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UNDER THE BEARD OF
"WHAT charm can soothe our melancholy, What art can wash our grief away?"
is unquestionably the problem of the day, and happy will be the literary agent who can solve it.
Our writers have become grave as judges, and their occasional deviations into the sadly humorous are received with the lenient enthusiasm of a wearied court room. A live rabbit under the partially exhausted receiver of an air-pump exhibits a melancholy excitement that is almost equalled in pathos by the conduct of the general reader in the present rarefied atmosphere of humour. We are fain to laugh at the most unconsidered trifles. To such a pass have we come, that men have recently been seen to smile at Mr Frank Harris's Shakespearian criticism, and to laugh immoderately at Canon Rawnsley's daily sonnet. The only fear is that Mr Jerome and his merry men should again take advantage of our necessity. We want humour, it is true; but heaven protect us from a recrudescence of the late New Humour, which, after all, was never really "new," but only an Anglified and diluted form of the Transatlantic substitute for wit. Oh for an hour of Thackeray or Dickens! But Melancholy, it would seem, has marked us for her own.
We had fondly harboured the delusion that the problem novel had gone to its long home with the trunk-maker, and lo! it is with us again in a subtly dis
guised but no less baneful form. Having toyed with adultery, our lady novelists seem to have become enamoured of suicide. Mrs Humphry Ward made away with her latest heroine, and that none too soon. We contemplated the change with an equanimity which we cannot profess to feel for the new writer who has recently, in a work of great ability, put the justification of suicide forward as 'The Open Question.' The ability of the book, and, alas! its earnestness, are only too apparent; but neither of these can extenuate the offence of an author who, appealing to a popular audience, dares lightly to tamper with the very foundations of morality, and vitiates the public mind with a study in mental pathology, tricked out in the guise of fiction. do not envy C. E. Raimond her responsibility. It is a fascinating subject, truly! the painfully minute record of two neurotic and decadent lovers who marry for mutual gratification, and resolve to die together before their hereditary curse can be bequeathed to another generation. A brave and inspiriting gospel this, which to the question whether life is worth living answers, Yes-provided that we realise clearly that the duration of life is in our own hands. more pitiful shadow of a man than Ethan Gano never trod the stage of feminine fiction, and were it not for the insidious moral of his puling life, we should heartily applaud the
closing scene where against his own will, be it said -he finally "steers for the Sunset." The only redeeming character in the book is brave old Mrs Gano, a mother worthy of a Gracchus, and all too tolerant of her own miserable brood. "You walk in darkness," said the old woman on her deathbed. "Not the fear of God-that's tonic-but in the fear of pain. Oh, I've watched this phase of modern life. It's been coming, coming for years. The world to-day is crushed and whining under a load of sentimentality. People presently will be afraid to move, lest they do or receive some hurt." The vigorous excellence shown in the drawing of this character leaves a loophole of escape for C. E. Raimond, in that it sometimes raises a doubt whether we are to read her contrariwise, and regard the book as a satire of decadence. But this is only a charitable and forlorn hope; and if it be correct, it but serves to show that she has handled deadly weapons which she cannot use without endangering the public safety. There is only one natural interpretation of her book, and it is fraught with the poisonous air of a hothouse philosophy.
Thackeray, we stake the reputation of Maga' on it, knew a great deal more about the humour and the tragedy of human life than C. E. Raimond; and to all poor souls who have read The Open Question' we would commend his summary of problem fiction as a sovereign antidote :
"Werther had a love for Charlotte Such as words could never utter ;
Would you know how first he met her?
She was cutting bread-and-butter.
Charlotte was a married lady,
So he sighed and pined and ogled, And his passion boiled and bubbled, Till he blew his silly brains out, And no more was by it troubled.
Charlotte, having seen his body
We are bound to say, however, that recent fiction also offers us several excellent antidotes for this nauseating stuff, and we deemed ourselves fortunate when chance made us acquainted with the tenth edition of the story of 'Isabel Carnaby '-a most vivacious and entertaining book. It has all the charm, if all the faults, of youth, and we gladly forgive a conventional plot for so much sprightly dialogue. Miss Fowler-to use the latest Fleet Street jargon-has "arrived," and "should go far"; but we would respectfully suggest that she would go still farther were she to cease to use "like" for "as," and were she to add to the many "excellencies" of her work the purely masculine virtue of correct spelling. Some of the same magic of youth which gives its perennial charm to 'Mona Maclean' has disappeared from Graham Travers's 'Windyhaugh'; but we are fully recompensed by an infinitely more matured skill, a more subtle humour, a profounder insight into life. There is perhaps enough and to spare of psychology in Dr Todd's
remarkable book, but it is all of the right kind; and there is not in English fiction a more careful and penetrating analysis of the evolution of a woman's mind than is given in Wilhelmina Galbraith. But Windyhaugh' is not a book in which there is only one 66 star" and a crowd of "supers." Every character is limned with the conscientious care that bespeaks the true artist, and the analytical interest of the novel is rigorously kept in its proper place as only one element in a delightful story. It is a supremely interesting and wholesome book, and in an age when excellence of technique has reached a remarkable level, 'Windyhaugh' compels admiration for its brilliancy of style.
Dr Todd paints on a large canvas, but she has a true sense of proportion the want of which alone prevents Mr Eden Philpott's 'Children of the Mist' from being one of the finest novels of its year. The romantic atmosphere he has and all the literary endowment, but he has smothered a brilliant novel under a plethora of detail. As compared with either of these, Miss May Sinclair is a miniaturist; but it would be difficult to praise too highly her brilliantly clean-cut portraiture, and her bold and successful handling of an unattractive subject, in Mr and Mrs Nevill Tyson. The story is a little masterpiece, and the literary epicure will find a rich feast in its gracefully easy and pungently witty style. But of all the literary feats of the year one of the most remarkable has surely
been achieved by Mr Alfred Ollivant, who has contrived to make a most absorbing story out of but three characters— two of them being sheep-dogs and the other an irascible little Scotsman. We are not surprised to see that Mr Ollivant has also been duly told that he will "go far," for we are almost ready to go the length of saying that in 'Owd Bob' he has already "been and gone and done it." Red Wull and Owd Bob are the best dogs on paper, and we honestly prefer them to most of their human contemporaries in fiction. If we have a fault to find, it is that Mr Ollivant, like Landseer, debases his dogs by making them too human for an ordinary kennel; and we should have liked Owd Bob all the better had he been less circumspect and gentlemanly in his walk and conversation in life. None the less, the death of Red Wull is Homeric.
The year of grace 1898 will stand out prominently in the literary history of Poor Jack. Once more the spirit of the age has found literary expression, and the result is a whole revolving bookcaseful of literature, highly charged with the spirit of Imperialism. Taking it all in all, the literature is worthy of the sentiment. The keynote is struck on "Drake's Drum," a magnificent song by Mr Henry Newbolt, which will ensure him a place in all future thologies side by side with Thomas Campbell. "The Fighting Temeraire" and "The Ballad of the Bold Menelaus" are only a degree less successful, and throughout all three
there runs a haunting rhythm foreseen contingencies at all that will swing them worthily times." Mr Bowles is obviinto immortality. Mr Newbolt ously a youthful and enthusimay surely be content, and we astic understudy of Mr Kipare sorry to find him flogging ling, and he strikes no new and spurring his jaded muse. note; but his descriptions are Only once or twice in a lifetime always naïvely entertaining, as can he hope to reach so high a his imitations are often clever. mark, and he imperils his own Mr Shannon, also, is an imireputation by presenting-ay, tator; but more than one of his and representing his yarns is almost worthy of Mr doubted masterpieces in a set- Jacobs, and we can pay him no ting of uninspired and un- higher compliment. Very difworthy doggerel. With a com- ferent is the story which Mr manding rhythm Mr Newbolt Harry Vandervell has to record can always be the Kipling of in his unique Shuttle of an the Fleet without one, he is no Empire's Loom.' The "liner better than a poetaster. Mr she's a lady" we know on Mr Kipling's own contribution to Kipling's authority, and by naval literature, "A Fleet in the same reckoning the man-o'Being," is not likely to add to war's a gentleman; but it was his reputation - although it on neither of these, but on a might easily make one for a common vagabond of a cargolesser name. In a word, it is boat, that Mr Vandervell, shaknot quite the sort of thing that, ing the dust of the Stock Exlike Mr Steevens's tour de force, change off his feet, elected to has recently on two occasions take his pleasure seriously by "brought the blood to the signing on as a man before the cheek" of the 'Spectator.' And mast. As we have said, the yet nobody but Mr Kipling record is unique, and it reflects could have written it, and we equal credit on Mr Vandervell's gladly confess that its perusal sense of humour and on the left us so full of pride in our sterling good qualities of our first line of defence that we felt common sailors that the story is as entertaining as it is. The 'Shuttle of an Empire's Loom' has every claim to be called a "human document," and it is calculated to reassure those who delight to paint our merchant service blacker than it is. The British tar, whether he be taken from the "Queen's Navee" or a common cargoboat, has at least two points in common-unfailing pluck and indomitable good-humour.
for the moment. a perfect readiness to submit to a doubling of the income-tax. that is surely fame!
Mr G. Stewart Bowles and Mr W. F. Shannon describe respectively the humours of the "gun-room" and the "mess deck," and between them we feel that we have learned all that is worth knowing of what Lord Charles calls "the many-sided life of a seaman, with its chance and charm, its hardships, its occasional pleasures and pastimes, and its dangers and un
It is the humorous side of sea-life alone that Mr Jacobs depicts, but within his limits
he has no equal. Mr Gilbert's fifty test of humour, if we remem- pages for every year of an ber rightly, was its capacity uneventful life. This, we subto make a prisoner smile. mit, is monstrous; and the We applied a severer test by value of the author's contributaking up 'Many Cargoes tions to philosophy cannot for in a dyspeptic moment, and a moment excuse so flagrant we gladly testify that as a a literary indiscretion as is universal remedy for depres- afforded in 'My Inner Life.' sion it is worth a guinea a We have the less hesitation page. The Skipper's Wooing' in using it to point our moral, was no less successful, although as we have Dr Crozier's assurits humour had broadened into ance that he has learned to farce, and it was with some treat the "dæmonic element disappointment that we found ourselves reading 'Sea Urchins' unmoved. But we took the best available remedy by reading Many Cargoes' again, and, thanks to this admirable book, we who started on our quest of the humorous with such dismal forebodings, have ended it like the Yorkshireman by "larfing, and larfing, and larfing again.
Melancholy men, according to Aristotle, of all others are most witty, and we could wish that the paradox were as true as it is comforting. But it would be unpardonable, even at a push, to extract a grain of comfort by simply converting an Aristotelian generalisation; and we would rather seek an explanation for the prevailing dearth of humour in the fact that the average writer of today possesses what Mr Andrew Lang-in happy English and quite unnecessary French-has termed "the adorable faculty of taking himself au sérieux." A singularly brilliant example of this faculty has been given to the world recently by Dr J. B. Crozier, who has made a gallant attempt to establish an autobiographical record in a volume of five hundred and
i.e., the apathy of publishers and public and the insolence of reviewers-with "the indifference or contempt it deserves," an affectation that is neither impressive nor new.
It takes more than two hundred crowded pages to describe the evolution of Dr Crozier's mind up to the age of twenty, and half as much again to recount his literary misfortunes, which we may say at once present no deviation from the beaten track of literary experience save in the immeasurable conceit of their telling-a conceit so colossal that it would need the fountain-pen of a Hall Caine adequately to paint it. "I have often thought," says Dr Crozier, "that had Carlyle, Ruskin, Macaulay, Buckle, Mill, Lecky, Spencer, Morley, or Arnold started publishing their literary work to-day, they would have been practically ignored "-like Dr Crozier, that is to say; for with unusual modesty he leaves it to the reader to supply the omission in this ingenious chain of reasoning. Deprecating, with a naïveté worthy of genius, "the imputation of taking myself too seriously," the author gives