Page images

in one step into the halcyon regions young authors prefer the mother of poetry—

who is jealous of her daughters, and continually struggling to keep the rights which are slipping from her hands; or the Mrs Nickleby, who is perhaps still more typical of the modern methods, though Dickens has gone out of fashion. We are bound to admit that we thought Mr Barrie's wonderful portrait would be caviare to the general-i.e., to most people out of Scotland, to whom the idea of discussing everything in heaven and earth with an old woman in a mutch, and finding inspiration in her talk, and suggestion, and absolute sympathy with the highest dreams and wishes, might appear an absurd one. But I am happy to find that this is not the case, and that the fact of having a man of genius for her son explains to the stranger the possibility of such a mother. There are such mothers, however, who are not so fortunate as Margaret Ogilvy, and whose clear and sparkling stream of imagination and intellectual life seems spilt upon the ground, and leaves no health-giving influence behind. Yet one can never regret, even should this be the case, the existence of these wonderful little unknown celestial lights glimmering in chimney-corners, or looking out upon the whole breathing world of poetry and meaning from the narrow panes of a window in Thrums.

It is almost impossible to quote from such a book, which imperiously demands to be quoted entire, that the proportions of it may not be broken, and which no worthy reader will do less than read again and again and get by heart, especially if he himself has had such a mother. It is at length the full

London: Hodder & Stoughton.

"A noise like of a hidden brook
In the leafy month of June,

That to the sleeping woods all night
Singeth a quiet tune ".

when we suddenly pass out of all
the horrors of Mrs Schreiner's
political pamphlet into the lovely
poetic region of the book now be-
fore us.
It seems indeed almost
profane to discuss among other
books, unless without drawing a
ring round it to keep off their
common touch, the wonderful and
unique little volume which Mr
Barrie has consecrated to his
mother.1 Some captious critics
have caught at the only thing
that could possibly be said in
its disfavour, that the subject
was too sacred and the details
too intimate to be given to the
public; but we should have been
sorry indeed if any such scruple
had withheld Mr Barrie from set-
ting before us the most beauti-
ful description of a little Scots
village household ever drawn, a
picture in which every line is ideal
yet every touch absolutely true,
such a description as is, according
to Professor Wilson's criticism of
Galt, a Fact; but full of many
tender refinements which Galt
knew not, and which were beyond
his sphere. The homely woman
in no way above her sphere, yet
above all spheres, who is the ideal
of her children, their most favour-
ite and admired companion, whose
little foibles they adore almost
more than the generous perfection
of all her gifts and graces, the
fountain of thought, the source of
mirth, the Rosalind and the Nao-
mi of her family, is not a common
figure nowadays in literature. Our

1 Margaret Ogilvy. By J. M. Barrie.

answer to one of the fantastic questions that used to be current some years ago, why the mother in fiction was generally so unsatisfactory an image? which we opine was, because the man had not yet arisen who could do her full justice. This is not fiction, but it is as good, since it is the introduction of a new and most liv. ing human creature of the noblest mould, and as true as the Bible or Shakespeare, to nature and life -and all the better that it is

fact as well, and already dwells in many a heart. We must quote one little touch, however, not of motherhood, but of the strange ideal atmosphere which may be breathed in a Scotch village, or at least still could be breathed when Mr Barrie was a boy. He describes an old tailor, homeliest of figures, one of the fullest men I have known, and quite the best talker" :

[ocr errors]

"This man had heard of my set of photographs of the poets, and asked for a sight of them, which led to our first meeting. I remember how he spread them out on his board, and after looking long at them, turned his gaze on me and said solemnly-

'What can I do to be for ever known,

And make the age to come my own?' "These lines of Cowley's were new to me, but the sentiment was not new, and I marvelled how the old tailor could see me so well. So it was strange to me to discover presently that he had not been thinking of me at all, but of his own young days, when that couplet rang in his head,

and he too had thirsted to set out for Grub Street, but was afraid, and while he hesitated old age came, and then Death, and found him grasping

a box-iron.

"I hurried home with the mouthful, but neighbours had dropped in, and this was for her ears only, so I drew her to the stair and said imperiously

'What can I do to be for ever known, And make the age to come my own?'

It was an odd request for which to draw her from a tea-table, and she must have been surprised, but I think she did not laugh, and in after years she would repeat the lines fondly, with a flush on her soft face. That is the kind you would like to be yourself,' we would say in jest to her, and she would reply almost passionately, No; but I would be windy of being his mother.'"

That was in Thrums, and not imaginary but Fact as well as true. We well remember another

youngster further back than Mr Barrie, and in circumstances much less poetical, who was wont to walk about, between the ages of eight and ten, saying over with glowing eyes a scrap which never has been found in any poem, but which we should much like to discover the source of. It began abruptly—

"From which the child of fancy oft resolves

To frame he knows not what excelling thing,

And wins he knows not what sublime reward

Of praise and honour."

Well! the child of fancy does not win any sublime reward, not even Mr Barrie, who is at present on the top of his wave, but "has long given up" (he says) "the dream of being for ever known"; but he would have been none the worse for having dreamed it, even if he had died a tailor, and Margaret Ogilvy, no doubt, in heavenly triumph of being "his mother,"

never doubted of the end obtained.

The one thing in which we disagree with Mr Barrie is in his optimistic thought that Thrums will remain as original as ever under the influence of "the roar of 'power'" which has replaced the "click of the shuttle," and though "the nest of weavers" has become to-day "a town of girls." The old

weaver in the long meditative silences, busy at one of the most primitive of implements, is always a poetical possibility: but the floods of girls, or boys either, carried along in the pitiless whirl of youth unguided and without experience, are millions of leagues apart from poetry; and it is very difficult to believe that such a woman as Margaret Ogilvy should flourish among the workers in a mill. "Home life is not so beautiful as it was," he confesses. How can home life exist at all with the mother in the factory and the children in the gutter? It is too horrible a problem to be tacked on to this beautiful book.

One thing, however, we desire to point out to Mr Barrie for his special consideration. He it is, alas! who has invented the present craze for Scots dialect, so largely followed up by his disciples. Will he please to observe that in 'Margaret Ogilvy,' the most true of records, there is very little, if any, dialect? The Scots is not here a disjointed string of English words absurdly spelt. Margaret Ogilvy no doubt talked like the books she read, with noble Scots words interspersed, and an idiom here and there, into which the kailyard has no insight. We convict him out of his own mouth, and we hope he will not forget the lesson to be learned.

Mr Street's story1 is one of those which has been called into being by the new form of publication in fiction. This young writer would not, we think, have ever attempted the old three - volume form. He and the class of which he is one of the foremost are perhaps a little afraid of trouble. They are certainly very much afraid of

ennui, even when of their own manufacture. They would rather kill you outright than bore you, which is a greater crime; and as they avoid boring themselves with still more affectionate concern, they have confined themselves first to the short story, and now to just as much as will go into a 6s. volume. We think it is a pity, and have always thought but the thing is done, and past remedy. The briefer book requires a different kind of art. It is no longer the large, even careless, canvas into which all the varieties of the world came in. The object of the tale has to be kept constantly before them, and no discursive proclivity permitted. All these, indeed, are canons of art to the new writer, and the consequence is that we have our tale served to us dry, without any lightening of the single issue. Mr Street is a young man who has found it so easy to make a very considerable reputation that the after-steps of building it up will naturally be more hard to him than if he had not gained so immediate a success. The ' Autobiography of a Boy' was excellent, humorous and delicate and true-with that whimsical truth of apparent self-complacency which veiled a most amusing insight into the life and manners of his kind. The present work has all the charm of writing which was in his first production; but it fails in interesting the reader in the same way, for the excellent reason, to begin with, that we attached ourselves immediately to his hero with all his delightful follies, in the first book, and that we do not care a straw for any of his characters in the second. Some episodes in their career are told with spirit and force, as the


1 The Wise and the Wayward. By G. S. Street. John Lane.

manner in which Skiffington, an old admirer, is summoned by the young wife Nelly, after her first serious quarrel with her husband, to "take her away," to the innocent astonishment and horror of the young man, who has no notion whatever of running away with his neighbour's wife, besides having one of his own. Neither, we are sure, had Nelly the slightest intention of running away, and the manner in which both are got out of the dilemma is excellent in its way.

But Mr Street has been led away by the famous and often-repeated aphorism that marriage is not the end but the beginning of life, and that the course of true love leading up to that event is not half so exciting as the troubles that follow, before the pair sail into a safe harbour of love and content, or make shipwreck. Needless at this time of day to say that it is the making shipwreck which is most attractive to the young writer of his period; and the story is occupied accordingly with the process of rending asunder those whom, if not God, yet the

clerical functionaries in St George's, Hanover Square, have put together. We think indeed that they would not have gone so far had not Mr Street compelled them to do so, and that he leaves these young people far too little freedom to follow their own inclinations and impulses, which also is the fashion of the age. It is sinful to write a novel, thus incurring the responsibility of bringing human creatures with wills of their own into the world, and then to bind them down so that they shall have no power to exercise these wills; but that, we are aware, is an oldfashioned view. The plot is complicated by an exceedingly wicked and cruel woman who is "the wise," and who is regarded with the highest approbation by almost all the actors in the little drama. As for the others, they are wayward enough in all conscience, and most truly worthy of their name: yet we remain convinced that this is very much Mr Street's fault, and that they would not have done it if he had allowed them to take their own way.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]


STRICTLY speaking, a city of one water only; but so ingeniously has this compliant river been dammed here, sluiced there, coaxed into a new channel on that side and wheedled into a dozen conduits on this, that one cannot go far in the streets without hearing a gurgle or a rush, and, peering over the brick parapet beside the way, beholding a limpid current, wherein great, pale trout lie fanning themselves among the waving water-weeds the livelong summer day. It is well for Winchester that the Itchen has its reservoirs so deep in the chalk ridges that the rain falling on them one winter does not find its way into the channel till the next. That is the plan on which nearly all rivers were laid down originally. The destructive floods which scarify the land and scare the dwellers in it only come after reckless, greedy man has stripped the uplands of wood, placed there to arrest the sudden glut of water. The mighty sponges of the chalk he cannot spoil-only nibble them into pits here and there, or scratch them with railway cuttings. So the Itchen flows on now with much the same current, liberal through all summer drought and committing no excesses in winter, as it did when the Roman galleys first swarmed into its estuary.

Advancing up the river, the practised eye of the general of the Legion fixed on a bare chalk down, marking the verge of the Andredes weald the primeval forest, stretching eastward 120 milesas the best strategic position in the valley. This down men now speak of as St Catherine's Hill; but the intrenchments thereon

were known to their Celtic garrison as Caer Gwent-the white stronghold and the invaders appropriated both the fortress and its name. Thus Winchester owes its present name to its native chalk, for when the Romans marked out a fresh camp in the vale below the hill, they found, as so many explorers have done, that it was much easier to keep the old name than invent a new one, and on their lips Gwent naturally became Venta Venta Belgarum. Then, when these had run their day, came the Saxons, who transformed it into Winte-caster-the camp of Venta-Winchester.

It is a curious reflection that this quiet little cathedral town, nestled so snugly in its leafy valley, was within an ace, or two two's, or whatsoever most forcibly expresses "all but," becoming the capital of all England. It was the royal city of Wessex: here Alfred the Great held his Court; though of his palace of Wolvesey hardly any traces remain at this day, for it was dismantled in 1155 by Henry II., when he set himself to humble the pride and cripple the power of Henry de Blois, brother of King Stephen and Bishop of Winchester. But it was in Wolvesey that the 'Liber de Winton' was compiled by Alfred's order-the origin of Domesday Book, remaining the official statistical record till, as is said, it was destroyed as useless on being superseded by the Conqueror's more comprehensive survey.

Of Alfred's doings at Winchester the records are tolerably ample, from the annals which he caused the monks of St Swithun's to compile. Of these, the original man

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »