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in our time which imports the spirit of religion into what used to be considered irreligion, but for another reason, on which a critic of fiction has no excuse for touching otherwise than in the briefest possible fashion. It exhibits a mistake about religion and unbelief very common in our day. The Atheist is supposed to hare been driven into his unbelief by the bigotry and intolerance of Christians. Surely it is a sufficient criticism on the suggested origin of contemporary unbelief to observe that as Christians have become more tolerant, Atheists have become more hostile to Christianity. The bigoted Ritualist, the bigoted Evangelical, are both more interesting to thoughtful unbelief than the devout Broad Churchman, and they are quite as sympathetic.
More light, perhaps, is shed on the problem here touched on by a painful and powerful study,* which will, however, be less popular than * We Two." It is rather in the taste of French than English fiction, though we hasten to assure the reader that there never was a novel more penetrated with reverence for purity than “Foxglove Manor.” It touches on that mysterious region in which the love of men to God is seen to have a deep and hidden connection with the mutual love of man and woman; and if we cannot pay it what would be the immense tribute of saying that it deals adequately with such a subject, we may at least declare that the attempt is marked by power and by a profound pathos, and associated with nothing unworthy. The reader will not at once be inclined to do it justice. It follows far too soon on Mr. Buchanan's last production, and the first few chapters suggest a mere repetition of the theme there treated—religion and love—with very slight variations. But the resemblance is superficial and misleading. The theme is indeed religion, and what we call love; but no one who is obliged to use the latter word in that sense can avoid regret that the best thing in the world, and almost the worst thing in the world, have to be called by the same name. The two are here set side by side with a keenness of contrast in the guilty man and the weak woman that makes one wonder why one needlessly undergoes the pain of contemplating such images; and yet one would hope, while the world continues what it is, the pain is not wasted. The seducer is a sincerely religious man, a High Church clergyman, and Mr. Buchanan has associated his religious and his earthly emotions so as to convey a warning as to the possible adulteration with sensuous feelings of both. Religion, he seems to nrge, is no guarantee for the excellence of the emutions which it awakens, that part of the nature which we shrink from contemplating may find its place here as well as elsewhere. And he has brought out the warning by painting side by side with his sensuous priest an Agnostic man of science, whose wife is very near falling a victim to the mixture of pastoral warning and guilty passion with which the clergyman tries to corrupt her life and preserve her faith. The warning, apparently suggested by this painful study, would take some such form as the following: May not the present wave of unbelief which is passing over Christendom be a heaven-sent influence, tending to preserve the germs of a purer faith through a wholesome winter that shall kill all its noxious parasites ? That is Mr. Buchanan's suspicion it seems; his critic must not be supposed responsible for it. But so far as it expresses a conviction that life in the invisible has its own dangers, which many escape by absorbing themselves in the outward, it is an important truth. Bigotry and intolerance are the temptations of Christians as they are the temptations of human beings; there is no soil of belief or unbelief on which these weeds will not flourish. But there are poisonous plants which thrive best on the soil of Christianity, and of which those should most earnestly beware whose home is in the Unseen. As an illustration of this principle, we would earnestly recommend “Foxglove Manor" to all who desire to face the dark problems of our civilization.
* “Foxglove Manor.” By Robert Buchanan. London : Chatto & Windus. 3 vols. * "Lucia, Hugh, and Another." By Mrs. J. H. Needell. London: William Blackwood & Sons. 3 vols.
“Lucia, Hugh, and Another," * lies on the borderland between that class of novels of which we have just noticed specimens and the mere tale of the day. Part of it is very interesting, and there is great originality in the conception, but it deals with subjects which demand forcible treatment, and that the author cannot give, while some parts show a strange ignorance of the thing she aims at describing. But the book is a good illustration of what has been noticed as the enlarged scope of the fiction of our day. There is an aim-not very happily conceived, and carried out with a good deal of vacillation, but still not without some originality -to represent the lover, whose own romantic generosity has prevented him becoming the husband of his love, as a mixture of the profligate and the saint. Any hesitation as to the depth of the mire in which the hero is supposed to have fallen is objectionable from every point of view; allusions to vice should be as distinct as they should be rapid. But, nevertheless, the reflection from the moral confusion of an age which, having had to reconsider the meaning of the words true and false, is beginning to reconsider the meaning of the words right and wrong, has a certain interest of its own.
As a picture of life that throws any light on its problems, “The Baby's Grandmother”† would stand low indeed. But judged by the test according to which novels are mostly judged (we have to notice the first and second edition together), it has a right to head our list. It will probably be the most popular of all the novels mentioned here. It is a bright lively picture of contemporary life, with some wit, with a good deal of character painting, with one original character, and, above all, with a great power of construction. To a few readers these merits will be overborne by a latent vulgarity that comes out definitely in the picture of middle-class society in a cathedral town, and haunts subtly the picture of genteel life in the mansion of an earl, or rather seems to us implied in the way the two pictures are contrasted. We are shown what is vulgar in the middle-class and shown nothing else in it whatever. Alas for our future, if this is to be the lesson of fiction for the democracy ! Vulgarity to the lowest class is impossible. In the highest class it is not likely to be obvious. In the intermediate region it is the quality most easy to see and to paint, and what we need is to be shown something else by its side. But “The Baby's Grandmother” keeps us in the region where this something
+ “The Baby's Grandmother." By L. B. Walford. New edition. London: William Blackwood & Sons. 1 vol.
else is least visible. We are always on the surface of life. The robust person and bad manners of Lady Matilda's love are depicted with much cleverness; but we do not hear a remark from his lips, showing one touch of feeling or thought, from the first page to the last. To her own portrait this criticism is less applicable, and to that of one of her brothers -the really original conception of the book-it does not apply at all; but we must seek an explanation of her charm in what is merely superficial. Almost all that we learn of her feelings or relations is unpleasant; she speaks with bitter contempt of her dead husband, she amuses herself with throwing her plain daughter into the shade, and hankers after lovers, though hating the thoughts of marriage. She learns that two men are coming to stay with her son-in-law to be godfathers to his baby; the only fact she knows about them being that they are friends of a man she despises, and remembers that, “She had felt now and then the fascina. tion, the thrill of being first with some one, the loadstar of one pair of
eyes, the magnet for one pair of feet. She knew what it felt to be like that. It felt nice.” And these are not the meditations of a school-girl, but of a grandmother! But the one exception to this hard flippant strain is so graciously and forcibly touched, that it almost makes us forget the rest. Her relation to her brothers, especially her motherly bond with the weak and winning junior--a sort of glorified Toots—is painted with a sympathy that makes the hardness elsewhere rather surprising. The story has some of Miss Austen's merits, as well as some which she lacks; but the passages in the style of Miss Austen — Lady Matilda's daughter and son-in-law strongly recall her—are chiefly interesting as exhibiting the subtle difference between those pictures of what is tedious in reality which do and do not reproduce its tedium.
A story centring in an unpleasing character cannot be itself attractive, but “Jill”* has one rare merit, which makes us augur well of the future productions of the writer. It is an autobiography in spirit and not merely in form. Most novels of this class are autobiographical only so far as they use the first person instead of the third. They avoid narrating what the hero or heroine could not know, they try to throw everything into the perspective which it would take from a single point of view, but they rarely attempt more, and hardly achieve so much. The author of “Jill,” on the other hand, does not merely tell us what one pair of eyes saw and one pair of ears heard, but she gives it all as it would be coloured by the feelings of a single character. It is curious to note how this at. tempt brings in the element of art. There is a great deal that is very disagreeable in the book. It is the autobiography of a young lady who, in order to escape from a hated stepmother, runs away from home, steals a purse, forges a series of characters, and gets a place as lady's maid. Her adventures are not very interesting, and her character is most unamiable; and yet from the mere fact that what is given is made everywhere consistent with itself, there is something harmonious, something pleasing in the colouring of the picture. If we contrast this novel with a work of genius, by the side of which, as far as the matter goes, it has no claim to be mentioned—“Jane Eyre"-we see the difference between conceiving life as seen from a single point of view, and describing it in the name of a single individual. " Jane Eyre” is full of what are virtually descriptions of Jane Eyre. Jill never once alludes to the effect she makes on other people. There is just that vacuum in the conception of the story which is made for each one of us by his own personality. Let the reader only ask himself how curiously, when he turns from the dealings of other persons to his own, there comes an absolute blank in the centre in place of a definite image. Somebody did this-I know the effect of his personality on others; how they feel when he comes in, how they feel when he goes out. But the somebody who observed him-here each of us comes to a pause. Who could even describe his own personal appearance? Who, still more, could attempt to give any notion of that subtle influence of one personality on other personalities, be it stimulus or torpedo touch, which is the thing we are all surest of about other people? The nearest approach to it is generally a vague and disagreeable speculation. “I am afraid the world thinks me a dull sort of fellow; or, “What can it be that people find formidable in such a coward as me?"
* * Jill." By E. A Lillwyn. London: Macmillan & Co. 2 vols.
“ Jill ” is the only work of fiction known to us in which this hiatus of observation is faithfully preserved, and every critic must angur highly of the originality of a writer of whom he can say so much.
Miss Tytler's penultimate story shows the influence of ourtime in a way somewhat different from any novel we have mentioned. It is penetrated by one of the best characteristics of the generation of its readers—a thorough respect for work. It takes us to the atmosphere of a busy, stirring life, to the fresh breezy hillside and river-bank, not the less picturesque, and so much the more dramatic, that tall chimneys stand like pillars to the dark cloud that shades “St. Mungo's City"*i.c., the busy town of Glasgow. The book is full of power; it enlarges the circle of the reader's acquaintance, instead of merely giving him the opportunity of criticizing the delineation of what is entirely familiar as most novels do; its picture of the gentcel and half-starving old ladies in St. Mungo's Square is at once pathetic and ludicrous, and the Scotch dialect of the book gives it a vernacular flavour refreshing after so much common-place, and yet, with all this, we are obliged to own that, as a whole, the book is disappointing. It has no centre. It is a series of sketches, some of them bright and vigorous, none of them wanting in some kind of merit, but all equally unfinished. All the figures are at an equal distance from the eye. We have to take an interest in three pair of lovers, and are just as much or just as little concerned about the happiness of any individual young gentleman or lady as about that of the other five. Then there is the most intolerably tiresome will that we ever remember to have met with, even in the pages of a novel. Nevertheless, if the reader, believing our assurance that the course of true love runs smooth, not to say flat, with all three pair of lovers, would stop resolutely at the end of the second volume, he would make acquaintance with a new set of friends, all full of life and character, and get tired of hardly any of them. But no novel-reader is ever so temperate. All will insist on taking more than is good for them, whatever the critic may say, and every criticism runs naturally into the form, necessitated by their
* "St. Mungo's City.” By Sarah Tytler. London ; Chatto & Windus. 3 vols.
intemperance, of beseeching the writers to help them less liberally. If only Miss Tytler had consented to be ruled by this warning, “St. Mungo's City" might have been a very charming novel, but she is so much in need of it that our quarterly notice has to include two stories from her fluent pen. Beauty and the Beast”* has appeared in a popular form, and bears traces of the disadvantages of such an origin; the whole of the third volume, and a good deal of the others, being mere padding. It is not a very happy essay after Miss Thackeray, but there are some scenes of great pathos, and the character of the Beast (a sergeant first degraded to the ranks and afterwards dismissed the service with ignominy) is a very interesting and consistent one. Why will one gifted with the rare power of bringing the pathos of humble life before the reader spend her energies on vapid sketches of contemporary society which dozens can make better than she does, and which when they are pretty good seem to us not worthy of a place beside her pictures of the washerwoman's death-bed or the poacher's cottage ? She finds, no doubt, that the majority of her audience cares for fashionable society most, and we are living under the rule of the majority.
The same cause comes in to damage a novel † by the author of “Ginx's Baby,” which we heartily recommend to all readers oldfashioned enough to care for an exciting plot, a predilection to which we plead guilty ourselves. When the author gets into high life he makes a few blunders and is out of his element; but it is quite possible to skip all that, and the rest of the story is told with great dash and movement, its only defect from this point of view being that the mystery is unveiled rather too soon. The reader who demands character-painting or probability must look elsewhere; but Sontag, the chief of the detective force, has some individuality, and the ghastly incident with which the story opens is not, we believe (as far as physical circumstances go), without some parallel in fact. If merely for the rarity of the species, so good a specimen of the novel of incident as a “A Week of Passion” ought not to pass without mention.
“St. Mungo's City" occasionally reminds the reader of that writer who has made the lowland Scotch dialect for ever dear and poetic to the lovers of romance. Mr. Black's last novel sometimes recalls Scott for other reasons. The resemblance is a disadvantage. We are led at the opening to expect a kind of interest that the story does not possess. It has no plot, and we fancy, at first, that there is to be an elaborate plot. But a reminiscence of Scott is not entirely misleading in connection with this delightful picture of English life in the past. “Judith Shakespeare" # calls the reader into a far-away world of bright vivid imagery, and lets him return to the every-day world as from refreshing travel. It is in a far more ambitious strain than Mr. Black has tried before. The heroine has no less illustrious parentage than her name suggests : the reader is indeed called upon to make acquaintance with a daughter of Shakespeare. But not a sentence in the story betrays effort or arduous preparation ; it is told in
“Beauty and the Beast." By Sarah Tytler. London : Chatto & Windus. 3 vols. + “A Week of Passion.” By Edward Jenkins, Author of “Ginx's Baby," &c. London: Re on & Co.
# “ Judith Shakespeare." By William Black London : Macmillan & Co. 3 vols.