Page images
PDF
EPUB

a most striking contrast to the other, the enemy who looks severely away on the other side. Newman, too, is not looking at his adversary or any one, but "glowers frae him with uninterested gaze. It is most strange to turn from one to another and to think what sensations would have arisen in their breasts had the men met here and taken a turn round the room together, and talked of Tennyson and Browning and Taylor, and Matthew Arnold and his criticisms. No doubt there would have been plenty to say of all those well-known figures, and nothing at all of the deep dissension of which they speak so frankly in their letters. altogether a very curious sensation to stand among all these men whom we have known and talked with, it seems so little time ago, and to realise that they are here for posterity, not for us, for the future ages to which their fame now belongs, and which may yet, for aught we know, make new arrangements and transitions of place and name.

It is

This sudden visit to the National Portrait Gallery, which we advise every reader to make also without delay, does not enlighten us, how ever, as to who is to be the new President, Mr Watts being not at all likely to accept this office, nor perhaps sufficiently appreciated by the multitude to be called to it. There are at least half-a-dozen with something like equal claims, and there is perhaps no one of them with whom the public would not be equally contented, whatever the community of artists might be.

It is a post, we must allow, which requires other qualities than those exclusively of art— qualities which were perhaps

more eminent in the case of Lord Leighton than the art of his later days. But it would be a pity to consider this too much in the

selection. A great painter is, after all, of more importance than a suave and skilful man of the world. How many (if any) great painters have we left? To my mind Mr Orchardson comes nearest in his delicate and reticent art to all the suggestions of that name. He is the only one I remember who seems to have much more to say than he ever says, which is of itself a great attraction. Mr Alma Tadema is not an Englishman: perhaps this does not matter legally; but it seems out of character that the head of a great national institution should be a foreigner. There have been already suggestions in the newspapers to meet the difficulty of choice, that the office of President should be, as was suggested a little while ago in respect to the Laureateship, abolished; but this is an indifferent way of meeting a difficulty. There have been very poor painters in the one office, just as there have been very poor poets in the other; but yet it is worth while to have the wreath handy to place upon the worthiest head, when that is to be had for crowning.

It is remarkable that we should have so many foreigners among our closest circle of painters. Is Mr Sargent a foreigner? Formally no doubt he is; and what a grand opportunity would that be of conciliating America, for which high purpose we do so many foolish things, if we had an American President! Why in the name of reason did we fête and cheer the respectable old gentlemen of the Artillery Company when they made their trip to England? They were neither beautiful nor brave, so far as we have any means of knowing; they had done nothing to deserve so warm a reception. Our own Honourable Artillery Company might have done very well to give a welcome and a banquet

to these citizen-soldiers: but why England in general should be moved about the matter, or the Queen and the Prince of Wales be made to exert themselves for the honour and glory of these old fogeys, who can say? It was to show our goodwill to America, to draw closer the bonds, &c., to show the everlasting sympathies of race which unite us. If Mr Burchell had been there, he would have said Fudge, in very big letters. Is America such a simpleton as to be cajoled by petty arts like these? We placed Longfellow in Westminster with that same noble object, and erected somewhere in the precincts a memorial (I forget where it was) to the admirable and delightful Mr Lowell, a man to charm any society, but not a great man. Does America love us any better for these attentions? It has been made very clear that she does not, nor is it a dignified attitude on our part. If two great nations can only be made to be satisfied with each other by petty and transparent artifices of this kind, they had better fight and be done with it, in my opinion. Nor is cajolery ever a successful instrument with great or small. It increases the self-admiration of the persons cajoled when it is most successful, which it very seldom is save for a time; and it hurts the self-respect of every one who condescends to exercise those arts. The old atti tude of ridicule, though not commendable, was almost more successful. It had a real and excellent effect on the other side of the Atlantic, and no doubt had a great share in the alteration of manners C and the substitution for the awkward Yankee, whom we laughed at, of the exquisite, too highly accomplished aristocracy of the States, who look down on us. But, so far as one can judge, the America

which we have flattered in so many social ways, and whose poet, not a great poet, we have made conspicuous in Westminster, is less well inclined towards us now than in the days when Mrs Trollope goaded that continent into fury. A war between us would be a horrible, impossible, unpardonable war; but I doubt whether it would be unpopular in England. War indeed, I suspect, is never unpopular. It is the greatest stimulant known to national life. The people will never be against it, though the classes (we thank thee, O great old man, for teaching us that word!) may hold back and the authorities hesitate. It is they who will be the greatest sufferers, but it is they who are always moved to enthusiasm by the thought of fighting. Even the idea of facing the whole world in arms would give to the nation no alarm, but a thrill of excitement, pleasurable rather than painful. Let who will talk of deficient armaments and cadres not filled up, the multitude would entertain no fear. All their traditions are of beating, not of being beaten. Dr Jameson was for a moment the darling of the crowd, for no reason in particular but that he had fought, though no one knew exactly, nor still knows, for what; but if it should turn out, as there are indications it possibly may, that it was for the British flag and the imperial rule that he set out on his unfortunate enterprise, what a roar of applause will meet him when he comes forth again from the punishment which he and his followers take so manfully.

Notwithstanding all this, it seems to the Looker-on a very doubtful question whether, say, in such a case as the election of an American painter as President of the Royal Academy, the disability of a foreigner would tell, as

in the case of Mr Alma Tadema or Mr Herkomer. I do not know, indeed, whether these gentlemen, naturalised in England for SO many years, would as a matter of fact be ineligible on that account. But the feeling would be different if Mr John Sargent attained that enviable distinction-not this time, but on another occasion perhaps, when that able young painter has become such a potent, wise, and reverend seignior as the place demands. There would be an outcry, no doubt, but not the same sense of the unnatural and inappropriate-less recoil than from a member of another race.

Is Mr Henry James a foreigner, -that lover of London, that master of language, in whom it is difficult to find out the faintest tinge of an Americanism? For mally, I suppose he is; actually, there is no trace of it. These

traces are very amusing sometimes, but give one a curious sense of wrong as well as of oddity and disagreeable accident. I read a book not very long ago which was the work of an American lady, Miss Blanche Howard Willis: and a very clever book too (though not a new one), a story of Brittany, setting forth with considerable power the fisher population of a salt-water village, with all its roughnesses and strong individualities, and storms and dangers. The heroine, Gwen, was a most spirited young Bretonne, full of character, and as salt-water, stormy, and sunshiny a little person as could be. But her talk was pure American. It was not the impersonal smooth language of translation, which makes no accent perceptible, but had all the peculiarities very distinctive of the American variety of speech. And the effect was extremely odd. But Mr Henry James does not speak American; seldom, if ever, does he betray the faintest

peculiarity. he remembers his native language, or if he starts a little, as we do, at the queer American spelling of his stories when they come out in an American magazine or edition.

One doubts whether

But in one of these stories which is now going on in a periodical, and doubtless will soon present itself in a volume, we feel a more delicate trace of the influence of his country still existing. The name of this story is 'Old Things,' and its leading fact is the removal by a mother of a most marvellous collection of bibelots out of her son's house when she leaves it before his marriage. She and her husband have been collectors, and had filled the house with such a wealth of rare and beautiful things as have made it the show-house of the county. But Owen, her son, is about to marry a woman who cares for none of these things. The mother lives in a state of anguish, thinking of the desecration of her beloved furniture and embroideries and decorations, and will not for some time consent to leave the house, thus keeping back his marriage. At last, on his willing consent that she should take such things as she specially loved with her, she goes away; but takes everything with her, and leaves the house empty and desolate. Then there ensues a struggle over the old things: for though the young man's promised bride has no real love for them, she knows that the house is brought down to absurdity by their absence, and without them will not consent to fulfil her engagement. In the struggle, which is desperate on both sides, Owen is urged by his fiancée to appeal to law, and to have the furniture brought back by the police: while his mother on the other hand will not give up a scrap of it. During the course of the struggle Owen

falls entirely out of love with his unreasonable bride, and into love with a girl who is his mother's champion, and whom she has intended for him all the time; but that is a common incident, not unheard of before. The original part is the fury of determination with which the mother clings to her collection, as to that which is most dear to her in the world. Would an English mother deeply impressed with the importance of the family-home, and of her son as the successor of his father in it, and that continuance of the race which has so much power over our imagination in this country, have done so? We think not: it is a New York mother in a house that belonged to somebody else a few years ago, and will belong to somebody else again in a few years more, and not a county lady with all the English ideas about heirlooms, and the importance of the family headquarters. This is a more subtle sign of race than to spell defence with an s. The story is most interesting all the same, with a sharper note of individuality in it than Mr James often gives us the pleasure of now. He is usually more taken up with selecting his words, and giving the last perfection to his style, than adding to our knowledge of human nature. The young man perplexed out of measure by these three ladies is very good. Mr James loves perplexity as a subject; but the mother is, we feel sure, an American without prejudices or associations, and not an Englishwoman deeply laden with both.

There are few more curious things in the history of literature than the luck of Mr George Meredith. Always caviare to the general, always the admired of the

literary classes, he suddenly came, for no particular reason that any one could see,-for some of his greatest works are among his earliest, and no new publication of surpassing merit had appeared to bring his name more conspicuously before the world,—to a sort of universal acknowledgment all at once, a recognition which no one could have expected, and which, though rather confused and puzzled so far as the crowd goes, has enough of the air of unanimity to make his triumph complete. He was, I think, to make the wonder more complete, rather at the ebb than at the high tide of his genius when this revolution occurred, and wearing something of the aspect of a man giving up the struggle and throwing himself back doggedly upon the intricacies of language and the involvements of narrative which had been the obstacles in his way; and it was notwithstanding this, that the voice of the expert, the opinion of the critics, at last and suddenly prevailed. entertained a young man once, who was one of these critics, a journalist and editor of a country paper, and who was strong for Meredith. He pushed all the other fiction of the period contemptuously away. It was Meredith who had the cry; but my young journalist showed a painful haziness when questioned about Meredith's books. "No, I have not read I gave him the Egoist,' which is one of the best works of the author. He brought it back to me next morning, pale with effort. "I cannot read it," he said, with faltering voice; "I didn't know he ever wrote like that." I do not say that all the critics are of this kind.

[ocr errors]

that-but

[ocr errors]

I

Now here is a book which

1 The Amazing Marriage. By George Meredith. London: Archibald Constable & Co.

is not at all, except by intervals, written like that. It comes into the world without any note upon its title-page to signify that it is a new edition; and several authorities seem to have received it as

a new book. It is the story of an amazing marriage indeed, performed between the richest and most fantastic of noblemen, and a girl whom he has met once at a ball, a rustic maid, English of origin, but brought up a mountaineer among the German hills, and taking him with sublime simplicity at his word when he proposes to her in the midst of a waltz. Now his word is Lord Fleetwood's god; and having pledged it he carries it out. The girl is an orphan, with nobody to protect her except a miserly old uncle, who pushes her into the arms of the unwilling and angry young lord; and the bride is carried away on the top of the fourin-hand which her husband drives to a prize-fight in the first place, and then to a roadside inn, where he leaves her, going off to a ball, to all appearance with the intention of seeing her no more.

The

high-spirited girl gradually comes, through the mazes of her total ignorance and incapacity to understand or believe in the brutality of her lord, to a just perception of the circumstances: and the struggle which ensues, until Fleetwood, ashamed and repentant, is brought back to her as a suppliant, only to be firmly rejected in his turn-is the subject of the story. supplemented by the shadowy adventures of a still more shadowy brother, whose name is Chillon John, as hers is Carinthia Janemarking the localities in which each was born, a device more whimsical than there is any need for, since Carinthia by any other name might have been equally determined, courageous, and sweet.

It is

Except in the confused and sloppy end of the story, when Mr Meredith must have tired of it, and all the characters melt into water, this book is written with much greater simplicity than usual, and wants no dictionary-which is rare among the author's recent books. Its beginning in the walk down from the mountains of Carinthia with her brother, and their adventures on the way, especially the meeting with the philosophical vagabond which has so much effect upon her fortunes, is wonderfully brilliant and strong; and the image of the dead father, dimly but forcibly indicated, whose book, 'Maxims for Men,' is the guide of her conduct in all emergencies, adds a high and powerful touch to the character of the girl, who under such guidance is half man half woman, as well as incarnate Youth in all its rashness and daring. The episode of the mad dog, however, which finally crushes Lord Fleetwood, is a little melodramatic, and the paralysed condition of all the bystanders while the heroine risks her life, too little flattering to human nature; for even if it had been, as the old Buccaneer in his wisdom decided, the safest thing to allow such a maddened brute to worry a woman's gown instead of making a snap at undefended flesh, it is inconceivable that the men should stand by and suffer it. The position, however, of a heroine of this sort, who must always be the principal figure in the fray, her valour and readiness throwing every other into the shade, is a little difficult, and must involve much depreciation of the subsidiary personages, particularly the men around her, who must, even though we feel the spectacle of her heroism to be the finest, have interfered to take the burden of the action upon themselves. It is, alas! one of the disa

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »