, and it is admirably constructed as well as charmingly told. Certain episodes, especially that of the deadly chase of the brothers Tagliuca over the desert wastes and wooded spurs of Ætna, are so related as to make the pulses of the most jaded novel-reader beat high. A singularly pure and ardent love story is inwoven with the fierce intrigue ; and the final surprise, which resolves so many doubts and removes so many difficulties, is a surprise indeed, and is managed with consummate skill.
Riding close after Mr. Crawford, and well up toward the head of the gallant company of romanticists, comes Dr. S. Weir Mitchell with his Adventures of François, a brilliant little book. If any ambitious young writer, quite unknown to fame, had made his first literary appearance when Dr. Mitchell began writing fiction, less than a score of years ago, and had gone on gaining, as constantly as he has done, both in depth of human insight and in dramatic and delineative skill, the fact would have been remarkable. But when a man already eminent in science and in the practice of an absorbing profession takes up one of the lesser arts by the way, and lightly masters it, we recognize a larger and more versatile genius.
No doubt it is an advantage — though not commonly considered essential — to have known something of life by actual experience before attempting to depict it; but — si jeunesse savait,si vieillesse pouvait — the man who knows the world well is too apt to have lost his own keen interest in it. No touch of languor or disenchantment, however, mars the spirited effect of this rapid narrative. Most of us have probably felt, if not said, at one time or another, that we know all we want or deem it good to know concerning the hideous details of that last judgment of a social order, — the great French Revolution. Its further use, in fiction at least, we should have considered more than questionable. Yet Dr. Mitchell has snatched his hero from the very lowest of the strata flung outward by the great upheaval, has given him a fresh, vivid, consistent, and really captivating personality, and led him through a series of haps and mishaps — wondrous, but not improbable,because nothing was so at that time — to a natural and satisfactory end. The author admits, with excellent grace, in the passage where the Marquis de Ste. Luce likens François to the immortal Chicot, his own special obligations to the prince of French story-tellers; and indeed, the resemblances, personal and moral, between the chivalrous thief and the astute fool of Henry II. could have escaped no reader properly steeped in his Dumas père. But the most ardent disciple of that joyous cult will be the first to acknowledge that its modern minister is an independent and a worthy one. Dr. Mitchell is too experienced a physician of the mind, and too thoroughly of his own age, after all, not to have struck now and then a deeper note than his great master was wont to touch; and he has dallied a little, in passing, though never so as to impede the action of his tale, with the inevitable psychological problem presented by the character and destiny of a waif like François. That light-hearted hero is permitted to state his own case, near the peaceful end of his checkered career, and he does it in these artless terms : —
“ I am now old. I suppose, from what I am told, that I was wicked when I was young. But if one cannot see that he was a sinner, what then ? The good God who made me knows that I was a little Ishmaelite cast adrift in the streets to feed as I might. I defend not myself. I blame not the chances of life, nor yet the education which fate gave me. It was made to tempt one in need of food and shelter. ’T is a great thing to be able to laugh easily and often, and this good gift I had ; and so, whether in safety or in peril, whether homeless or housed, I have gone through life merry. I had thought more, says M. le Curé, if I had been less light of heart. But thus was I made, and, after all, it has its good side.”
A word must be said for the exceptional beauty and fitness of the illustrations, by Castaigne, to The Adventures of François. The recreant choir boy, absorbed in the copy of Horace which he had picked up in the Luxembourg Gardens, and relishing so keenly the lines he can but half construe, while his delightful dog Toto leans against his shoulder with a broad smile of canine sympathy and confidence, is so drawn that we know not which more to admire, the fancy of the novelist or the skill of the draughtsman. The whole scene which describes the first meeting of François with the dazzling old nobleman whose fate was so strangely mixed up with his own is a novel and charming one ; but why are we never told what became, after Robespierre’s fall, of that finished and most agreeable reprobate, the Marquis de Ste. Luce ? It is not a new type, certainly, but it is admirably presented here. And one more grievance we have against Dr. Mitchell: it seems to us that Toto was needlessly sacrificed. His death was nobly avenged, indeed; still we remain inconsolable. He who had escaped the chances of the Terror and the travesty of the guillotine might so well have subsisted royally on the rats in the Paris Catacombs, and passed away long afterward, by a wheezy euthanasy, at the fireside which sheltered the ranged and reclaimed François.
Two more recruits to the stout army of romanticists — a Scotchman and an American — appear in the persons of Mr. John Buchan, author of John Barnet of Barnes, and Miss Mary Johnston, author of Prisoners of Hope, a Tale of Colonial Virginia. Mr. Buchan, though his pages bristle with dialect, is no kail-yard chronicler. He is the earnest pupil of Stevenson, and has written a sound, manly, and well-knit narrative of seventeenthcentury adventure. The freshest portions of it are those which describe the hero’s student life in Leyden; it is only when we take to the moors, and lie in hiding with the Covenanters, that too close a comparison is invited with the inimitable master, and we sigh for “ the touch of a vanished hand.” John Barnet was for Church and King, and though falsely denounced by private enemies for plotting against the Stuart line, he was no little loath, at first, to owe his life, when a fugitive, to Covenanting protection. Yet a great admiration for many of these hunted men grew upon him. when he had lived for a few days among them. “Truly,” he says, “ my thoughts on things were changing. Here was I, in the very stronghold of the fanatics, and in the two chief — the old man and Master Lockhart — I found a reasonable mind and lofty purpose. And thus I have ever found it: that the better sort of the Covenanters were the very cream of Scots gentlefolk, and ’t was only in the canaille that the gloomy passion of fanatics was to be found.” There is
About the graves of the martyrs, the peewits crying, And hear no more at all.”
The author of Prisoners of Hope, — an excellent title by the way, — if she has a less disciplined pen than Mr. Buchan, has more originality and a far more active imagination. The scene of the story is laid in Virginia, at the time of the formidable rebellion under Sir William Berkeley; and Miss Johnston has not only studied her period thoroughly, but she shows a remarkable grasp of an obscure and intricate political situation. The various elements of discontent which were working at that critical time, and which, in their explosion, had so nearly rent the young commonwealth asunder and detached her from the mother country a century before the times were ripe, are nonchalantly enumerated at the opening of the narrative by brave old Colonel Verney, tobacco king and stanch Cavalier : —
“ It’s this d——d Oliverian element among them! You see, ever since his Majesty’s blessed restoration, gang after gang of rebels have been sent us, — Independents. Muggletonians, Fifth Monarchy men, dour Scotch Whigamores, dangerous fanatics all ! Many are Naseby or Worcester rogues, Ironsides who worship the memory of that devil’s lieutenant, Oliver. All have the gift of the gab. We disperse them as much as possible, not allowing above five or six to any one plantation, we of the Council realizing that they form a dangerous leaven. Should there be trouble, — which Heaven forbid ! — they would be the instigators. . . . Then there are their fellow criminals, the highwaymen, forgers, cutpurses. and bullies, of whom we relieve his Majesty’s government. They are few in number, but each is a very plague spot, infecting honester men. The slaves — always excepting the Spanish and Portuguese mulattoes from the Indies, who are devils incarnate—have not brain enough to conspire. But in the actual event of a rising they would be fiends unchained.”
These types are all clearly distinguished and ably represented in Miss Johnston’s virile pages, and there is one chapter — The Hut on the Marsh — which describes a cautious meeting of the conspirators for the discussion of their plans with positively amazing power.
The hero of the story, Godfrey Landless, belongs to a class whose tragic fate has invited more than one novelist of late, and notably the highly correct and careful author of King Noanett. Landless was a convict who had been sold into semi-slavery ; consigned with other malefactors to Colonel Verney, and sent to work out his sentence on the Virginia plantations. But he was a gentleman none the less, the son of a gallant officer in the army of the Commonwealth who had been killed at Worcester, and he suffered, of course, under a false accusation. A bitter sense of his own wrongs leads him to cast in his lot with the rebels, but he is revolted by the project of inciting the slaves to rebellion ; and when, in due course of time and by the inevitable law of romantic tendency, he has fallen in love with his master’s daughter, his position becomes in the highest degree perplexing and perilous. The lady, the fair, disdainful Patricia, is being wooed at the same time by her cousin, Sir Charles Carew, a dandy and a gallant of the court of Charles II., who had come to the colony prepared to mend his wasted fortunes with the patrimony of the rich planter’s daughter, and then honestly fallen a victim to her unexpected charm. The mortal enmity between these two so unequally equipped, suitors adds one more sensational ingredient to this highly wrought, yet upon the whole admirably constructed story, and no faithful novel-reader will need to be told which of the rivals ultimately prevails with Patricia.
The book is brim full of fire and movement, and the interest marvelously sustained. Its main fault is the very hopeful and curable, but in these days most uncommon one of exuberance. It is too highly colored. Surely life was not quite so elaborately fastuous as here represented, even among the most prosperous of the Virginia tobacco growers before 1700 ! And as for Patricia’s extravagance in dress, we can think of no parallel to the “yards upon yards of Venice point ” lavished upon one only of the many imported gowns of this colonial belle, save in the historic wardrobe of England’s virgin queen or the reckless outfit of Ouida’s early heroines.
But superfluity can always be pruned, while indigence is fatal. Miss Johnston has both power and passion, and these, after all, are the main essentials for the highest achievement in fiction. Curiously enough, while her fancy is thus riotous, her style is not intemperate, and her touch in delineating scenery is delicate and absolutely just. Her landscape backgrounds are exquisite, and the description of the old Verney mansion is a gem of picturesque writing and a marvel of local color.
If there should ever be a sequel to Prisoners of Hope, — and it is so unnatural for the hero to have been abandoned, on the last page of his eventful history, to a lingering death in the forest that we are half inclined to expect one, — it is safe to prophesy that it will be a more symmetrical, if not a more striking book than this.
From the strenuous appeal made to the reason by novels with a pronounced purpose, and to the feelings by tales of thrilling adventure, we turn with an involuntary sense of relief to the latest book by that rather new writer who chooses to call himself Henry Seton Merriman. For what we are about to receive we are already grateful. We are not sure of being edified, but we know that we shall be well amused so long as the story lasts, and perhaps left with something to think about — if think we must — after the volume is regretfully closed.
It is not often that a considerable reputation is so quietly, negligently, one might almost say disdainfully made as that of the author of The Sowers. Flotsam, and In Kedar’s Tents. It is a reputation of the second class, of course; but the front rank is not exactly crowded at present, and there is ample room for this mordant and yet urbane annalist, who is neither poet, prophet, accredited artist, nor professed philanthropist, but merely a clever and widely experienced man of the world. We all know how soothing in society — if he be but reasonably amiable — is the companionship of such a man, when one has been a little too long importuned by the arguments of the earnest and the appeals of the inspired. It is much the same in literature. Mr. Merriman — as we are bound to name him — has perhaps been a diplomatist. He seems equally at home, at all events, in all the great capitals of Europe, — London, Paris, Petersburg, Madrid, The Hague, — and he gives us a good variety of human types, all drawn with the same light and well-trained hand. He can bring forth from the stores of his memory plenty of sensational incident, but he makes light, in a way, of this also, and never needlessly agitates either himself or his reader. His epigrams are abundant, but so modestly offered and seemingly unstudied as to appear half unconscious, — the habit merely of a quick wit long associated with other quick wits. Their presumed cynicism is often curiously superficial, masking a serious and by no means uncharitable meaning. Take a handful gathered at random from his last book, Roden’s Corner: —
“ Men who stand much upon their dignity have not, as a rule, much else to stand upon.”
“ That dangerous industries exist we all know and deplore. That the supply of men and women ready to take employment in such industries is practically inexhaustible is a fact worth at least a moment’s attention.”
“ Sufficient for the social day is the effort to avoid glancing at the cupboard where our neighbor keeps his skeleton.”
“ She had that subtle air of self-restraint that marks those women whose lives are passed in the society of men inferior to themselves. Of course, all women are, in a sense, doomed to this ! ”
“ Life should surely consist of seizing the fortunate, and fighting through the ill moments — else why should men have heart and nerve ? ”
In his treatment of women Mr. Merriman comes rather nearer than good taste permits to assuming the pose of a misogynist ; yet here, too, he is always liable to lapses into chivalry. The audacious and slang-loving schoolgirl in Roden’s Corner is drawn with a touch so indulgent as to be almost tender, and endowed with the finest of womanly possibilities : and the author is very kind, in the same book, to another well-intentioned but rather foolish girl of the period, the tale of whose final wooing and winning is original enough for quotation : —
“ Like many of her contemporaries. Joan was troubled by an intense desire to do her duty, coupled with an unfortunate lack of duties to perform.
“ ‘ I wish you would tell me what you think,’ she said.
“ ‘ Seems to me,’ said White, ‘ that your duty is clear enough.’
“ ‘ Yes ? ’
“ ‘ Yes. Drop the Malgamiters and the Haberdashers and all that, and — marry me.’
“ But Joan only shook her head sadly.
“ ‘ That cannot be my duty,’ she said.
“ ‘ Why ? ’Cause it is n’t unpleasant enough ? ’
“ ‘No,’ answered Joan after a pause, in the deepest earnestness, — ‘ no, that’s just it! ’ ”
Roden’s Corner was a financial, not a rural one ; and the volume is more of a tract than Mr. Merriman has permitted himself hitherto, dealing quite explicitly with the abuse of trusts and monopolies, and all that may be suffered by the victims of certain fashionable forms of organized charity. It is the clever and high-mettled dandy of the book who, having been idly drawn into the nefarious malgamite scheme, discerns and revolts at its iniquity, and finally exposes and defeats it. “ He belonged.” the author says, “ to a school and generation which, with all its faults, has, at all events, the redeeming quality of courage. He had long learned to say the right thing, which effectually teaches men to do the right thing, also.”
It will be seen that Mr. Merriman is very fond of his hero, Tony Cornish, whose features, for the rest, are not quite unfamiliar; for he reminds us a little of Rudolf, Rassendyll, and several other modern favorites. But we are more than willing to believe, in view of the stormy times already sententiously prophesied, that he represents not unfairly the very best kind of gilded youth, both in England and in America.
The twelve stories which Mr. Rudyard Kipling has collected under the appropriate title of The Day’s Work comprise two of the very best which he has written. The Bridge Builders and The Brushwood Boy, first and last of the series. In several of the others he indulges his recent fancy for making animals talk, as they used to do in the fairy tales of our childhood, and also for personifying those formidable natural forces which the modern man boasts of having compelled to do his bidding, but which often defy, and occasionally, even yet, defeat and violently destroy him.
But whether it is the horses on a Vermont stock farm and the brave little beasts of the polo field who hold lively converse among themselves ; or the once deified animals of the Ganges Valley who revolt at a sacrilegious attempt to bridle their sacred river ; or a mere miscellaneous lot of locomotive engines competing for precedence, and yielding homage at last to the record-breaking speed of “ No, .007,” —all these creatures, whether animate or inanimate, speak with the voice of Rudyard Kipling, perorate with his fiery eloquence, pound with the hammer of his prejudice, and sting with the whiplash of his merry wit. Where else can we look for such intense vitality and such impish variety ? Mr. Kipling belongs to no school of novelists, living or dead. He is a law unto his extraordinary self, — solitary and universal. He is romantic, but not a romanticist ; sentimental, but not a sentimentalist ; popular, though he would spit upon the name of populist; practical and scientific, as befits his epoch, but not a realist; Homeric, at times, but assuredly no epic bard ; patriotic in the highest degree, but after a fashion never observed in a British subject before. He is unique and unclassifiable, because he is of the future ; an inquisitive and impetuous forerunner of that twentieth century which will be in full swing by the time he is as old as a man must usually be before acquiring a solid reputation as a distinguished writer.
Two only of the dozen tales in this volume deal, in any way, with that passion which has formed the staple of all fiction hitherto; but the love stories in The Brushwood Boy and in William the Conqueror (William was the ladyelove, by the way) are both of marked and memorable beauty; fresh, delicate, and thrilling as a skylark’s lay. In William the Conqueror, as well as in The Bridge Builders and the very striking sketch called The Tombs of his Ancestors, the scene is happily laid once more in the ancient land of Mr. Kipling’s own birth; and he returns to the congenial theme, so dear to his own heart always, and so affecting to every reader of our race, — the simple heroism, the unshrinking and unthinking spirit of selfsacrifice, which characterizes the lives of so many Englishmen and Englishwomen in British India. There can be no better reading just now than these plain chronicles for our own young men and maidens, who can learn from Mr. Kipling’s dramatic pages how nobly a nation’s most reckless pledges may be redeemed by her loyal children ; and the crimes, and the yet more hapless blunders, which too often accompany distant conquest, may be amply expiated.
In A Walking Delegate, My Sunday at Home, and the exceedingly clever and diverting sketch entitled An Error in the Fourth Dimension, Mr. Kipling selects American subjects, and handles them with admirable humor, but in a spirit, it must be confessed, by no means flattering, and hardly even friendly to ourselves. We can well afford to wait, however, until that gust of rather boyish anger which found scathing expression in the verses on the American spirit shall have passed harmlessly by, and may good-humoredly accept meanwhile. and even enjoy a good laugh over the very thinly disguised general admonition which is delivered in almost unerring dialect by the “ ex-car-horse ” Muldoon in A Walking Delegate : —
“ America’s paved with the kind er horse you are — jist plain yaller-dog horse, waiting ter be whipped inter shape. We call ’em yearlings and colts when they ’re young. When they ’re aged we pound ’em in this pastur’. Horse, sonny, is what you start from. We know all about horse here, an’ he ain’t any high-toned, pure-souled child o’ natur’. Horse, plain horse, same as you, is chock-full o’ tricks, an’ meannesses, an’ cussednesses, an’ shirkin’s, an’ monkey-shines, which he’s took over from his sire an’ his dam, an’ thickened up with his own special fancy in the way o’ goin’ crooked. Thet’s horse; an’ thet’s about his dignity an’ the size of his soul ’fore he’s been broke an’ raw-hided a piece. . . . Don’t you try to back off acrost them rocks! Wait where you are! Ef I let my Hambletonian temper git the better o’ me, I ’d frazzle you out finer than ryestraw inside o’ three minutes, you woman-scarin’, kid-killin’, dash-breakin’,unbroke, unshod, ungaited, pastur’-hoggin’, saw-backed, shark-mouthed, hair-trunk, thrown-in-in-a-trade son of a bronco an’ a sewing-machine! ”
Versatile as he is, Mr. Kipling could never have achieved this last climax if he had not served for a term of years in the United States.